Pay Attention to the Bear!

Australian flame tree—did it get your attention?

If you read “No Lions or Tigers, But Bears, Oh My!” posted on 11/29/12, you know

Miranda’s first illustration.

something about my capture by bears. And you may remember that I’ve been working on a children’s book titled THE GRIZZLY’S CHRISTMAS. I’m very excited to tell you Miranda Marks, a local fantastic artist, has nearly completed the illustrations, and the manuscript is now in the book designer’s hands.

Some of you may also remember the original book was written by my college anthropology teacher, Malcolm F. Farmer, who asked me to rework his story. My first thoughts were that it was a cute story in the “Who Pulled Santa’s Sleigh?” category. But Malcolm left hints of deeper meanings underlying the story. The first clue to grab my attention was a passing reference to a “taboo concerning bear names.”

Taboo about bear names? What was that all about? Turning to what my husband calls “the intra-net,” I found that people in many different cultures didn’t use their word for “bear” (which is apparently itself a euphemism for whatever pre-history word originally meant bear.) Since this taboo was found in many varied cultures, there is a long, long list of euphemisms for the word bear.

Over the course of more than a year, I have rewritten the story itself. I’ve used Malcolm’s other writings about bear beliefs along with papers and books by other anthropologists to add notes that explain what some of the old bear beliefs were. I understand why the most popular stuffed animal is the bear and why I have felt such a strong connection to them.

The word “bear” is not used in the story portion of THE GRIZZLY’S CHRISTMAS. And I shouldn’t just leave you wondering how to address a bear if you meet one. While there are lots of possibilities (of course, you’ll find more in the book), “Grandfather,” “Auntie,” and “Good-Tempered Beast” should do for now.

Now, as I read books that star or include bears, I look for evidence of the old beliefs still lurking deeply in many of us.

A STORY FOR BEAR, written by Dennis Haseley, illustrated by Jim LaMarche, and published by Harcourt, Inc. in 2002, is a gentle, loving story that falls into the category of books I wish I’d written. The beautiful illustrations fit the story so well. The woman in the story doesn’t know the taboo about calling a bear “bear”, but the bear in the story doesn’t mind. Many ancient people thought that bears were the animals closest to people and that although animals could no longer speak, bears could still understand. The love in the story reminded me of the fox sitting in the wheat field in THE LITTLE PRINCE. A STORY FOR BEAR is worth a search and will delight a bear and/or book lover.

See the post of 12/20/13 for a review of Red Sled, written and illustrated by Lita Judge and published by Atheneum in 2011. This wordless picture book has a bear as the most “human” of the animals in the story.

Also back on 11/29/13, we looked at Seekers: The Quest Begins, written by Erin Hunter and published by Harper Trophy in 2008 – 2010. This series is geared for older elementary students and apparently me too. Because I’m hooked and now have five in the series. On the first page of the first book, a mother tells her child an old tale of the bear constellation Ursa Major. Only this is a polar bear version.

As I’ve continued to read in the series, I’ve found more instances of bear beliefs. Before I would have read some of these things as an example of the writer’s individual imagination.* Now see I connections to beliefs that are thousands of years old. The only hint I’ll dangle right now is there is a character who brings to mind one of the Navajo names for bear—”Turning into Anything.”

And, lucky for me, there is at least one more book in the series.

Did you have a teddy bear when you were a kid? What did that bear mean to you? And, do you still have it?

*Did you know that Erin Hunter is more than one person?

More Christmas Books for Children and a Blatant Ad

Our tree last week

Middle grade Christmas books: not so many. I did see some in early chapter book series—a Magic Treehouse episode, etc. But when asked about middle grade Christmas books, the bookstore clerk sent me to the table of adult Christmas fiction and suggested I might find something there. The Christmas Pony (by Melody Carlson and published in 2012 by Revell) has a title that would be appealing to a child. It has an eight-year-old protagonist/narrator. So far, so good. I bought it and enjoyed it. It has a sweet G-rated romance (the narrator is eight), but the book wouldn’t make the top of a kid’s must read list.

Back to the tried and true. If you have not read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (by Barbara Robinson and published by Camelot Printing in 1973), go get it. I just reread it and it more than holds up. The Herdmans are “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.” They had a cat so mean, the mailman wouldn’t deliver. Sunday school is about the only place where the other kids have peace—until a child claims he gets all the dessert he wants at Sunday School. One thing leads to another, the Herdmans bully their way to all the good parts in the Christmas pageant. And the story that’s the same year after year takes on new meaning for the narrator. The reader’s funny bone is tickled until a twist at the end touches the heart.

Do not forget other tried and true stories that periodically are released with new art—A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry have endured through the years since they were first penned.

I started this blog hoping to get some people interested in my book The Pig and the Dragon and then I got so involved in the books I’m reading, I kind of forgot. And now it’s less than a week before Christmas, but here come the blatant ad of the title.

The Pig and the Dragon is a middle grade fantasy that is told with two points of view. A pig who adopts a dragon has to figure out how to teach what she doesn’t know. She goes on a dangerous quest to find out dragon secrets. The dragon, who struggles to fit in as a farm animal, must choose between life as he’s been taught and the unknown. I wrote it in the hope that children and parents would read it together (but it works individually too). One reader described it as being between Charlotte’s Web and Eragon. Go to The Pig and the Dragon page of this blog for a link to order. End of blatant ad. Thanks.

A Christmas Tree for Pyn, written and illustrated by Oliver Dunrea and published by Philomel in 2011. Although it’s a picture book, it’s geared for a bit more mature child. Pyn’s papa is “a bearlike mountain man who did not soften for anyone. Not even Pyn .” One of the things that always intrigues me is the significance of names, especially those names that are supposed to be a secret. The names in this story aren’t secret, but the change and the heart of the story are revealed in their use.

Red Sled, written and illustrated by Lita Judge and published by Atheneum in 2011, is not strictly a Christmas book, but what a neat find under the tree. The only words are sounds like the “Scrinch  schrunch” of footsteps on the snow. It’s a great book for a young child to “read” the illustrations. You’ll enjoy listening to the story. If I can part with my copy, it’s going to my new great-nephew. And, this is important, pay attention to the bear! In weeks to come, I’ll be pointing out ways bears show up in literature. See what you notice. This is a quiz! Leave a comment for your grade.


Have a blessed holiday.

Our tree this week