Archie and the Bear

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Zanni Louise (text),  David Mackintosh (illus.),  Archie and the Bear,  Hardie Grant Egmont,  1 May 2017,  32pp.,  $24.99 (hbk),  ISBN: 9781760127510 

‘Archie was a bear.

But everywhere Archie went, people patted him on the head and said “I like your bear suit.”

“It’s NOT a suit,” Archie would growl. “I AM a bear!” ‘

I am the mother of a self-confessed tiger cub, and I’m sure there are many other tigers, bears, horses and even superheroes out there, and their parents, who would identify with the first page of this charming picture book.

Archie is tired of being misidentified, and sets off into the forest, where he meets a surprising new friend. It turns out that they have a lot in common, and a lot to learn from each other.

I love the illustrations, and the sense of scale, particularly when Archie is drawn as a minuscule speck, setting off bravely into the massive forest. The colour palette and style of illustration, a mixture of solid collage-style images and pencil drawings, reminded me a little of the picture books from the seventies that I grew up with, and the cosiness of the brighter collage cottage makes a lovely contrast to the large, sometimes blurred darkness of the forest. There is certainly plenty of scope here for discussing with young readers how the illustrations enhance the text, and how the reader feels about them.

The story itself is the real delight. There are no wasted words as Archie and the Bear share their experiences and learn from each other. At a surface level this book is a simple, but never simplistic, story of a boy who thinks he’s a bear, and a bear who claims to be a boy. There are things they can learn from each other as well as things that they have in common. Without being preachy about it, though, the obvious subtext in this story is an openness to the people around you, the simple courtesy of accepting how they identify themselves even if this doesn’t fit your own preconceived ideas, and a willingness to learn and share and find common ground.

There is nothing twee or condescending about Archie and the Bear. This book would sit well with younger listeners around the kinder age range as well as junior primary readers.

Reviewed by Emily Clarke

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