“Bear and Bird” (Sleeping Bear Press, 2014)
Written by James Skofield and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes
Pre-K through Grade 3
“Bear and Bird” is the story of an unlikely friendship between a helpless bird and a helpful bear. The book begins with Bear finding a fledgling bird who has fallen from her nest. Bear must decide whether to help the bird or leave her alone, and she decides to help. She carries the bird to a nearby branch to recover and finish growing.
Over that summer, Bird and Bear grow into a friendship with Bear helping Bird to find places to eat berries. When it comes time for winter, Bird helps Bear by warning her that there are hunters on the prowl, and Bear should stay safe. As Bird readies herself to leave for the winter, the author conveys a feeling of sadness as the newfound friend prepares to leave for the winter. After winter’s end, Bird returns safely to find Bear and their friendship blossoms through another summer. This cycle continues over several summers until one spring, when Bear does not come out from hibernation.
Bird comes back as usual that spring and is flying through the area calling for Bear when she finds a much younger bear in her place. Bird asks about Bear and learns that she did not wake up that spring. The new bear that Bird encounters is the grandchild of Bird’s friend Bear. The young Bear begins a cautious friendship with Bird and finds a way to keep grandmother Bear’s memory alive. Bird feels sad at the loss of her old friend, yet hopeful in beginning a new friendship as well.
This book combines the theme of the circle of life with the death and new friendship while treasuring the memories of a lost friend. Children can be introduced to the topic of death through the gentle words in this story.
Cross-curricular connections: Science, Art, Social Studies, English
Ideas for Classroom Use:
The purpose of this activity is to discuss the friendship between Bear and Bird, and its unlikely development.
Prior to reading, discuss friendships and ask the children to think about why people are their friends. Encourage them to think about their friends as they listen to the story. While reading, direct children to focus on the pictures and the things the friends do for each. After reading, discuss why it was strange for Bird and Bear to be friends. Determine what the relationship should have been between them.
As a closing activity, discuss unlikely friendships in the children’s lives—perhaps share a story from your own life. Encourage children to talk about friends that they have that they may not have expected. Have students create a list together of what makes a good friend. Post the friendship thoughts in the classroom as a reminder of being a good friend.
Cycles in Life
The purpose of this activity is to expand on the circle of life in a science related way. Discuss the migration cycle for birds as well as the hibernation pattern for bears. Have students think of other animals or creatures that follow a cycle. Encourage them to talk about butterflies, frogs, etc. Have students work independently or in small groups to illustrate the life cycle of an animal of their choosing. Younger students may need help with research to show them that cycle. Have students illustrate each point in the cycle and then label, or dictate the label. A page folded into four parts may be helpful for them to process the life cycle.
The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to think about the possibility of having more than one feeling at the same time. Discuss the fact that Bird was sad at the loss of her friend Bear but happy to find Bear’s grandchild to be a new friend. Talk about times that the students have felt more than one way at the same time. Use the example of summer (happy with school being out; sad to be away from school friends).
Ask students to illustrate through painting or drawing different ways they have felt. Look back at the illustrations in “Bear and Bird”and determine how they are feeling just by looking at the pictures.
You may also want students to illustrate different feelings they have through painting self portraits or using digital media, such as choosing pictures to represent different feelings. Display the artwork without labels and see if children can guess how the person is feeling by looking at the art.
Additional Resources and Activities:
Owen and Mzee
This site has a real life story of two unlikely friends and their relationship. Owen, a tortoise, and Mzee, a young hippopotamus, find comfort with each other in Haller Park in Africa. The hippo had been orphaned in the 2004 tsunami and bonded with the tortoise over the following months. The page has videos, a sing-along, a video maker, and interactive games for the children.
National Geographic: Butterflies
This video created by National Geographic gives students a look at many different varieties of butterfly and then follows one butterfly through the changes from egg to larvae, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly. National Geographic also provides two additional links to find more information about Monarch butterflies and a hands-on explorer blog.
Jennifer Thermes, Illustrator
This page gives a portfolio of the illustrator’s work, a blog with thoughts from creating her books, and contact information for the Jennifer Thermes. The portfolio sections could be used to study feelings in art before the students complete that activity.
Kathy Prater is a Reading Specialist who works with students with dyslexia, an Adjunct Professor at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi, and a full time pre-kindergarten teacher at Starkville Academy in Starkville, Mississippi. Her passions include reading, writing, tending her flock of chickens, and helping students at all levels to find motivation for lifelong reading and learning. She believes that every child can become a successful reader if given the right tools and encouragement.