Children’s Book Review: A Voice for the Spirit Bears by Carmen Oliver Illustrated by Katy Dockrill – 4 stars – Available May 7th!

Every now and then I’m asked to review a very simple children’s book that just hits all the right notes! I recently received an ARC of A Voice for the Spirit Bears and it definitely falls into that category.

A Voice for the Spirit Bears

Targeted to children ages 6 to 9 (though I can see how it would be enjoyable to a broader range: perhaps the 4 to 12 year old set?) the subtitle for this book is: How One Boy Inspired Millions to Save a Rare Animal. It’s the story of Simon Jackson, a boy most comfortable exploring the woods and observing wildlife. When Simon becomes a teenager, he discovers that spirit bears (a subspecies of black bear that has creamy white fur) are losing their habitat to deforestation and vows to protect them.

Simon initially launches a campaign to recruit his fellow students (and then ultimately people all over the world) to assist him in defending the spirit bears. Although he is often teased and ridiculed by other children, Simon continues his efforts to be a voice for the spirit bears. Ultimately he is rewarded for his tenacity: not only is he able to raise enough funds to have a tremendous impact on the plight of the spirit bears, he is introduced to famous environmentalists like Jane Goodall and invited on an expedition to the Great Bear Rainforest. As part of that trip, he actually sees a spirit bear for himself! Ultimately, Simon was named one of Time Magazine’s Sixty Heroes for the Planet.

I love the idea of this book for children: it plants the seed of activism in a way that is approachable and understandable for small children. Author Oliver also doesn’t pull any punches about how difficult it is to become an activist and to stand up for what you believe in. Simon is bullied for his passions but, by staying true to himself and not backing down from what he believes in, is able to make like-minded friends and ultimately become successful as the founder of multiple activism organizations.

It’s impossible to praise this book without mentioning the illustrations. Dockrill draws beautiful renderings of Simon, his escapades and the bears. The illustrations are whimsical and colorful but go a long way toward depicting Simon’s transformation from a boy who was intimidated by the opinions of others to a leader who was able to make a difference in the world. The inclusion of Dockrill’s illustrations make this book much more approachable for the younger end of the 4-12 year old age group which I think is important: it’s never too early to start planting the seed that one person can make a difference!

The end of this book is also very interesting. It transitions from an illustrated ‘story’ about a boy named Simon to a photo-journalistic telling of the life of ‘The Real Simon Jackson.’ This end matter in the book includes photographs of Simon and of the spirit bears. It also provides more details regarding Simon’s journey and the future of spirit bears in the wild. Finally, it closes with a call to action encouraging young people to find a cause a use their voices to change the world like Simon did. If the illustrations lend themselves to reading amongst the younger end of the book’s target audience, the end matter is what will make this book equally appealing to those beyond the 8 year old mark.

Working together, Oliver and Dockrill present an inspiring and educational story in a way that is accessible while remaining true to difficulty that exists in making change happen. Oliver tells the whole story…being brave and moving this effort forward was hard work for Simon. Although she clearly makes the point that Simon’s story illustrates that one person can make a difference, Oliver doesn’t sugar coat the story. Simon and the bears reaped rewards from his tremendous efforts but a great deal was required from Simon and from the worldwide community to make those rewards a reality.

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