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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
It's rare to come away from a 500-page book wanting more, not because the story hasn't been perfectly executed, but because the reader wants to sustain the feelings of sheer pleasure she/he felt while reading. That's how I felt reading Smokey Bear: The Cub Who Left his Pawprints on History by Karen Signell. What a brilliant writer! What a beautiful story.
Using sustained personification to cleverly combine fact and fiction, Karen Signell has breathed life into the little bear cub who survived the horrendous fires that ripped through the 17,000 acres of Lincoln National Forest in 1950. The fire claimed the lives of Smokey's fictional mama bear, Gersa, and hundreds of other animals. Rescued by those dangerous two-legged creatures known as humans, tiny Smokey was nursed back to health and became one of America's most beloved icons, reminding all that "only you can prevent wildfires."
What makes Smokey the Bear by Karen Signell so charming is the utterly believable human-like characterization of Smokey and his friends: Strut, the talkative crow; Lightning, the striped cat who desperately wants a good home with some loving humans; Dazzle, the pompous know-it-all peacock; and Freddie the extortionist rat, just to name a few. But most of all it's Smokey with whom the reader identifies: we ache with his longing for his mama and the forest he remembers; we feel his desperation for wanting to escape the caged confines of the zoo where he lives out his life of 26 years. We know the feeling of wishing we could see old friends, of being bored with routines, of craving excitement in the everyday humdrum. Smokey is so human, we want to give him a great big hug. How has Karen Signell made him so lovable that we come away wanting more?
You will have to read Smokey the Bear to answer that question. Is it a book for children? It's a book for the child inside each of us, a book for any age group. As well as in our homes and public libraries, Smokey the Bear belongs in school classrooms. In fact, Signell provides questions at the end of the book that will aid teachers and students in the discussion of not just the historical facts surrounding Smokey's story, or issues like animals being kept in zoos, but the exploration of the entire process of being young and growing older. Smokey the Bear by Karen Signell is a thought-provoking and unforgettable blend of fact and fiction that will touch hearts through its brilliant characterization. Thorough research, archived photos, lists of resources, and even a look into how Signell came to write Smokey the Bear complete the book. But it is Smokey's life journey that will put pawprints on readers' hearts. Brilliant writing and highly recommended.