So many different animals living their separate lives, but they didn’t know they were in it together…until…the river came along.
Bear is curious about the river, dips his paw in the water, loses his balance and falls in. A string of different animals find themselves falling into the adventure (or mishap, depending on your perspective). Each animal brings its own unique gifts to the situation and the story implies that they survive it because they are together.
The illustrations are joyous. They are replete with bright colors and a sense of buoyant action. The characters are fully in the moment of their emotions, unrestrained by gravity (except technically, temporarily when they go over the falls). The illustrations captured my heart during my first read, but (due to conditions detailed below) I struggled to match them with the text.
I had to re-read this book several times. I checked it out from the library as an ebook (a format I do not recommend for this particular book), so sometimes I had to toggle back and forth between pages to understand the text in a way I would not have to do if I was looking at a double-page print spread. Perhaps it was due to this that I didn’t really understand what the story was trying to say the first time I read it. Reading the Author’s and Artist’s Notes at the end of the book is actually what helped to give me a specific perspective from which to read the story again.
The author reflects on distinct personalities and the challenge to embrace those who may be very different from ourselves:
…it is through connection that we truly discover our best selves.
The artist talks about his view of the story and its characters:
…I spent a lot of time thinking about why people become divided from one another and forget that they all live on the same earth…We sink or swim together.
The second time reading the story was a very different (much better) experience than the first. With the springboard of the author and artist’s intentions, the text and illustrations coalesced for me and I could appreciate and enjoy the way they mirror and complement one another in both tone and content. The story grew exponentially before my eyes and in my heart upon re-reading.
Bear Came Along is a terrific read-aloud at home (as we cuddle to share stories during stay-at-home orders in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic). It’s also a great option for classrooms (online or when we’re back in person!) when trying to emphasize appreciation of everyone’s unique gifts.