Page 45 Review by Stephen
Well, would you look at this wonder!
Although painstakingly hand-drawn and coloured on a flat surface, it comes with all the qualities of intricately embroidered cloth.
Like the most magnificent woolly jumper which you could ever imagine, there are distinct rhythms of lines, dots, spots and triangles arranged with an intuitive understanding of the forms that they delineate. Pulling out further, there are shapes within much bolder shapes like those whole animals which you'd so satisfyingly slot in between smaller, interlocking background pieces in a wooden Early Learning jigsaw puzzle.
Over and again, the geometric is rendered organic while the colours keep it all cosy.
The mother bear's den is a perfect example, the opening image of the cubs nestled snugly head-to-toe inside her womb. She hugs herself calmly, contentedly, assuredly, while outside we see nature taking its uninterrupted seasonal course. All is as it should be, and all will be well.
So long as we maintain the balance.
Just as the colours inside Mama Bear are overwhelmingly clay-warm and cream-bright but balanced by cooler purples and white, so without the descending, sharp icy blues are complemented, being cushioned by softer masses and sweeping contours below, while the bulrush shapes glimpsed outside offer the hope of something less shivery to come.
Then, when those cubs are born, there's a warm welcome tongue too, as the cubs laze, forelegs first, over their rotund mum's tum. It's all pretty idyllic...
So long as we respect the balance.
As winter turned colder, the cubs explored their frozen den. Mama, what lies beyond here? they asked.
Above us is a land of ice and snow, said Mama Bear.
The cubs shivered.
Don't be afraid, said Mama Bear. The drifts bring us hard snow, so we can safely walk this land.
And ordinarily that would be true.
Can we wander where we please? asked the cubs.
Only where the land will let us walk, Mama Bear replied. But hush now, you're snug with me.
A poignant picture book that is so desperately timely, this by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry forms a perfect twin to the same creators' Indian-bound YOU'RE SAFE WITH ME. It boasts the same striking visual emphasis on patterns within shapes but a more sparkly, radiant colour scheme as befits the snow-bound Arctic. It also comes with the same structure of inquisitive youngsters' fearful questions about their wider surroundings being reassured, but here a new note of caution is introduced by way of the qualifiers.
As long as the ice stays frozen, we will never go hungry.
Will the ice melt? asked the cubs.
Only if we don't take care of it, Mama Bear replied.
Only on the opposite side of the double-page spread does she repeat her lullaby refrain which goes But hush now, you're snug with me.
Narrative context aside, these caveats are aimed not at the cubs, obviously, but at ourselves. I don't think we can in all good conscience accuse the Polar Bear community of compromising their Arctic environment, nor rely on them to fix that which we have so royally... endangered.
Like Tove Jansson's THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD and Francesca Sanna's THE JOURNEY, both Soundar and Mistry books pay profound tribute to the sometimes self-sacrificial role of the ideal mother in reassuring her children when perhaps not so sure herself, and they do so with the same lovely lilting refrain which came with M.H. Clark & Isabelle Arsenault's YOU BELONG HERE (with me).
In summary: we're never alone but it is not all ours and we should only take what we need.
I'll only add that if you want to pluck one more all-ages picture book with a heart of gold from our carefully curated stock, then I'd recommend Sarah McIntyre's THE NEW NEIGHBOURS for its warm welcoming of strangers.