Thoreau for the kiddie set? Definitely. Author and illustrator D. B. Johnson revives the 19th-century writer's desire to live a simple life with this brilliant picture book starring one determined bear. Henry the bear wants to build a cabin in the woods. As he gathers his materials and begins his project, friends stop by and offer him advice. The small frame of the beams prompts his friend Emerson to observe, "Henry, your cabin looks too small to eat in!" Henry replies, "It's bigger than it looks." He explains that the bean patch behind the cabin shall be his dining room. When his friend Alcott notices it's a bit dark inside the cabin, Henry states that the sunny spot next to the house will be his library. Miss Lydia's remark that there is barely enough room to dance inspires Henry to dance in the curved path to the pond, his "ballroom with a grand stairway." When the cabin is finished, Henry enjoys his dining room and other amenities to the fullest. When a rain shower falls, Henry fits snugly in the walls of his cabin and says, "This is just the room I wear when it's raining!"
Johnson evokes the true sensibility of Thoreau's actions. Enjoying nature and using it's bounties, Henry lives outside of his material world. Young readers will learn that constrictions of the world are only in their minds. Johnson uses colored pencil and paint on paper to illustrate the mighty Henry in the woods. Warm colors and an excellent use of angles and lines allow kids to see Henry's work from various perspectives. Youngsters will love seeing the meditative bear linger around his newly built home, reading in his "library," and eating beans in the "dining" room. The beauty of nature fills every page, from the greenery of the forest to the animals in the woods. Johnson makes every effort to illustrate the joy Henry experiences while living in his cabin.
This creative retelling of one man(bear)'s quest to live in harmony with Mother Earth is sure to inspire young readers to explore and appreciate their very own green ballroom in their own backyard. (Amy Barkat)