elements of an A+ picture book: where bear?

where-bear-sophy-hennWhere Bear? by Sophy Henn (2015, just published here in the U.S. January 2nd.).


This picture book is delightful. So I thought I’d take a look at what makes it tick. Turns out, it’s like a lesson in picture book structure.

Every illustrated story has its own style and construction, of course, but I think this one has some really great elements of what can make a picture book truly A+!



Come see!



Once there was..

(click image(s) to enlarge) 


In Where Bear? the first spread tells us that a bear cub lives with a little boy. That’s weird, right? But we immediately believe it and we certainly don’t want an explanation. It just is.

This sets us up for any unrealistic stuff that follows (and it does follow).

That unrealistic stuff is sometimes where the magic is.

(One more thing: we then get to see both the bear and the boy grow, which is so clued into the life of a child, that stuff of growing and getting bigger and wearing birthday hats once a year. But that’s a slight digression.)




When the bear is too big and bearlike to live with the boy any longer, the boy wonders, “Where Bear?” As in, where shall you live that will be suitable?

With each place the boy suggests, we get a repetition of the same theme: that place is not suitable for Bear.

Bear says, “No.” Over and over. But he also says no in a slightly different way and for a slightly different reason. This is shown through the text (“NO”; “NO“; “NOOOOO”; etc.). It’s also shown through the illustrations that so beautifully bring to life how bear is feeling through facial expressions and what else is going on in the artwork. (e.g. Bear’s big eyes or a too-small shop window.)

The reader gets that wonderful satisfaction of repetition and kinda sorta knowing what’s coming next, but it’s a different scenario each time. Yup, satisfying without a trace of boredom.




I’ve touched on this a bit, but let’s just look at that toy shop illustration again. It may take a while to locate the boy and bear. And then, so much to notice! That bear belongs in a store window as much as a crocodile does. And a boy doesn’t belong there either, even if he is wearing a marching band hat.

We get to see the town the boy lives in here, too, its shops and windows. It locates us, first, in the human world of the boy before we travel elsewhere.

And let’s look too at the woods spread. The Bears’ eyes tell us he’s scared. Wouldn’t you be, all alone in those dark, gray woods?

And if you’re really, really tricky, you may think to yourself that you’ve never seen a white bear in the woods before. (Foreshadowing!!)




The popsicle spread is my favorite. First, it has popsicles. Next, it has the boy scratching his head, just as we the readers are invited to do.

WHERE could bear go to live? How might a popsicle be a hint? What is the relationship between the bear and the refrigerator? They are the same color and about the same size after all. Hmmm.

This is the part when reading to kids that you ask, “What do you think might happen next?” “Where do YOU think the bear should live?” That kind of interaction is golden.




We’ve heard the bear say, “NO” many times. (In fact, that’s all we’ve heard him say.) But now, we hear him say, “SNOW!” Why? Because he’s home. Where the snow is. And because snow rhymes with No!


Here we have a pattern and sound we’re familiar with, but with a difference. No has turned to YES! But the bear’s own special kind of yes.




The last spread has the boy and the bear talking on the phone. (Good thing that we can totally roll with all that unrealistic stuff without skipping a beat by this point. But here’s one more!)

The boy and bear discuss going somewhere, like the old days. And the boy asks that familiar question, “But where, bear?”

We love that question. Especially when the answer doesn’t have so much riding on it anymore. Only friendship and taking a trip together.



That last spread as well as a super fun little illustration on the last page keeps the story alive outside of the book. In our own imaginations we can wonder where the boy and the bear will go, what adventures they might have, and how their friendship will grow with new experiences. In that way, the story never ends.

We feel satisfied but we don’t really have to say goodbye. Because we don’t want to say goodbye to these two.


There you have it. My deconstruction of a fine picture book specimen.  I hope this is of interest as you read them (or write them or illustrate them)!


Thanks to Sophy Henn for images!


