Monday, February 10, 2014

The Other Bears, by Michael Thompson

The Other Bears
Author/Illustrator: Michael Thompson
Publisher: Starbright Books
Publication Date: October 30, 2013
Source: NetGalley
View on Amazon

I'm glad I read this one before showing it to my four-year-old. It's so filled with ethnic stereotypes that I don't plan to read it to her at all.

The premise is that a couple of koala bears (which aren't actually bears, but these koalas like to think of themselves that way) are irritated when a series of other bear families move into their neighbourhood. Soon there are polar bears, black bears, brown bears, pandas and more. The koalas are grumpy about all of it, but their kids have fun playing with all the new bear cubs.

It's clear that the point of this book is to be a lesson about accepting people's differences, particularly people from other cultures. But that point is handled so heavy-handedly that the book itself isn't very good.

First, the "differences" that each of these bears brings is just a series of ethnic stereotypes about people from those regions. For instance, the panda bears show up wearing traditional Chinese silk jackets (changshan, I think?) and driving a rickshaw. You know, because they're from China. But then they're able to win over the koala bears who "love their food," which is apparently a plate of Chinese noodles served with chopsticks (shouldn't it just be bamboo shoots since they're PANDAS?). It goes on like that for every bear.

And for a book about accepting differences, there is no character development in these bears AT ALL. The koala parents are just xenophobic racists (sorry, "grumpy") who hate all the new bears for superficial reasons ("I don't like their shoes," "I don't like their ears") until their kids declare they do like them for equally superficial reasons ("we love their food," "we love their songs"). At no point do any of the "other bears" actually get to say anything.

And after all that, the illustrations aren't even that good either. There's something a little unfinished about them, like they were done by someone who can draw but isn't really an artist.

The bottom line is that I really didn't like this book and can't recommend it at all.

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