Nikolai, The Only Bear

Overview

There are one hundred orphans at the Russian orphanage, but Nikolai is the only bear. He growls when he speaks and claws the air when he plays. "Play nice, Nikolai," the keepers say. No one wants to take Nikolai home. Until one day, when a fur-faced man and a smooth-faced woman come to visit from America. They growl with him and play with him, and sing songs that make him feel soft-bearish. And when it's time for them to go home, Nikolai knows that he has found the right family ...

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Overview

There are one hundred orphans at the Russian orphanage, but Nikolai is the only bear. He growls when he speaks and claws the air when he plays. "Play nice, Nikolai," the keepers say. No one wants to take Nikolai home. Until one day, when a fur-faced man and a smooth-faced woman come to visit from America. They growl with him and play with him, and sing songs that make him feel soft-bearish. And when it's time for them to go home, Nikolai knows that he has found the right family at last.
Charmingly illustrated by newcomer Renata Liwska, this is an adoption fable that any child who's ever felt like an outsider will easily relate to.

Nikolai, a bear who lives in the orphanage in Novosibirsk, Russia, does not seem to fit in until the day some visitors arrive from America.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Life is lonely for Nikolai, the only bear in a Russian orphanage. No one can understand him ("His first word was `Hello.'/ He said it like this: `Rrroaar' "), and his natural cub rambunctiousness is frowned upon (albeit gently-the tale makes clear that with "ninety-nine keepers and one hundred orphans," the orphanage is not of the Dickensian model). Joosee (Hot City) and debut artist Liwska convey that no child is beyond the reach of love, and with the patient, caring ministrations of an America couple who travel to Russia to adopt him, Nikolai finally "feels soft-bearish." The book concludes with the simple but reassuring words, "Together, they go home." Unfortunately, Liwska's meticulously crafted compositions seem mismatched to this tale. Her somber characterizations and palette of muted greys, browns and greens evoke the former Soviet Union too effectively; the pictures are so austere that at times they overshadow the glimmer of hope in Joosse's eloquent prose-and the story's happy outcome. Families who have experienced international adoption may find the pathos of Nikolai's character problematic: there's a big difference between being special and being perceived as malevolent. Ages 3-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
PreS-K-Nikolai, the sole bear in a Russian orphanage, doesn't fit in. Because he growls rather than talks and doesn't always "play nice," he has remained in the institution for three years. An American couple, in search of a youngster to love, visits the children's home and becomes acquainted with the cub. The bearded man has the ability to communicate in Bearspeak, while his wife makes Nikolai feel "soft-bearish" inside. All ends happily when the three leave Russia to become a family in the States. Pale tan, brown, and green dominate the soft-hued paintings, and the adults and children are all short with round heads and triangular noses. Read this well-written, attractively laid out book along with Eliza Thomas's The Red Blanket (Scholastic, 2004) for tales of cross-cultural adoptions.-Maryann H. Owen, Racine Public Library, WI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sensitive adoption story loosely based on fact, but given an imaginative twist that makes it uncommonly moving. All of the residents of Novosibirsk Orphanage Number One are human except for Nikolai. Being a bear, his play is too rough for the children, his roars and growls not understood by his adult caregivers. But that all changes when a man with a "furry face" and a woman with "moonlight hair and lake water eyes" arrive from America to hold his paw, growl and roughhouse with him, and at last, ask him to be part of their family. Liwska debuts with quietly composed scenes in muted colors; Nikolai, a small, smudged, dark brown cub with a red kerchief, stands out among the other ragdoll-like figures, his feelings expressed in relatively subtle but clear shifts of head and posture. Economically told, deeply felt, this will leave readers feeling, like Nikolai near the end, "soft bearish." (Picture book. 5-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399238840
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/28/2005
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 3 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.32 (w) x 10.36 (h) x 0.41 (d)

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