Plot: With hints of Greek mythology and fairy tales, this simplistic but heart-warming and well told story will draw in young readers. The author may want to consider organizing the narrative into short chapters to further appeal to this demographic.
Prose: Clever, warm, and direct writing makes this narrative a delightfully confectionery that will appeal to readers.
Originality: Gentle reminders about the importance of open-mindedness and unprejudiced rationale elevate the formulaic narrative, but could be louder. To fully compete with similar middle grade novels, the author must offer readers a more in-depth view of Betrees’s world and her place within it.
Character Development: Kindhearted, willful, and self-assured, Betrees is a well crafted and compelling character. Secondary characters feel dynamic, though readers only catch brief glimpses of their actions and beliefs.
Date Submitted: July 14, 2017
Betrees, the daughter of a black bear mother and polar bear father, is special—and not just because of the heart-shaped white spot that emblazons her forehead. Named Bear of Trees, or Betrees for short, from Squirrel to Rabbit to the crow family who share the Eastern Woods with her, Betrees is a bear to behold: adventurous and brave, yet neighborly and kind. Though she could easily dominate the other inhabitants of her beloved homeland, Betrees recognizes her role as occupant of an interconnected system of life. Whether she is clambering up a tree to safely deposit a fallen crow chick or venturing into an inhospitable land to rescue another bear, Betrees not only remains true to her species, but also acts with an inclusive sense of harmony.
After emerging from her long rest and encountering Gojoon, the self-described strongest bear in the woods, Beetrees defends herself with courage and grace. It is then that she meets Ben, a bear who spent his cub years with humans, and who enlightens Betrees on their strange though sometimes similar ways. But when Ben goes missing and she must travel into the Western Woods, a place that humans have claimed, Betrees must first cross the feared Metallic River of cars, separating her from what she knows and promising little more than an unknown future. What Betrees discovers on the other side will demand more from her than she knew she possessed, but like the finest of literary heroines, Betrees will not only rise to the challenge but in so doing shape it for the better.
With themes like environmental change and challenge, and the fundamental nature of compassion, Betrees is a character that can make a lasting impact on the adolescent psyche. At a time when the planet feels fraught with uncertainty, the nature of exploration—both personal and practical—is sure to strike a chord with young readers, and serve adults as a trusted resource that tackles ecological and emotional change with eloquence, humor, and the first blossoming of love. Writing with empathy that never veers into the territory of the overwrought, Ketevan Alexander is a worthy teacher. Bear of Trees celebrates the journey into one’s own self and outward into a shared experience, in turn offering a gratifying lesson of what it means to coexist.
- Erin McKnight
In this debut illustrated children’s book, a young black bear makes a dangerous journey to help the brown bear that she loves.
Bear of Trees—called “Betrees” for short—grows up in the Eastern Woods. Most of her fur is dark, like her mother’s, but she also has a white, heart-shaped spot on her forehead because her father was a polar bear. When she turns 2 years old, Betrees finds her own den and settles in for a winter’s sleep, waking up thin, hungry, and in search of food and someone to love. Gojoon, a bossy male bear, tries to make Betrees his bride, but she resists and is defended by Ben, a brave, kind brown bear. For Betrees and Ben, it’s love at first sight, and they agree to meet again in about two months. Ben doesn’t return, though, so Betrees visits the owl oracle, who tells her that her loved one is in trouble and that she must cross the dangerous Metallic River—a road full of cars—to save him. After overcoming many dangers, she and Ben reunite and save two humans whose car crashed. One, a little girl, later tells her story to National Geographic: “Please don’t shoot bears,” she says. “They are not all as dangerous as they seem.” The book ends with Betrees and Ben on their honeymoon. Alexander tells a charming, delightful story. Betrees is both lovable and admirable, helping other animals and exhibiting considerable courage in rescuing Ben, who shares her qualities. They’re each other’s heroes, which greatly bolsters the story’s love-at-first-sight element. The narrative also thoughtfully considers the role of humans: some are dangerous, but others are helpful, as Ben recalls in a childhood memory. High praise goes to the beautiful illustrations by Tsintsadze (Wie bekamen Igel Stacheln, 2015, etc.), rendered in soft, forest-y shades of blue, gray-green, and brown. The pictures of fat bears and other animals are expressive and engaging, featuring wonderful details, such as Betrees’ tail poking out of her polka-dot nightgown, and their lovely Gustav Klimt–like swirls and other textures lend a fanciful air.
A funny, dramatic, and sweet story that ought to become a classic.