Written and Illustrated by David Litchfield
Clarion Books, 2016
One day in the forest, a young bear cub found something he’d never seen before.
The plot in a nutshell: A bear has a career as a pianist.
The bear touches the piano keys and they make a strange sound. He comes back day after day to play the piano until he is able to play beautiful music, which fills him with joy. The other bears come around to listen and one night, a girl and her father discover him. They invite him to the city, where he can perform in front of thousands of people and hear other people play, as well. He knows the other bears will miss him, but he goes to the city and becomes an acclaimed piano virtuoso. He performs to sold out crowds who give him standing ovations. He records albums, gives interviews and wins awards. But he misses his home, so he returns to the forest, excited to see his friends and tell them about his adventures. But when he gets back to the clearing, the piano is gone and there are no bears anywhere around. He sees a bear and tries to speak to her, but she runs away. He follows and finds his piano, surrounded by his concert posters, articles and records. His fellow bears had watched his success with pride and he plays a very special concert, just for them.
This is the first picture book from author/illustrator David Litchfield and I was pleased to learn that he has another book coming out next year, since this auspicious debut offers lots to love. My grown son, who is working hard searching for opportunities to pursue his dream job, read it and was unexpectedly choked up at the end, clearly relating to the bear’s story. It’s a layered story that is likely to have different meanings to you, according to your point of view. But at its core, it’s very simple and will be easy for young kids to appreciate and love.
Part of that love will be for the mixed media artwork, which plays with shading, environments and expressions to pull together all the emotional elements of the story. There are some absolutely gorgeous illustrations here, many of which are set in a forest setting that is ethereal with light. Mr. Litchfield cites a love of both music and forests as inspiration, but also throws a shout-out to ‘Little Room’ by the White Stripes, which is a song about remembering your roots. It’s a wonderful book that I recommend for adults as well as kids.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the praise of the whole wide world doesn’t mean as much as knowing someone you truly love is proud of you.