I won a copy of Arctic Bears Chase, written by Steve Fiffer and illustrated by Keiler Roberts, on the site Goodreads. This being my first, quite unexpected, and unlooked for prize, I may be disposed to view Arctic Bears Chase a little less impartially than I have some of the other books that I’ve reviewed here.
Arctic Bears Chase is a book consisting of a single, alphabetically building sentence with corresponding illustrations. The concept intrigued me, and so I entered my name for the drawing.
Intriguing though I still find the concept, I feel as if it might have been executed with more finesse, while recognizing how difficult such a book, such a sentence is to craft, particularly while making it appropriate for the young target audience.
In 10 minutes or less—so please cut me some slack for not trying too terribly hard—I created this sentence using the same concept:
“Aspens bend carelessly down earthward for great, huffing, icy jets; kamikaze, lacerating monsoons; nearly opaque rain; streaming, torpedoing, ubiquitous, violent water—Xandu, your zealot.”
There are several flaws with this quickly dashed sentence:
In terms of its ability to be turned into a picture book of the same form as Arctic Bears Chase, there are words in this sentence that no child reading a picture book would comprehend.
It would not be as simple to illustrate as Arctic Bears Chase, which uses primarily a noun participle pattern (i.e. “watering xylophonists yodeling zeroes”). Each of Arctic Bears Chase’s pairs can be illustrated, if some take some creativity to pull off; each includes a subject that does an action. I would think it much more difficult to illustrate my string of adjectives, especially as 11 of the adjectives describe one object: rain.
My sentence does not have the rhythm that Arctic Bears Chase’s noun participle pattern lends it and so is not as pleasant a read.
Both my and Fiffer’s sentences are a bit grammatically awkward, but I think mine might be a tad more awkward.
I hope, though, that Fiffer spent much more time crafting and tweaking his sentence to get it just right and ready for publication, and I do wonder what I could do with more than a cursory try at this form.
What really rubs me about this book is how quickly the novelty of the nonsensical wears off and how quickly the illustrations cease building into a full story but instead dissolve into creative drawings that do not connect to one another except by the inclusion of the previous character. Arctic bears disappeared from the illustrations by the letter ‘I,’ and the illustrations ceased to build coherently after ‘F,’ when the frog is suddenly no longer in the tree.
I am 23. I am not the intended audience for this book nor have I been able yet to interact with a child who is the target age to watch his reaction. Perhaps a toddler would be more able to enjoy the rhythm and nonsense of the story.
I am a harsh judge of children’s literature. So, I’m sorry, Mr. Fiffer and Miss Roberts: it’s enjoyable to a point, I thank you for the book, I will try to get it read by toddlers when they cross my path, but overall, I’m not in love.
Fiffer, Steve & Keiler Roberts. Arctic Bears Chase. CreateSpace, 2012.
This review is not endorsed by Steve Fiffer or Keiler Roberts. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.