The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Wild About Bears

Wild About Bears
Written and Illustrated by Jeannie Brett
Published by Charlesbridge in 2014
ISBN 9781580894180
Grades K – 6
Book Review:
The eight species of bears that populate our Earth are the subject of Jeannie Brett’s appealing picture book survey text. Beginning with characteristics common to the species, their physical traits and behaviors, Brett then devotes a double page spread to each bear type, highlighting unique aspects of their habitats, diet, and tendencies. The main text is layered onto panoramic views of the bears in their habitats rendered in watercolor. Additional facts appear in smaller font size on the color saturated spreads; for example, on the pages devoted to the North American black bear: “One litter may contain different colored cubs.” Back matter includes a world map of species’ locations, a pictorial habitat glossary, and resources for further exploration. The author’s concluding statements highlight the environmental and human imposed challenges faced by the bear species, along with a hopeful note: “The world’s eight great species of bears will continue to inspire and fascinate us as long as we do our part to protect and preserve their way of life.” An excellent introduction to a storied species, this engaging picture book has many roles to play in the elementary classroom.
Teaching Invitation: Ideas for Your Classroom
Grades K – 6
Comparing Bears. Wild About Bears highlights the similarities and variation of eight bear species. Guide your students to construct a graphic organizer to compare the characteristics and habitats of each species  (category examples include: sizes, diet, habitat). Read additional information about bears online, using the web resources listed below, and in other survey texts about bears, such as Bob Barner’s Bears! Bears! Bears! and other species- specific survey texts listed below. Add any new information students identify to the chart that you have constructed. This chart could then serve as a scaffold for student composed writing about the different bear species.
Describing Bears. Provide your students with an opportunity to practice using clear descriptive language, by asking them to write a short passage describing one of the bear species. Students could read their passages aloud and invite their classmates to guess which species they have identified. Alternatively, students could contribute to an interactive bulletin board or pocket chart activity that asks classmates to match descriptive passages with images of the different bear species.
Bear Portraits. Ask your students to select a bear species that they are interested in learning more about. Provide access to online resources and additional survey text about bears and guide students to make notes about their species. Ask children to plan, draft, revise and bring to completion a visual image that informs viewers about their bear species using captions / statements that appear in the visual image (in the style used by Brett in Wild About Bears).
Habitat Murals. Brett’s detailed illustrations can provide inspiration for student created murals of different bear habitats. To prepare to create accurate murals, students should research the habitat, seeking photographic images to support their drawings. Guide students to identify other animals that live in the habitat they will depict. Recruit the support of your school’s art teacher to create large scale images of the animals in their natural environment.
Critical Literacy:
Perceptions. Before reading Wild About Bears ask your students to write or share orally their knowledge of and feelings about bears. After reading the book, invite students to add to their writing (or talk about), noting new information learned and questions they might have. As students to think about how their perceptions of bears have been formed; make a list of students’ responses, they are likely to name stories, television clips, movies, or first hand reports. Depending on the amount of time that you have available to you and the age of your students, you could extend this activity in two different ways: (1) Divide students into small groups and ask them to collect either: myths / religious beliefs about bears, fairy tales about bears, newspaper stories (mined from a digital database), fractured fairy tales that purposefully turn popular perceptions of bears upside down and / or contemporary children’s books that have bears as characters. Within their small group, students should examine the texts they have gathered in order to be able to describe to their classmates how bears are portrayed in the story. (2) With younger students or if you want a shorter activity, provide students with a similar range of texts, guiding them through an examination of and discussion of the mixed representation of bears in the texts. How do these texts reflect humans’ awe and fear of bears?
Grades 2 – 6
Endangered Bears. In Wild About Bears, Brett cautions her readers: “Bears around the world face many challenges.” She continues, listing the environmental and human behavioral concerns for bears. Invite your students to select a threatened bear species to research, preparing a presentation to share their findings. Students should research: threats to the species, identified and suspected causes, and remediation efforts. The following texts will support students’ research: How Many Baby Pandas?, Search for the Golden Moon Bear: Science and Adventure in the Asian Tropics, Garden of the Spirit Bear: Life in the Great Northern Rainforest, Saving Yasha: The Incredible True Story of an Adopted Moon Bear, and Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears.
Mentor Survey Text: Variations in Species. Guide your students to examine Wild About Bears as a mentor text for the nonfiction subgenre of a survey text. Survey books tend to focus on one broad topic and break it down into a variety of subtopics. They do not go very in-depth with any of these topics, but they give the reader a general introduction. (For more on nonfiction subgenres, see our Classroom Bookshelf entry onnonfiction texts) Notice how Brett begins her survey text with an overview of the eight bear species. Following this, she describes physical characteristics and behaviors bear species have in common. This serves as an introduction to double page spreads describing the habitats and special characteristic of each species. These descriptions are followed by a concluding statement. Be sure to discuss the Back Matter of the book. Your students can use the structure of exposition used in this book as a model to compose their own animal books highlighting commonalities and differences across species.
Further Explorations:
Online Resources:
Jeannie Brett: Author’s Website
Great Bear Foundation
National Geographic Kids: Animals
Search for “Bears”
New York Times Topics: Polar Bears
International Association for Bear Research and Management
Wildlife SOS India
Free the Bears
Barner, B. (2010). Bears! Bears! Bears! New York: Chronicle Books.
Guiberson, B.Z. (2010). Moon bear. Ill. by E. Young. New York: Henry Holt.
Guiberson, B.Z. (2008). Ice bears. Ill. by I. Spirin. New York: Henry Holt.
Kvatum, L. (2013). Saving Yasha: The incredible true story of an adopted moon bear. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
Markle, S. (2009). How many baby pandas? London: Walker Children’s Books.
Mongomery, S. (2004). Search for the golden moon bear: Science and adventure in the Asian tropics. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Patent, D. H. (2004). Garden of the spirit bear: Life in the great northern rainforest. New York: Clarion Books.
Robinson, J. & Beckoff, M. (2013). Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears. Ill. by G.van Frankenhuyzen. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press
Sartore, J. (2007). Face to face with Grizzlies. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
Swinburne, S.R. (1998). Moon in bear’s eyes.Honesdale, PA: Boyd Mills Press.
Swinburne, S.R. (2003). Black bear: North America’s Bear. Honesdale, PA: Boyd Mills Press.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.