The Bruce Quartet: Mother Bruce, Hotel Bruce, BE QUIET! & Bruce's Big Move by Ryan T. Higgins

Two years ago I fell in love with Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. The combination of the character of Bruce, an irresistible curmudgeonly bear with a passion for gourmet cooking, and Higgins's stunning illustration style - black lines define the many textures and details on every page, not to mention the expressions of the characters, make for a book that is a joy to read, alone or to a crowd, and one that I have revisited often since first reading. Somehow, I missed reading the other books about Bruce and his saga as an adoptive, single parent to a brood of goslings, but am making up for it here with a review of all three!
Mother Bruce ended with Bruce grudgingly taking the bus south with his gaggle after failing to teach the geese how to migrate. In Hotel Bruce, tired and grumpy, the bear returns to his woodland home in the spring with this adopted children only to find that three enterprising mice have turned his home into the North Woods Hotel. While the theme of this book is similar to Mother Bruce in that the solitude-seeking bear once again finds himself in the middle of low-grade chaos, it is a theme that I am happy to revisit endlessly when Higgins it at the helm. The three entrepreneurial, intrepid mice at the center of this story are hilariously reminiscent of the many wisecracking characters I loved from the Looney Toons cannon and once they get the goslings on their side, Bruce doesn't stand a chance. I especially loved the huge cast of animals in Hotel Bruce and Higgins's delightfully charming characterization of them.
BE QUIET! features the trio of mice in starring in their own book, the bespectacled and mustachioed Rupert declaring, even before the title page, that this will be a wordless book because wordless books are "very artistic" and "visually stimulating." However, Rupert's two companions, Nibs and Thistle, have a hard time being quiet and keeping the word bubbles off the page. The more that Rupert demands silence, the more Nibs and Thistle talk, his demands and their words alerting the course of the story and the illustrations. Thistle interprets "visually stimulating" to mean poking "readers in the eyeballs with pictures," and an avalanche of misunderstanding, fueled by visual puns and literal interpretations of the witty dialogue follow. Bruce and the geese make cameo appearances, along with a saucer-eyed (but razor-clawed kitten), a cucumber with googly eyes and Captain Quiet, the Vocabulary Vigilante, in yet another marvelously illustrated, smartly written, laugh-out-loud picture book.

Which brings us to this year's stellar addition to the World of Bruce, Bruce's Big Move. Life with his adoptive clan, mice included despite his best efforts, has become crowded. One thing that I have yet to mention and love dearly about these books are the design. Each book case reveals an illustration different from that on the dust jacket, with unique illustrations on the front and back that add to the story. The end papers of each book also add layers to the storytelling with something as simple as a change of seasons to something more detailed, as in Bruce's Big Move, where we see the front yard of Bruce's North Woods home, littered with toys, a FOR SALE sign tacked to a tree in the foreground. The final page is a bird's eye view of the top of Bruce's desk, with a recipe for "Grammie Tootie's Applesauce," a frying pan, cup of coffee, measuring tape, fishing lure, glasses, elaborate diagram showing how to play frying-pan ball and a pile of kid's books for bedtime reading. As always, the details on every page are well worth lingering over. When Bruce moves his family, intentionally leaving the trio of mice behind, he finds what he is looking for. Sadly, the geese are bereft. The pages where Bruce is trying to get the geese to enjoy their new home are particularly hilarious, mostly because of the forced, slightly grimace-y smile on Bruce's face.

Despite Bruce's constant, Sisyphean quest to prove otherwise, this one truth holds, for humans and bears: solitude is not attainable once you become a parent. I'm not sure what path Bruce's story will follow next, but it's definitely one I will travel down.  Higgins's writing is every bit as clever and engaging as his illustrations, making his books a treat to read every time, over and over. 

Source: Review Copies

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