The Biggest Bear
Continuing with the bear theme… Keep reading…
The Biggest Bear was written and illustrated by Lynd Ward in 1952. It revolves around a character named Johnny Orchard. Johnny is jealous that every family – with the exception his — has a bear pelt hanging from their barn. With a rifle in hand he sets out to find the biggest bear anyone has ever seen. He finds only a bear cub, however, and chooses to be friend it.
The bear becomes a family pet but he has an enormous appetite. The more he eats, the more he grows and becomes a nuisance to his adopted family and neighbors. The villagers decide it is time for Johnny’s bear to return to the woods.
Johnny tries three times to return the bear to the woods but he keeps returning, leaving Johnny with only one thing to do. Johnny takes the bear far into the woods, but while loading his rifle, the bear runs off and into a trap baited with maple sugar. It turns out to be a trap set by the zoo and the bear is carted off to the zoo, where Johnny can visit him any time.
The Biggest Bear deals with tough subject matters. Opening up discussions about the rights and treatment of animals, and the relationship between animals and people. It teaches readers a valuable lesson in respecting wild animals. I am not a big fan of the ending as Lynd seems to suggest that an animal held captive in the zoo is a better than and animal hunted down and killed. Neither is a good. The Biggest Bear leaves me uncomfortable.
These topics are not all black and white so it seems fitting that the story is illustrated in shades of grey. Lynd layers opaque watercolour to create textures. I find the facial expressions on the adults a bit distributing; they look gnarl and haunting. While the facial expression on the bear looks very human, perhaps a subtle reminder by the illustrator that animals have feelings too and also have the right to life.
The Biggest Bear has so many layers to it and even though it was printed in 1952, the topic is still relevant today. It is not often that a children’s book deals with heavy subjects and those that do tend to be rewarded. The Biggest Bear was reward the prestigious Caldecott Medal.
The Biggest Bear, a children’s book review by Thao Lam
Author and Illustrator Lynd Ward
(June 26th, 1905 to June 28th, 1985)
Lynd Ward was destined to become an artist when he discovered in first grade that his last name spelled backwards was “draw”.
Lynd was best known for his wood engraving and graphic novels. He received his Fine Arts degree from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College in 1926. In the same year he married fellow graduate and future collaborator May McNeer. While honeymooning in Europe they settled in Leipzig where Ward spent a year studying printmaking and book design at the National Academy of Graphic Arts.
Publisher Houghton Mifflin Books for Children; Book Club (BCE/BOMC) edition (June 1, 1952)