Smokey Bear

The Cub Who Left His Pawprints on HIstory

Fiction - Animals
510 Pages
Reviewed on 07/10/2015
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

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.

Jack Magnus

Smokey Bear: The Cub Who Left his Pawprints on History is a historical fiction novel written by Karen Signell. Smokey Bear was orphaned in May of 1950 when a camper's fire was incompletely dowsed. The conditions in Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico were perfect for a deadly blaze: drought, high temperatures and strong winds. An area of 17,000 acres in the forest was incinerated, including the area where Smokey and his mother had their cave. The young cub was too small to keep up with his mother, so she had him crawl into a burnt out tree stump and cautioned him not to move. He hid in there, frightened of moving and trying desperately to extinguish the sparks and embers that fell into his hiding place and burnt his body. When the fire was under control, the firefighters found the small cub still cowering in his stump. Seeing them, he dashed up a tree to hide, but one young man climbed up, grabbed the little cub and brought him down safely. The game warden, Ray Bell, was determined to buck protocol and do his best to help Smokey survive his ordeal.

Karen Signell's historical fiction novel, Smokey Bear: The Cub Who Left his Pawprints on History, is an imaginative and moving tribute to the bear cub who became a living symbol for fire prevention. The author breathes life into the story through the stories of the animals who become part of Smokey's life. I found this book quite hard to put down. The pictures that Signell includes in her book are marvelous. They show Smokey as that burnt and frightened little cub and follow in progression as he becomes a full-grown bear. The nature sequences in this story are magnificent, and that part of the tale which covers the efforts of the firefighters during this historic blaze is masterfully told. I can still visualize the trapped firefighters lying face down in the rocky hollow as the flames roared above them. Much of the book is necessarily somber as conditions in zoos in the 1950s and 1960s were quite a change from a wild-bred bear's natural environment, even when that bear was a national treasure. This informative and engrossing book tells a remarkable story, and it does so beautifully and poignantly. Smokey Bear: The Cub Who Left his Pawprints on History is most highly recommended.

Ray Simmons

Smokey Bear: The Cub Who left His Pawprints on History is a unique blend of fact and fiction. It takes skill, talent, and love to bring to life a story like this. Karen Signell makes it look easy. I'm sure it isn't. Smokey Bear: The Cub who left His Pawprints on History can be read on two distinct levels. One is the fictional tale of a young bear cub who loses his mother in a forest fire and is rescued and adopted by a park ranger. It is a moving tale with plenty of characters so sympathetically portrayed that we don't have any problem understanding them, loving them, and believing they are real. I don't think I will ever be as nonchalant or condescending in my attitude towards animals after reading this book. Animal characters like Strut the crow, Mother Bear, and Lightning the cat are as real to me as any of the human characters.

On another level, Smokey Bear is a well researched, well documented account of how an orphaned bear cub became an American icon and the centerpiece of one of the longest and most successful educational ad campaigns in American history. I grew up with these ads and can testify that they work. I am delighted to find out that they are based on a real bear and a real event. I never knew. I should also mention that there is a philosophical, even spiritual vein woven skillfully throughout this book. It is well worth reading. You will get much more than you bargained for.

Gisela Dixon

Smokey Bear: The Cub Who Left his Pawprints on History by Karen Signell is an endearing, beautifully written story based on a real bear called Smokey Bear. Smokey Bear spent 26 years in captivity at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. where he captured the public’s imagination and became a mascot of sorts for prevention of wildfires. This book is part-fact, part-fiction and is written from the perspective of the young cub himself as he looks back on his life. Smokey Bear was found by rangers while caught in a wildfire in New Mexico. They tended him and when he grew old enough to potentially become dangerous, handed him over to the National Zoo. Karen Signell has woven a beautiful tale from Smokey Bear’s perspective as we read about his life in his own words and meet his family and friends, including the crow “Strut” and the wild rat “Freddie,” among many others like monkeys, elephants, etc. The book also contains several photos and the author’s back story.

Smokey Bear: The Cub Who Left his Pawprints on History is more than just an adaptation of Smokey’s life: it is also about kindness and empathy towards animals, and appreciating and preserving nature in its wild form. I hope a book like this helps spreads awareness about these important issues and also helps prevent and minimize animal abuse in all its forms. I loved how Karen writes with empathy and I really felt like I caught a glimpse into the mind of Smokey Bear. Written in a very engaging and empathetic manner, the book is certainly moving at times as one feels sorry for Smokey as well as his friends as they learn to give up dreams of freedom. This is an excellent read that both children and adults will enjoy.

Trudi LoPreto

Smokey Bear: The Cub Who Left His Pawprints on History is a wonderful book. The heartwarming story mixes fact and fiction as we follow along in the life of Smokey. Smokey is a happy cub living in the forest of Capitan, New Mexico, with his mother and best friend Strut, the storytelling crow, until the fateful day in 1950 of the big wildfire. Life changed quickly for the young bear when his mother dies and he is badly burned. Game Warden Ray Bell finds Smokey with help from Strut and he is brought off the mountain into town to be healed and begin his lifetime adventure as the bear in the poster with the famous quote: “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” Smokey spends time in the Bell household recuperating, making friends with four-year-old Judy, her brother Don, and Jet the family dog. When he gets too big to remain as part of the household, the plans for the rest of his life fall into place.

Smokey is flown to Washington, D.C., and placed in the National Zoo, where he will remain for the next 26 years until his death. Smokey is not happy being caged up and misses the free life, but he makes the best of it. He makes several friends - Freddy, the rat; Trish and Trash, the monkeys, and pigeons and peacocks who help him pass the time and he even gets a surprise visit from Strut. Smokey spends much of his free time wondering whether his life has been worthwhile. He doesn’t find out until the end of his life how many lives he has touched, how many animals he has saved, and how many forest fires he has prevented. Smokey, knowing this, can now die a happy and contented bear.

Smokey Bear by Karen Signell is a story that will change how you think of animals forever. She mixes fact and fiction together so seamlessly that I found myself believing that animals could talk and think amongst themselves. I sat at my window watching the crows, wondering which one was the storyteller. I became aware of the real importance of Smokey as a hero. I believe it should be mandatory reading for all who enter the forest to go camping. Highly recommended for adults and children.

So glad you liked my review as much as I loved your book, Karen.