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Book Reviews

Bear on the Train

by Julie Lawson, Brian Deines, illus.

In Bear On the Train, a hungry bear follows the smell of grain right into a railway car. By the time the train pulls out, the bear is ready to hibernate and sleeps through the journey from the Prairies to the coast and back again. Only Jeffrey, a young boy, sees this unusual passenger, and each time the train passes through Jeffrey’s town, he tries to get the bear to go home. The stirrings of spring eventually awake the bear, who finally lumbers off the train.

Award-winning B.C. writer Julie Lawson’s simple, repetitive text echoes the train’s rhythmic motion and lends itself to reading aloud. She gives her story a sense of authenticity, using accurate train vocabulary like “hopper” and “siding” and describing the train’s voyage west with geographical accuracy. In addition, she infuses the bear with a real personality, even though this character sleeps through most of the book. Jeffrey, on the other hand, remains one-dimensional, and his rhyming refrain grows tiresome by its third round. Happily, his refrain is short, and so doesn’t detract much from an otherwise sound tale.

Brian Deines, illustrator of Janet Lunn’s Charlotte, complements and improves on Lawson’s text. His oil paintings are rich in tone and detail, and render the landscape with accuracy and beauty. Though the book’s youngest audiences may not immediately appreciate his sophisticated style, with its blurred outlines and darker colours, his vivid trains and realistic bear will soon captivate them. Deines’s art is outstanding.

Lawson and Deines’s combined efforts tell a charming, purely Canadian story that will be enjoyed by audiences aged 3 to 7.