Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Bear's Song by Benjamin Chaud

The Bear's Song is an amusing oversized picture book by French artist Benjamin Chaud. His intricate, whimsical artwork begs close inspection. So much is happening all over the place while Papa Bear follows runaway Little Bear from the forest to the city and right into an opera house. Little Bear is hidden somewhere on each page, creating a Where's Waldo sort of hunt for readers.

The colour scheme is mostly subdued shades of gold and olive and brown, evoking a bygone Belle Epoque era as well as old fairytales. The beautiful endpapers depict golden honeycombs covered in bees, foreshadowing the end of the story.

Foreshadowing tableaus are sprinkled throughout. Two woodcutters leave a single boot behind when they climb into a tree after spotting Papa Bear. Later, opera patrons scramble away from Papa Bear, dropping shoes in their haste. Red herrings include: a child's toy bear; advertising panels featuring bears with honey jars (also foreshadowing); a child in a bonnet with bear ears; and a man wearing a bear suit.

The Bear's Song could be understood without any text at all. There are only one or two sentences across the bottom of each page. The text includes some nice alliteration and internal rhymes like "snuffles his snout," "winter's whisper," and "a busy sort of buzzing beckons."

Little Bear is following a bee that leads him to the roof of the opera house, where he finds a jackpot: hives full of honey. There, "Papa Bear and his cub settle in to sleep. After all, hibernation is better with honey. And adventure is best enjoyed together."

Enjoy this with children of any age.

Jennifer Cockrall-King writes about beekeeping in Paris in Food and the City. I checked online to see how expensive it is to buy honey from the hives on the roof of the opera house. Wow! Fifteen euros (CAN$22.50) for a tiny 2-oz jar! Chaud's bears have every reason to sing while they help themselves to this specialty honey.

From the Palais Garnier website.

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