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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear
The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear
by David Bruins, illustrated by Hilary Leung
Once upon a time there were three friends: a ninja, a cowboy, and a bear.
They did everything together and enjoyed each other's company.
However, each onewas different in his own way.
One day those differences came between them and here is what happened.
--The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear by David Bruins, illustrated by Hilary Leung, p. 1-4.
Three friends--a ninja, a cowboy, and a bear--did everything together. Each friend was different, and one day they competed to figure out who was better, each creating a task for the other two friends. In the end, they discovered that each had unique strengths which the others could rely on, and that they were all important.
Bruins' text is direct and uncluttered, though at times leans towards the feeling of a lesson or a parable. The story reminds us that we are all special, and that we each have unique strengths that will be appreciated by others. I can see the story having special appeal to young boys, which should also appeal to parents, librarians, and teachers, since the message is so positive.
Each character doubts the others and sets up their own contest of skill, with three separate contests, and each character winning once. This repetition will appeal to young readers, while interest is kept through the unique competitions (who can build the tallest stone tower, gather the most raspberries, catch the most rabbits), and who wins.
I would have liked a bit more dialogue that showed the individual characters more strongly. Overall, the story feels light and fun, while teaching an important life lesson. There's something appealing about this simple story.
Leung's illustrations are simple and fun. They have a cartoonish feel, reminding me of comic books and super heroes (such as the ninja and cowboy) yet are sweet and young, appealing to young readers. The comic-book feel is increased by occasional speech balloons with images to represent what the characters are saying, and illustrations divided into panels. The cowboy and the ninja are clearly young in age, and look like toddlers. There are rounded edges on all the characters, and dots or dashes for eyes. The simplicity of the illustrations works, bringing focus to the characters--to their interactions with each other, and to what they're doing and feeling. There is also strong body language.
I love that you can see texture throughout each illustration, as if it was painted over wood; this brings some appeal to the illustrations and keeps them from looking flat. Color choices are simple, and there is not a lot of gradation.
There is a nice balance between the illustrations and the text each telling part of the story that the other doesn't, which brings more depth to the story. The book also contains a game in the back, based on the familiar children's game of Rock Paper Scissors. Here, it is Ninja, Cowboy, Bear, with simple instructions on how to play, and who wins over who.
The story is simple, the message important, and the illustrations fun. It reminds readers that we each have our own strengths and skills, and that by being ourselves we can be valued. It also reminds readers to value their friends for their skills. Recommended.
For more information, or to buy the book, check out their website.
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