Bertha and Bear (Christine Sharp, UQP)
One little bee’s brave expedition through a storm to find somewhere safe to build a new hive is the focus of Christine Sharp’s third picture book Bertha and Bear. The pages are full and busy with plenty of movement. The palette is dominated by glowing oranges and golds that link the bees to their eventual hero, Bear, and the folk-art-reminiscent landscapes are a chorus of greens and browns, while storm clouds and lightly rendered spirals of wind offer contrasts in blues and greys. The illustrations contain plenty of detail to engage young listeners while the story is read aloud, and the narrative manages to keep its moral subtext (that brave adventures, if carefully executed, can bring happily-ever-after rewards) restrained. The progress of Bertha’s journey (past landmarks, à la We’re Going on a Bear Hunt) will satisfy the littlies. The verse narrative is the weakest aspect, however, barrelling along rhythmically to begin with, but quickly becoming irregular in both rhyme and meter, making it awkward to read the first few times. While the most jarring lines seem intentional and are effective at emphasising particular moments, in other places it’s hard not to feel jolted and distracted by the unpredictable patterns.
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg, an editor and writer, is a bookseller at The Hobart Bookshop