I fell in love with Thyra Heder in 2013 when her book FraidyZoo was published. FraidyZoo bursts with creativity, imagination and familial love that you rarely see expressed so authentically in a picture book. With Bear Report, Heder delivers yet another magnificent picture book that is filled with imagination and playfulness.
Using panels, full page illustrations, few words and an icy blue palette, Heder tells the story of Sophie, a kid who cuts some corners on her homework so that she can watch television. Her class is studying the Arctic and she has been asked to find three facts about polar bears. With increasing sloppiness, she writes, "they are big. they eat things. They are mean." Then she skips off to the living room.
Olafur is a polar bear who is short for his age and ready to take Sophie on a journey. She's reluctant at first, but once she agrees the magic begins. Heder has a superb author's note at the end of The Bear Report that adds to the wonder of this book. She writes about a trip she made to Iceland in 2014 where she took a guided hike of a glacier. Of the somewhat perilous tour, she writes, "What at first had felt like nothing but ice now seemed to have a personality, a heartbeat." This is conveyed, both in Sophie's initial thoughts on polar bears and in Heder's illustrations (and Sophie's experiences with Olafur) as one seemingly expansive, white and barren land becomes a musical terrain filled with (sometimes hidden) life and adventure.
The Bear Report is such a simple, beautiful book that I am reluctant to heap theory upon it, but . . . I went to a conference for educators dedicated to "project based learning" in which students immerse themselves in a subject across all disciplines for several weeks and Heder's books remind of of innovative ways of teaching that were discussed. Authentic learning (learning through applying knowledge in real-life contexts and situations) and hands-on learning, along with "student buy-in" were concepts on the table. When I think about Sophie's experience in The Bear Report, it seems like the perfect example of all three of these things. Of course we can't send students to the Arctic to hang with a polar bear for the day to get them to buy-in to a lesson, but I have no doubt that more creative thinking, the kind that Heder has displays in both of her picture books (in FraidyZoo, the family of a little girl who is scared to visit the zoo try to find out what's scaring her by making sculptures of zoo animals using sheets, sleeping bags, cardboard boxes and themselves) would go a long way towards engaging students and igniting a passion for what they are learning. While I love every page of The Bear Report, the spread that speaks most to me is the final one where Sophie is back home and working, now with fervor and dedication, on her Bear Report, where pages of writing, pictures, sculptures and diagrams spread across the living room and covering up the television. Somehow, what we teach our children needs to inspire the same buy-in that Sophie's time with Olafur spurred in her.
Source: Review Copy