Review: Bear and Fred: A World War II Story
Bear and Fred: A World War II Story by Iris Argaman, illustrated by Avi Ofer, translated by Annette AppelCategory: Picture Books
Reviewer: Karin Fisher-Golton
Buy at Bookshop.org
I keep an eye out for books that inform children about the Holocaust and can engage their emotions without overwhelming them (which can lead to numbing out). Bear and Fred: A World War II Story is one such book. It is based on the true story of a teddy bear that belonged to a boy named Fred Lessing. Decades after he survived the Holocaust, Mr. Lessing generously gifted the bear to Yad Vashem’s museum. Captivated by their story, author Iris Argaman wrote this picture book in Hebrew, and Annette Appel translated it into the English version I review here.
Told from the bear’s point of view, Bear and Fred follows the two titular characters as Fred’s family must abruptly leave their home in Delft, Holland and Fred spends the rest of the war in hiding, separated from his family. Ultimately Fred’s family reunites and moves to America. The story is framed with a prologue and epilogue that describe Bear’s journey to Yad Vashem’s museum. The book includes both a note from Bear and an author’s note.
The bear’s point of view is written adeptly and serves the story well. The familiar child/stuffed animal relationship helps modern children relate to the setting. Because Fred is the bear’s focus, the story stays centered on the boy’s experience, which is a good scope for a picture book. The focus on the comfort object provides a broader introduction to how children can cope in very difficult situations. And readers see that though Bear goes through many transformations, including getting a new face, he is still Bear.
Avi Ofer’s illustrations are rendered with expressive lines and a palette limited to grey-blue—the color of the people—and pale browns—the color of the bear. These colors help the small narrator pop on the page. The misty tones capture the feel of distant memories.
Bear and Fred meets every criteria of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. Despite the challenging topic, it is appropriate for its age group. Research for the book is centered on firsthand information from a Holocaust survivor’s childhood memories. Recording and sharing such stories is especially important as the time frame of the Holocaust is becoming “a lifetime ago.” Bear and Fred is a contender for the Sydney Taylor Award.
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