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Bear Despair by Gaëtan Dorémus

I don't know if you read many picture books by foreign authors or if you even realize it when you are reading one, but I do. And I do. There is just something about the way illustrators and authors from other countries and cultures tell their stories that amazes and charms me. It can be as simple as the difference between Ludwig Bemelman's Madeline and Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight's Eloise. Or, the differences can be as distinct as the mostly foreign books published by the marvelous Enchanted Lion Books, home of the Stories Without Words series, also a label here at From Beatrice Rodriguez and her superb, wordless trilogy to Little Bird by Germano Zullo with illustrations by Albertine, there is something about the subject matter, pace and imagery in non-American picture books that feels almost transcendent and liberating at times. Basically, I think that as a nation we have our own special goody bag of hang-ups and ideas about life and how to live it (as do all peoples, I know) that sometimes impedes really great picture books being made. And that's where Enchanted Lion Books steps in.
Bear Despair by Gaëtan Dorémus is the sixth book in the Stories Without Words series and it stands up well to the other five fantastic books that came before. In his book, Dorémus uses a sketchy illustration style to tell the story of a sleeping bear who has his teddy ripped from his arms by a teasing wolf. The bear wakes and pursues the thief only to see his teddy tossed high over the trees of the forest. 
This is where Dorémus's story takes a turn that an American author/illustrator most likely would not. Furious, as anyone would be when treated so badly, the bear eats the wolf and we see him howling in the bear's stomach. The bear goes on through the woods after his beloved bear, encountering one creature meaner than the next, each one in turn tossing the teddy and then being gobbled up. The bear, tears streaming from his eyes and his stomach growing to fit this unruly menagerie, also grows bigger. However, the bear's head stays the same size, allowing him to continue being relatable for young readers.
Finally, a gigantic octopus gently hands the teddy back to the towering bear and he burps up all the creatures inside of him. Then, teddy in his arm, the now enormous bear flops down on the shore and goes to sleep. As one review of Bear Despair noted, there are no "tiresome morals" or lessons to be learned. Dorémus goes "straight to the frustration and rage of childhood." And that is what I love most about this book. Show, don't tell, is practically a cliché when it comes to writing and storytelling, but I would so much rather read Bear Despair and open up a conversation about the events of the book than read a Berenstain Bears book about sharing that lays it all out in dogmatic terms and tells you how it is.


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