When You Meet a Bear on Broadway – written by Amy Hest, illustrated by Elivia Savadier
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
Sometimes one book, or one work of art from other media, reminds you of another. A while back, I compared the lovely picture book Snow Sisters, by Kerri Kokias and Teagan White, to the A.A. Milne poem, “Twice Times,” about two dissimilar bears who appear to switch roles. I still sometimes notice visitors to my blog who found the post through an A.A. Milne search. Today I am writing about one of my favorite authors in the world, Amy Hest, whose charming story with an urban setting also sends me back to Winnie the Pooh’s creator.
In A.A. Milne’s “Lines and Squares,” the city is London, and the narrator is a little boy who casually explains the careful system for avoiding the predators lurking on the streets of his home. Obviously, taking care not to avoid both lines and squares is the best way to avoid the fate of those oblivious children who are unaware of the dangers lurking: “And the little bears growl to each other, ‘He’s mine,/As soon as he’s silly and steps on a line.’” In Amy Hest (I’ve reviewed her here and here and here and here, and interviewed her here) and Elivia Savadier’s (my first review of her work, and I hope not the last) When You Meet a Bear on Broadway, the city on New York, and the narrator’s goal is not avoiding danger, but rather locating a young bear’s missing mother. In addition to the most direct link of city plus bears, there is the matter-of-fact instructional tone. From a child’s perspective, the way in which she sees the world makes perfect sense, even if adults seem to miss that fact.
The girl is confident and direct, with a little bit of the knowingness of Kay Thompson’s Eloise, without her obnoxious personality. She first appears in a bright blue coat, striped tights and a jaunty beret, holding out her hand to make sure that she is in control of the situation: “’Stop there, Little Bear.’/And he will. Stop. Immediately. (To your great relief.)”. We soon learn that the girl is quite maternal, and truly concerned about her lost animal friend.
The walk through the city, uptown and downtown, past doormen at luxury apartment buildings, pizza and bookstores, and the banks of the Hudson or possibly the East River. Children, who otherwise often feel small and vulnerable, may feel proudly grownup when they help someone even smaller. As she always does, Hest shows her deep ability to empathize with children and to capture their thoughts and speech. Once the bear has been safely reunited with her elusive mother, the little girl needs to run home to her own: “Now run! RUN! RUN!/On the wings of the wind. All the way home.”
Each clause is equally important and builds to the crucial conclusion, which is to narrate the day’s events, “To tell your mama everything/that happened on this crispy-cold day.” You can be sure that her mother will believe everything. I’m not as sure about the young Londoner whose mother we never meet. He seems satisfied to call out, “Bears,/Just watch me walking in all the squares!” Hest’s New York City girl needs to share her story. That’s the point.
And you should share it, too.