Book Review: The Three Bears… Sort of, by Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Donovan Bixley

web_three bears sort of coverThe Three Bears…Sort Of is a finalist in the Picture Book Category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

Nearly anyone who reads books to children regularly will be familiar with the scenario being played out in The Three Bears… Sort Of. Rather than being a passive listener, like most children the child in this book gets involved – asking questions and challenging the grown up teller of the story. And this is a particularly precocious child.

Unwilling to accept the fiction of a family of bears living in a cottage, eating porridge, talking, and failing to catch a small human child, the listener forces the storyteller to adapt and explain the familiar Goldilocks and the Three Bears story, sometimes with a reasonably plausible scientific explanation, and sometimes with an exasperated ‘just because!’ And by the end, we know certainly know a lot more about bears than the original fairy tale ever told us.

The book is written as a dialogue between the adult storyteller and the child listener. On the page this is quite clear, as the font and speech bubbles clearly show which character is talking. It is a little more problematic for one person to read aloud, however. I found this with 2010 Children’s Choice winner Baa, Baa, Smart Sheep too, which is written in a similar style. Perhaps the best way to read this story would be with a relatively confident young reader taking the child’s lines, and reading it together. I read it aloud to my nearly 6-year-old and found the easiest way on my own was to use two different voices. This worked okay, but I’m not sure she always knew which character was talking.

The Three Bears… Sort Of is a delicious picture book grown-ups will love as it is familiar – the frustration of interruptions and difficult questions – and also makes you laugh at the implausibility of the original fairy tale in a way most of us have probably never done before.

My main issue with the book is that the level of sophistication required to understand what’s going on in this story is beyond the level that the style and execution of the book indicate it is for. I imagine a child of 9 or 10 would get most of the jokes and understand why it is funny, but it looks more like a picture book aimed at a 5 or 6 year old. Having said that, most kids movies these days have as many jokes for the parents as for the kids, so why not books too?

The illustrations, by Donovan Bixley, certainly deserve a mention. They are in a mixed media style and are absolutely gorgeous, and like Baby Bear’s porridge are just right for the story.

My daughter enjoyed listening to the story but on questioning she did not really understand the concept behind the book, although she has fairly sophisticated comprehension for her age. I imagine it is a book we will keep coming back to, however, and I like the fact that it encourages critical thinking, questioning and curiosity. And, much like Jill Mansell’s Five Minute’s Peace, it allows adult readers to poke gentle fun at their child audience, without the little darlings ever being aware that it’s happening.

Reviewed by Reneé Boyer-Willisson

The Three Bears… Sort of
by Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775430681