Urban Bear

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich – written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone Roach
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015

When bears show up in cities, unusual turns of event may happen.  If you remember Don Freeman’s Corduroy, you know that a small stuffed bear confuses a department store with a palace, and in Amy Hest’s When You Meet a Bear on Broadway a live version of the same animal needs to be reunited with his mother.  In Julia Sarcone Roach’s The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, the endpapers feature beautifully individualized pictures of different sandwiches, but the main point of the story is about a girl, a missing lunch, and a loveable, but possibly less than honest, pet dog.

The story starts with the bear’s reassuring origin in the forest. He stretches in the morning air and then catches a ride on a produce truck. Before long, he wakes up in a big city. There’s a fairytale element in his falling asleep and then finding himself in a different world, but the world is definitely a real one. There’s a suspension bridge and fast-moving vehicles, all rendered in impressionistic lines and colors. “It was like nothing he’d ever seen before.” Like Corduroy, this bear is confused.  Cement is mud beneath his feet, walls are bark for scratching, and the smell of garbage is just part of life in the forest.  We see the bear peering with big eyes through the slats of a park bench, where he spies a lunch.  As we watch him devour the sandwich, the bear’s predatory nature becomes evident. But soon, he wants to go home.  (So does Corduroy, but, until the end of the book, he doesn’t have one.)

Ears also stand out in this book, both literally and figuratively. Again, in Corduroy, one of the more memorable scenes features the toy bear asleep in the department store bed, with only his tiny ears sticking out from the covers. This bear’s ears are part of his personality, intent on exploring. We see them on the cover, and protruding like uncombed hair in almost every picture.

After he returns home, a terrier appears; we see only the back of his head and ears. He is telling a young girl that her missing sandwich was taken by a hungry bear.  “I tried to save your sandwich. I was able to save this little bit of lettuce here.” It’s not clear if that clever detail convinces her, but she certainly doesn’t appear angry. Facing the dog, she looks down kindly at him with a half-smile. In her spotless white dress she could be a neater, calmer, Goldilocks, but with beautiful dark skin and hair.  So that’s what happens when a bear comes to the city, steals a sandwich, and takes off, or at least when Julia Sarcone Roach imagines the story through the eyes of a child.  Sometimes the most interesting explanations are the least plausible.

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