Chocolate Lily shortlist review: What’s Up, Bear? and Toads on Toast

Quick review: the Chocolate Lily is BC’s reader’s choice award.

Disclosure: the copies I read for the below books were borrowed from my public library.

What's Up, Bear

What’s Up, Bear?: A Book About Opposites is written by Freida Wishinsky and illustrated by Sean L. Moore. Sophie and her Dad go vacation in New York City. While Sophie is enthusiastic about everything, her Bear is not so sure. In fact, Bear is a bit of a Scaredy Squirrel. Most of the illustrations depict an incredibly blissed-out Dad, a wide-eyed happy Sophie, and a miserable-looking Bear. I found it hard to relate to Bear, because he is so reluctant to enjoy new experiences. The whole tale is narrated with one line of dialogue on each half-spread, typically the first an elated statement by Sophie, and the second a glum reply from Bear. Each statement contains one “opposite” (eg. tall/short, hello/goodbye).  The first eight doublespreads relate Sophie and Bear’s jaunts around NYC. In the final six doublespreads the story shifts gears as Sophie enters a toy shop and is so entranced by the new, big stuffed teddy bears that she accidentally leaves her beloved Bear behind. At this point I felt the tale gained heart, as I finally saw how much Sophie and Bear loved one another.

Further notes: Sophie (Bear’s co-protagonist) and her father are people of colour – which is never mentioned in the text, but helps improve the appalling stats on the invisibility of POC in children’s literature as main characters. Also, NYC citizens will appreciate this: Bear is ultimately returned through the kindness of strangers, as a little boy who wants to buy Bear and his mother find Sophie and her dad.

Toads on Toast

Toads on Toast is written by Linda Bailey and illustrated by Colin Jack. As with What’s Up, Bear?, Toads on Toast has two protagonists: Fox, who, upon buying a cookbook, discovers that small toads are much more desirable for gourmet meals than big fat toads; and Mamma, who is determined to save her little toadlets… and keep them in line and out of the butter as she deals with Fox. The illustrations made me laugh as I read. The characters are drawn chock-full of personality, which matches the text brilliantly. The little toadlets are mischievous and completely oblivious to their impending destruction; Mamma is clever, utterly determined to save her family, and equally determined to make them behave (a la Molly Weasley); and Fox – well, I couldn’t help liking Fox, even as he connives to eat Mamma’s children.

The story, combined with Mamma Toad’s Secret Toad-in-a-Hole recipe, is enough to make a whole new generation of readers demand this British breakfast and, given the clever text and zany pictures, I might just join in.