The Bear and the Piano is one of those picture books that just begs to be plucked from the shelves and taken home. The title entices – a bear? a piano? – but the real draw is the powerful image of a tuxedo-wearing, ivory-tinkling bear, framed by lush velvet theatrical curtains. The eye is led to the bear, the piano and then to the intriguing background – not a stage, as you might expect, but a flower-filled meadow and the faint images of tree trunks, fading as they grow higher. So much in one image; a story in itself.
After that, the inside pages have a lot to live up to. They succeed brilliantly, revealing a charming tale of a bear who discovers a ‘strange thing’ in the woods and, after much practice, begins to play the piano. Later he leaves his kith and kin to share his talent on Broadway. Away from the woods and far from home, the bear must decide – fame or friendship?
The illustrations are magical, enchanting. The bear is infused with great emotion, expressing sadness, hope, loneliness and a whole lot more – often with the subtlest of alteration to the eyes, or a slight slump in the bear’s frame. Muted yellows, browns and greens are mixed with the odd splash of red and yellow, dotting the page as a flower, a tie or a street light. Some scenes are busier and reward a slow, leisurely turn of the page – others are sparse and allow the words to take centre stage.
The story is beautifully told and lead us to a bookish natter about friendship, family, love, hopes, dreams – the big stuff of life. The overall effect – the interplay of word and picture – is dazzling. A wonderful picture book, the first by David Litchfield and – here’s hoping – not his last.