Title: Three Bears in a Boat
Author: David Soman
Illustrator: David Soman
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 2014
Audience: Ages 3-5
Summary: Three sibling bears break their mother’s favorite blue shell as they try to sneak a jar of honey off of the mantle. Hoping to replace the shell with a lookalike before their mother finds out the first one is broken, they set off in their boat on a search for a similar shell. In asking various people they meet on the open seas if they know where to find a blue shell, one gruff sailor tells them they will find one if they ‘just look in the right place’. Their quest across the sea brings some physical challenges and danger and conflict with each other until they find that home – and forgiveness – is where they find what they need.
Literary elements at work in the story: Although only 32 pages, this is a fully formed adventure story. Young children will be fascinated with the details on some of the pages that tell as much as the text about what the bears encounter. The ocean is a central character in the book and Soman takes full advantage of his considerable artistic skills to create some amazing images of the sea. In the climactic scene, the bears are in a small boat in a storm-ravaged sea and the text on the two page spread simply says “Boom!” Two pages later, when the siblings acknowledge the parts they played in their dilemma, the reader turns the page from the image of a storm to one of the most peaceful pictures of a boat on water you’ll ever see. The marriage of text and image in this book is outstanding (although I think the artwork is the real star), and the large square format (about 11 x 11”) makes it a perfect group read aloud as well as a great book to share with one child.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? These perspectives do not impact the story.
Theological Conversation Partners: I love you, thank you, and I’m sorry are three of the most important things we try to teach our children to say and express in their lives. This story – a wonderful “I’m sorry” story – mirrors many of the stories in scripture that show the ways that God’s people have made choices that break relationships and result in guilt and confusion and how confession and forgiveness go hand in hand in restoring these relationships. (Think Jacob and Esau – Genesis 25-33; Joseph and his brothers – Genesis 37-50; David and Saul’s family – 2 Samuel 9 to name a few.) The bears’ decision to hide the broken shell and sneak away to find a replacement seems exciting at first, but quickly turns into frustration and anger with each other. Taking responsibility for the choices that hurt and separate us from God and each other is necessary for restoration and the bears – like us – finally recognize that saying ‘I’m sorry’ to each other and to their mother is the only way to begin to calm the seas. The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) reminds us that although we must recognize and confess our sinfulness, it is God’s gracious love that always welcomes us home – even if we don’t always get dessert. (And you’ll just have to read the book to understand that line!)
Faith Talk Questions:
- Have you ever had an accident that happened when you were doing something you shouldn’t have been doing? What happened? Was it important for you to say you were sorry? Would it have made a difference to you or anyone else if you had not said you were sorry?
- The pictures of the ocean in this book show a lot of emotion. Find a picture in the book you like and share what it feels like to you. Fear? Excitement? Concern? Confusion?
- What did the bears do to make things right with their mother? How do you know that she still loves them and forgives them? Do you think the bears should have gotten dessert?
- In our prayers, we say “I am sorry” to God for the things that we do that hurt others and ourselves. How do you know that God acts like the mother bear and always loves you?
- Share a prayer with your child(ren) saying “I’m sorry” and expressing gratitude for God’s unceasing love
This review was written by Ann Thomas Knox, Director of the Instructional Resource Center at Morton Library, Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA.
Three Bears in a Boat by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.