By Julie Colombet. Peachtree Publishing Company, 2020. 40 pages. $17.99/hardcover; $10.65/paperback; $7.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 6–10.
Overcoming prejudice figures centrally in a new adorably illustrated book from Atlanta-based Peachtree Publishing about haughty rodents and a heroic bear. (It was first published in the UK in 2018 by Templar Publishing.) Members of a lemming community while away their days with such refined pursuits as banquets, thespianism, and relentless commentary on each other’s behavior. Tired of the chatter, a lemming named Bertie ventures above the ground and finds himself face-to-face with a bear, a creature he has prejudged as scary and stupid. Although the bear considers lemmings loquacious and pretentious, he sets his preconceptions aside and greets Bertie with a lick. Through his friendship with the unnamed bear, Bertie discovers the joy of climbing trees and frolicking in flowers: activities that violate the norms of lemming society. At Bertie’s urging, the other lemmings try to teach the bear their customs, so he can join their distinguished society. The lemmings express their reservations in puns that will make children giggle. Examples are: “I think things are about to get grizzly” and “This is unbearable.” When he proves to be a hopeless student, the lemmings callously reject him. “It never occurs to them that the bear could be upset. But he is. Because even though he is big and wild and not at all like a lemming, he didn’t want to disappoint Bertie.”
Bertie and the bear console themselves with a walk. While reading aloud to the bear a history of lemming behavior, Bertie discovers that his friends’ plans to migrate could result in their drowning. He and the bear bound over field and forest, and finally swim far into the ocean where the lemmings have just grown exhausted from swimming. “It’s a rescue mission! And it’s arrived just in the nick of time. The lemmings clamber aboard the bear, and their brush with danger is quickly forgotten.”
The bear’s heroism earns him a place in the renamed Society of Distinguished Lemmings and Bears. He inspires the lemmings to try new hobbies, such as climbing trees and rolling in mud, and they grow more accepting. “And now they know that anyone can be distinguished, in any way they choose.” Teachers and caregivers looking for a lighthearted way to invite children to avoid prejudging new friends will enjoy sharing this story.
Sharlee DiMenichi is a member of Lehigh Valley Meeting in Bethlehem, Pa. She works as an instructional assistant with elementary students. Her second book, Holocaust Rescue Heroes, is forthcoming from Royal Fireworks Press.