by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illus. by Ed Young
Have your children ever seen a moon bear? After they experience this book, they will never forget them. Named for the crescent moon–shaped markings on their midnight-black fur, these bears live in China. This glorious picture book transports your youngsters to the creatures' homeland and takes them through a complete cycle of seasons. Brenda Guiberson structures the narrative like a lyrical call and response: “Who blinks in the sunlight/ that peeks through the Himalayas?/ Sleepy moon bear,/ waking up/ from a long winter snooze.” The moon bear scratches a birch tree then “licks the oozing sap,” and claws at a rhododendron’s trunk to mark its territory. In Ed Young’s illustration of the latter, a barely visible barking deer stares at the bear, whom we now see at close range. Several spreads later, we view the animal from below, gathering cherries; the contrast of the red fruit with the green leaves carefully sculpted by the artist’s scissors, as well as the white crescent collar against the predominantly black fur, clouds aswirl in the sky, emphasize the animal’s majesty.
The year progresses, and the bear moves from the peaks of the Himalayas to the lowlands searching for food; we learn that it must carefully wind its way, “avoiding poachers and loggers.” As the seasons come full circle, the book reveals that the moon bear we’ve been following is female (“Who shuffles out in spring/ so hungry again?/ Mama moon bear!”) Together, Guiberson and Young capture the bear’s many moods, from regal to silly (as the bear “gulps… beechnuts and acorns,” she looks almost cross-eyed, licking her chops with satisfaction, the red of her tongue vibrating against an autumn backdrop of mossy green). Only in a closing author’s note does Guiberson expand on the text’s reference to “poachers,” wisely allowing children not yet ready to learn its meaning to pass it by, while directing those who wish to discover more about the bears’ situation or want to help rescue the moon bears to further information. For most children, this will be an eye-opening and breathtaking introduction to the moon bear living half a world away.