Book: Mother Bruce
Author: Ryan T. Higgins
Age Range: 5-8
Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins is one of my favorite new picture books (published late last November). It's a book that I liked immediately, and that has held up to repeat readings with my daughter. It has humor, warmth, and a delightful grumpiness.
Bruce is an antisocial black bear who likes to cook and eat eggs. One day, however, something goes wrong with a batch of goose eggs, and Bruce finds himself the surrogate mother for four goslings. Bruce resists, strongly, but the goslings are not to be deterred. Bruce eventually accepts his new role, and does his best, but never without a certain stoic grouchiness.
Where to begin? Mother Bruce is filled with engaging details that will please adult readers, like the way that Bruce "liked to support local business, you see" (as he pilfers honey from a nearby hive), and the time he asks Mrs. Goose if her eggs are "free-range organic". These both went right over the head of my six-year-old, but she did giggle over the way Bruce uses a shopping cart in the river, where he catches salmon. The geese go from being "annoying baby geese" to "stubborn teenage geese" to "boring adult geese". When Bruce tries to get the geese to migrate he first flaps his arms, and then tries shooting them off via a giant rubber band. It's a dry sort of humor, accentuated by Bruce's relentlessly unsmiling face. For me, all of this comes across as pitch perfect.
And the illustrations! Bruce and the goslings are adorable, in their own different ways. The cover image tells you the story. There's a wonderful image in which Bruce is stomping about, and the geese stomp right along after him. In another, Bruce holds four goslings in a baby carrier strapped to his chest, frowning all the while. Higgins uses a dark palette, but lightens this via friendly details (like the goslings in four high chairs).
Recently my family watched the movie Fly Away Home, in which a young girl becomes the surrogate mother for a flock of geese. Seeing this phenomenon (geese thinking that whatever moving creature they see first after they hatch is their mother) made my daughter and I both appreciate Mother Bruce that much more.
Mother Bruce is a pitch perfect read for early elementary school kids and their parents. I could (and will) read it over and over again. Right now, this is my top candidate for next year's Cybils Fiction Picture Book nominations. Highly recommended!
Publication Date: November 24, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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