Sonderbooks Book Review of

100 Bears

by Magali Bardos

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100 Bears

by Magali Bardos

Review posted January 27, 2015.
Flying Eye Books, 2013. 100 pages.

Counting books that go all the way up to 100 are something special. This one is a little bizarre and a little random, but I found it charming and would want it for my kids if they were still learning to count. It’s too long for a storytime, but I can imagine kids poring over it at home the way my son spent hours with the Where’s Waldo books when he was a child.

As you will guess by the 100 pages, there’s basically a number on each page of this book. But it tells a general story as it counts, helped along by the pictures. The story is not a terribly coherent one, but it generally makes sense, and you see the same six bears and the same eight hunters throughout the book.

The book begins:

1 forest
2 mountains
3 bears on each mountain
4 paws in the air
Eating honey, 5 times a day
6 bears in the forest
7 mushrooms
8 hunters
9 gunshots
10 butterflies flutter by … the bears seize the chance to sneak away

The rest of the book follows their strange journey with the hunters sometimes being chased and sometimes chasing them and sometimes just, apparently, partying.

Sometimes the objects counted aren’t particularly relevant to the story, like “13 cats meow… 14 smoking chimneys.” Most of the time there are objects to count, even when it gets to high numbers like “62 windows on the way home… 63 travellers.” Sometimes the author just gives the number as a numeral with nothing to count, such as “Flying over route 25” (with a road in the shape of the numeral 25), “To go and celebrate the 31st” (just a page-a-day calendar shown), or “off they go to number 41” (a house number). The 37 and 38 page fudges by saying “37 or 38 bits of confetti… give or take.” (This is actually rather brilliant or totally unfair, depending on your perspective.)

There are a few ways you can tell the book was originally published in Europe, and not a lot of effort was made to Americanize it. On the picture of the 15th floor, there’s a light on in what American’s would call the 16th floor (since Americans call the ground floor the first floor). The bears get sick with “fevers of 39 degrees C,” and weights are given in kilos, and heights in centimeters.

But while the story doesn’t exactly hold together, it does circle back to “100 trees… The forest.” And I find it the delightful sort of book you can look at again and again, examining details and, of course, counting.