Written and Illustrated by Greg Foley
Early one morning, a little bear found a little box.
The plot in a nutshell: A bear gets mixed reactions to his find.
When Bear looks in the box, he says that what he sees is great and he can’t wait to show it to Mouse. On his way, he meets others and each time, they look in the box. Monkey thinks it’s not so great. Owl has seen it before. Fox says he’s holding it wrong. Elephant thinks it’s too small. Squirrel wants it for himself. Rabbit is too busy to even look. Bear begins to question whether it’s really that great at all. Then Mouse comes along, climbs inside the empty box and tells Bear it’s the greatest thing ever.
This was the first picture book from author/illustrator Greg Foley and it’s dedicated to ‘anyone who ever thought they had something great.’ The wording of that dedication really encapsulates the book’s message, in my opinion. I imagine that everyone has had the experience of thinking you have discovered something amazing, only to be told it’s worthless by someone else. Mr. Foley shows us that the opinions of others around us have no real impact on the value of something that we prize for our own reasons. I love that we see Bear start to doubt whether the box is any good at all, because that definitely happens when others make you start questioning your own opinions.
The artwork is beautifully minimal, with the book’s text on the left hand page and the illustration on the right. The text page’s background color corresponds to the animal we see in the picture, which creates a really nice visual layout. Bear is just adorably drawn and it’s sad to see his enthusiasm for his discovery grow dimmer and dimmer, so that by the time he finally meets up with Mouse, he is looking thoroughly dejected. His burst of joy when Mouse loves his gift is a welcome relief. Mr. Foley followed up this book with several more about Bear and won the Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding picture book writing for this one. As I see more and more instances of society criticizing the opinions of others, I think the book’s message becomes more and more important.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the worth of something is truly determined by the value that the owner puts on it.