Note: I received a review copy of this title from the authors.
As an undergraduate, I studied literature, immersing myself in the tortuous metaphors of John Donne, the heartrending tragedies of Shakespeare, and the philosophical piety of Dostoevsky. I love how a talented author can make my heart sing with only twenty-six letters and a few jots and tittles. But I’d be lying if I said that such great scribes sparked my affection for reading. I owe that to the folks who wrote pulp. You know what I’m talking about, popular books that seize the imagination, consume countless summer afternoons, and provide strong competition against the allure of flashing screens. Pulp may not cause the literati to break out in paroxysms of praise, but it can hook young readers on reading. Philip and Erin Ulrich’s The Growly Books: Begin, the first installment in an ongoing series, is just that sort of book.
Growly can’t wait to start his Adventure. Understand, an Adventure isn’t just scrabbling in the backyard or romping through a meadow. When a young bear nears the age of maturity, he must soar down from Haven’s mountainous heights on his glider to survive alone in the wilderness for three whole months. That’s an Adventure. It’s a tradition, one of many traced back to Hagel, that legendary bear of old. It was Hagel who led an ursine pack from the ancestral haunts to the mountain peaks they now inhabit. The bears have experienced many adventures since then, including meeting the Explorers, a group of humans who shared knowledge of many strange things. Not every encounter has ended so well, though. Years ago, beloved C.J. was blown off The Precipice during a glider flight, never to be seen again. And as Growly sails off on his Adventure, a fierce rainstorm carries him over and down that very cloud-choked chasm …
Begin feels like a bridge book for very young readers, a title partway between The Berenstain Bears and Andrew Peterson’s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. There are lots of moral lessons about perseverance, teamwork, and the value of friends and family. You’ll also find plenty of derring-do and close calls, including a storm-tossed flight, a ride down a jungle zipline, and a plunge through a river-carved subterranean cave. All of these escapades will juice young imaginations, as will hints of a grander story that will doubtlessly unfold in future volumes. Also, Annie Barnett’s pencil illustrations strike a great balance between cute and compelling. True, older readers might feel an absence of any sort of conflict between characters strains credibility. (No one has anything but a helping hand for Growly, and there’s even a reference of how bees helped the bears build a honey well!) But the younger set will likely be too caught up to notice. The Growly Books: Begin is innocent, interesting, and—most importantly—fun.
(Picture: Copyright 2013 by Annie Barnett, Be Small Studios; used under Fair Use)