This book was a library find for me, and I LOVE it. Little Bear feels his Dad wake him, counting loudly and rumbling the bed with his heavy steps. Little Bear dresses in “loud colors” and then gets lost in the magical snowy scene outside his bedroom window, noting that “everything feels still – no rumbling, no trembling.” Pretty soon Dad is shouting for him to come downstairs to eat breakfast, counting impatiently. Told in the first person from Little Bear’s perspective, the story takes us through Little Bear’s day in this fashion. I wondered at first, why is Dad Bear so impatient? Why did little Bear miss his friend’s greeting? Why do the other characters keep asking, “Can bears ski?” Slowly it dawned on me as the reader. Little Bear is hard of hearing, and the story has brilliantly taken me inside his quiet and sometimes a bit bewildering world, where only “little pieces” of what others are saying can be heard, quiet is treasured, and sounds are felt more than heard. The others aren’t asking “Can bears ski?” They are asking, “Can you hear me?”
One day Dad Bear picks Little Bear up from school early and takes him to see an audiologist. He gets tested, starts hearing therapy and lip-reading classes, and then gets a pair of hearing aids. I love how the book shows Little Bear’s perspective as the world suddenly gets really loud, the hearing aids are uncomfortable, and “everything sounds like robots.” Little Bear sometimes gets tired of all the noise, takes his hearing aids out, and “loses” them. But equipped with more knowledge about what Little Bear is experiencing, Dad Bear is also learning to be more understanding. He gives Little Bear a break from his hearing aids and reads a story, turning “his whole face” to Little Bear and speaking clearly, leading to a heartwarming ending where Little Bear feels empowered and say, “Bears CAN ski!”
The illustrations in this book are lovely and do a great job of further conveying Little Bear’s perspective, and taking us into his world in a compassionate and realistic way.
The back jacket cover reveals that this is Raymond Antrobus’s debut picture book, though he is an award-winning deaf poet. Polly Dunbar, the illustrator, is also partially deaf.