The Bear in our Backyard is a companion picture book to last year’s popular The Lion in our Living Room. Where the lion was an imaginative version of their father, the bear in this book turns out to be the mother. Once again, this book is a good example of the interplay between text and illustrations in the picture book form.
The endpapers are illustrated with bear-themed activities from around the house, from a honey pot to polar bear motifs on the skipping rope handle. These signify the games mum/bear plays with the children.
From the first page, little details in the illustrations, such as the muddy gumboots on the mat, help to hint to the reader about the bear’s identity.
Mum is tired and sends the children out to play so she can rest. Children and tired mothers will relate to the warning: watch out! Bear might growl if she is woken from her rest. (5)
The children follow the bear’s footprints and make an singularly suitable snack for a bear or pregnant peckish woman: Something sticky, gooey, irresistible and sweet. (10)
After her rest, bear is ready to play! And she is remarkably active for such a heavy bear.
The illustrations subtly signal the twist in the mystery. All through the book, the mother’s belly is covered by her knitting or the washing basket. That night, the bear dons a yellow coat when she serves the children tea. On the next spread, the mother is shown in the same yellow coat, with her heavily pregnant belly showing.
Referring to her as Mummy Bear here highlights to the child reader that mum has been the fun-loving bear the whole time. By the time she walks out the door on her way to the hospital, her shadow looks exactly like a bear, with a stout tummy and ears made from a bandanna.
Furthermore, the children in the story predict that Bear’s love is so strong and warm (32), there will be enough to share when baby bear comes along.
With its multi-layered text and illustrations, and a gift card on the back inside cover, The Bear in our Backyard would make a perfect Mother’s Day gift.
The Bear in our Backyard
Written by Emma Middleton; Illustrated by Briony Stewart
Affirm Press 2018 34pp hardback ISBN: 978-1-925584-80-6
This review was originally published on the Storylinks website.