Friday, July 15, 2011

Golden Oldies Fridays ~ The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward

I have a large collection of vintage children's books, so I have decided to start a "Golden Oldies Friday".
Each Friday I will feature a vintage children's book that is at least 20 years old. I worked as an elementary school librarian from 1974 to 2005, so I am looking forward to digging out some of my old favorites and writing about them on this blog.

The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward
I first heard about this book in my Children's Literature class in the mid-1970s. I will never forget how the instructor read this book aloud to our class of future teachers and librarians.
Johnny Orchard is a young farm boy in the 1950s. He is upset because all of the neighbors have a bear skin hanging on the side of their barns. Johnny decides to take his gun and head out to the woods to shoot a bear. He soon spots a bear...a hungry baby bear. Johnny gives the bear some maple sugar from his pocket and takes him home. He convinces his parents that they should keep the bear and raise him.
Johnny and his family soon find out that a growing bear eats a huge amount of food. The bear causes all kinds of problems in the house and in the entire neighborhood.  One day, Johnny's father tells him the bear has to go back to live in the woods. Each time Johnny leads the bear into the woods, the bear comes right back to Johnny's house in a day or two.
Sadly, Johnny decides he will have to shoot the biggest bear. He leads the  bear out to the woods and loads his gun. Suddenly, the bear takes off running through the woods dragging Johnny behind him.  The bear (and Johnny) run right into a bear trap that is baited with maple sugar.
Soon some men come running up and say they are trying to capture a bear to put in the zoo. They tell Johnny that his bear will have a good home, plenty of food and he can come visit as often as he wants to.
The bear likes his new home and Johnny visits often. There is a sign that says "Biggest Bear" at the top of his cage.

The Caldecott Medal
"The Biggest Bear" was first published in 1952. It was illustrated using opaque watercolors, and won the prestigious Caldecott Medal for illustration in 1953.

My Thoughts
Through the years, there has been some controversy about this book. Some people say it encourages killing animals as a sport. It is disturbing to some people to see a young boy walking alone in the woods with a loaded gun on a bear hunting expedition.
I am not a hunter and I do not come from a family of hunters. Personally, I do not understand how people can have fun hunting down and killing wild animals. I do think this book provides young readers with an outstanding  opportunity to see what life was like living on a farm in the 1940s. This book could also lead to a discussion on the pros and cons of hunting...and the pros and cons of capturing wild animals and putting them in the zoo.
The highlight of this book is definitely the illustrations. The paintings are magnificent and the book is worth your attention just for the illustrations alone. You can spend hours pouring over the pictures with your child and talking about how things were back in the "olden days".
This book will always be a "Golden Oldie" in my collection of vintage children's books.

Next week, I will feature "Miss Rumphius" by Barbara Cooney in my Golden Oldies Friday post.

Please share your thoughts in the Comments Section below ~ I would love to hear from you.

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