I’m giving away a copy of Where Bear? Come find me on twitter to enter!


I received a review copy from Philomel of PenguinRandom House; opinions are my own.





43 Responses to elements of an A+ picture book: where bear?

  1. Great analysis of a sweet and perfect picture book! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Looks like a great book. I hope my library has it. Funny the bear looks like Beymax from Big Hero 6 …. I guess that happens to illustrators too … where an idea is similar.

  3. I love that the page backgrounds are solid, with the exception of the Arctic spread where the sky is a luscious rose and purple-hued borealis!

  4. Juliana Lee says:

    Delightful! This book is next on my list!

  5. jdewdropsofink says:

    Great mini-lesson here. Thank you.

  6. ~ Carmen ~ says:

    Cute. I’ve never taken a moment to really analyze what a kid’s book is all about. The illustrations are superb.
    :] // ▲ itsCarmen.com ▲

  7. Spot on analysis! This is a perfect PB for the preschool set. So much thought/wordplay/image appeal goes into PBs. I think many don’t realize how close they are to poetry.

  8. Wendy Wahman says:

    Yes, great how-to wanderoo. Love her palette too.

  9. bevbaird says:

    Great post – thanks for the info.

  10. This was great! I’ve never deconstructed a book before. But it was a nice tour. Thanks!

  11. Excellent deconstruction – so useful, thanks!

  12. Kaye Baillie says:

    Love deconstructions! Thanks so much for doing this. Saved in my ‘favourites’.

  13. Newbie here. So glad to have come across the link to your site. Great post of an A+ book. You nailed it. Going to look for the place to sign up.

  14. Heather Pierce Stigall says:

    Wow! What a great book and a great analysis. Thank you for sharing!

  15. Nancy Armo says:

    Loved how the “no” turned into “snow”. Beautiful details.

  16. Deirdre O'Sullivan says:

    I’ve always thought that the best picture books make beautiful sense in a crazy kind of way – and WHERE BEAR certainly does that with panache! I also love the artist’s use of wax crayons in all the illustrations – that grainy texture is a nostalgic reminder of every kid’s first attempt at drawing – we all remember the thrill of our first box of crayons, right?

  17. elsie says:

    So much to learn from studying a book closely! Thanks for your interpretation. Can’t wait to see this book “in the flesh.”

  18. kathalsey says:

    Great deconstruction. What a brilliantly “simple” book! there’s so much there, but it is spare.

  19. zebrakitchens says:

    Nice job. This was very pleasing to sit and read. It’s my first time visiting your website. I’ll be back to keep an eye on you.

  20. I’m relatively certain we have this on order for the store, but I’m making 100% sure tomorrow. I’ve been looking forward to this one since the moment I saw the cover, but your analysis made it a must read!

  21. Bonnie Eng says:

    Love, love, love your deconstruction. You’ve made the effective elements of the book so clear. I feel like you should seriously be teaching writing classes Danielle (I would attend)! Fabulous, one of my favorite posts you’ve written.

  22. Mary Jo Wagner says:

    A+ for your analysis and deconstruction Danielle! I particularly love the red phone cord in the last spread, not only for its color “pop” but it relayed an urgency too, to want to see each other again but the dilemma of “where”.

  23. Jamie Shaw says:

    It always refreshing and idea forming to read creative analysis like this. Thanks for sharing Sophy.

  24. Pingback: guest post by sophy henn! elements of an A+ picture book: Henri's Walk to Paris - This Picture Book Life

  25. Lee Ann Daugherty says:

    This is the book I’ll be reading at storytime this Wednesday, and I admit to choosing it initially based on the cover illustration and the almost plaintive “where, bear?” of the title. Then I read it
    and loved it. We’ll see if my young audience does, too.

  26. Pingback: pom pom panda gets the grumps + pom pom panda craft! - This Picture Book Life

  27. Pingback: elements of an A+ picture book: little red - This Picture Book Life

Talk to me!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.