Bear’s Big Day – written and illustrated by Salina Yoon
Bloomsbury’s Children’s Books 2016
There are countless books designed to help children overcome their fears about beginning school. Even some of the less stellar ones can be serviceable, and it’s hard to tell when any particular story will appeal to an anxious child. Some of them have a particular angle, such as the special challenges of beginning school in a new country or culture, such as Anna Kim’s wonderful Danbi Leads the School Parade. Others use humor, but not all as inventively as Tara Lazar and Melissa Crowton in Your First Day at Circus School. Salina Yoon weighs in the on the truly difficult issue of whether or not it is a good idea for a young child to bring a transitional object, whether a teddy bear, doll, or in this case, Floppy Bunny. Her answer is yes, and she makes a compelling case for allowing this source of comfort.
Even though Bear has a great morning eating pancakes with his parents, and agrees to leave Floppy Bunny at home, the pressures of beginning school are tougher than he had anticipated. Yoon’s animals are recognizably members of their species, but also personified enough to satisfy children’s need to identify with them. The grey-furred Miss Fox, a kind teacher with glasses, plays a key role, as she empathizes with Bear’s difficulties. The key point is that some children easily adapt, but Bear is not what of them.
Lunchtime is a trial for Bear. The other students happily consume their meals, Panda using chopsticks and a beautifully arranged bento. (A bento is a Japanese lunchbox with compartments; it is also used in other parts of Asia.) Bear stares into space. His lunchbox, wryly decorated with Yoon’s character from her Penguin books, remains closed. Naptime is, naturally, the worst. A sleepless Bear stares at the ceiling while his friends happily dream of ice cream, kites, and whatever appears in Lamb’s dreams.
Miss Fox doesn’t only permit Bear to bring Floppy to school. She actively engages her anxious student in an art project that becomes a kind of compromise step towards independence. At the same time, Bear learns that his classmates’ impressive adaptability had a similar key to success. The endpapers of the book feature brightly colored backpacks, each as individual as the child who carries it to school. Yoon’s combination of empathy, simplicity, and attention to the small details that occupy children’s minds, all add up to a happy conclusion.