Book Review: “Bertha and Bear”, written and illustrated by Christine Sharp, University of Queensland Press (2017)
With nature play being a growing focus in many of our primary schools and early learning centres, educators are always seeking new stories to complement this curriculum. Bertha and Bear tells the story of Bertha, a bee scout, commissioned with the responsibility of locating a new hive for the bee colony when the safety of their existing home is compromised during a storm. Fearing failure, Bertha is forced to travel deep into the woods where she meets Bear and the pair collaborate in an unlikely friendship that guarantees success in her quest.
Bertha and Bear is sparsely told in vivid language. The author employs rhyme and alliteration to drive the narrative forward to its optimistic conclusion. Christine Sharp’s whimsical illustrations and friendly cast of characters will appeal to younger readers. Her colourful drawings, situated in nature, may even inspire young artists to capture the beauty of the environment in their drawings and paintings. Sharp’s story will certainly provoke rich discussion in classroom about the role of bees in our planet’s ecosystem and the concerns regarding their survival. In line with nature play curriculums, I envisage that children will appreciate opportunities to address some of these concerns through practical activities with a sustainability focus.
I must confess that, while delightfully illustrated and beautifully told, this title never quite had that special magic that will take it to the next level. Furthermore, I can’t help but feel disappointed that the book’s creator failed to contextualise the story within an Australian setting. After all, we have numerous species of native bees and surely there is a tale to be discovered about the relationship of these fascinating insects to the fauna they live in (and possibly our indigenous people too). That said, Bertha and Bear remains a story that will effectively operate as a starting point for children in the early years as they learn about the unique role of bees in our ecosystem.
Tanya Grech Welden