Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010: Kids' Maximum Shelf: Moon Bear

Macmillan Children's: Moon Bear by Brenda Z. Guberson, illustrated by Ed Young

Don't miss Ed Young's presentation at the Bronx Zoo on May 23, 2010

Help Save a Moon Bear! Join Team Moon Bear

Visit Macmillan Children's Publishing Group's new blog

Editors' Note

Kids' Maximum Shelf: Moon Bear

In this edition of Kids' Maximum Shelf--the monthly Shelf Awareness feature that focuses on an upcoming title that we love and believe will be a great handselling opportunity for booksellers everywhere--we present Moon Bear by Brenda Guiberson, illustrated by Ed Young. The review and interviews are by Jennifer M. Brown. Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, has helped support the issue.


Click here to request a free Moon Bear poster

Books & Authors

Team Moon Bear

Macmillan Children's Publishing Group invites everyone to join "Team Moon Bear" in its effort to raise $10,000 to adopt Mac the moon bear. The publisher will match the first $5,000 raised through

The Team Moon Bear site connects visitors to both the Animals Asia and the Macmillan Children's Publishing Group sites, and is the home base for the "Moon Bear Bucks" campaign. In addition to matching $5,000 in gifts to the campaign, Macmillan will donate a portion of the proceeds of the book sales from Moon Bear to Animals Asia, an organization founded by Jill Robinson that is dedicated to rescuing and healing captive moon bears. With this $10,000 goal, Animals Asia will be able to rescue and care for one moon bear, and children everywhere can be a part of the effort to save these bears from a life of captivity. The Team Moon Bear Web site offers downloadable ideas for fund-raising activities, from organizing a talent show to planning a bake sale, as well as a video featuring Ed Young's illustrations from the book and footage of rescued moon bears at play.

Moon Bear will be a featured title in both trade and consumer advertising, including and National Geographic Kids; a national publicity campaign in TV, print, radio and online outlets; and author/artist events in Seattle and New York bookstores. The Bronx Zoo will feature Moon Bear prominently in its "Animal Tales Extravaganza" promotion, and Ed Young will give a special presentation on May 23. He will also be on hand to sign books. Posters with activities and Moon Bear Bucks fund-raising suggestions, plus art prints signed by Ed Young (in limited quantity), will also be available. Moon Bear was featured at the ABA Winter Institute and ALA Midwinter, and will be featured at an NYC Librarian Preview, TLA, IRA, the ALA Annual conference and NCTE.

[Photo courtesy of Animals Asia.]


Animals Asia: The Rescue Begins with "Hong"

When Laura Godwin, v-p and publisher of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, and Brenda Guiberson's editor for nearly 20 years, received a letter from an organization that described the captivity of moon bears, she made a donation, but, she said, "I could not stop thinking about the bears." As Godwin tried to find out more about how to help the bears, the name that kept coming up as being the most effective in aiding the bears was Animals Asia. Guiberson, too, learned from her sources that they were the most respected. Nowhere--not even in the author's note--does Moon Bear mention that the bears are held captive and farmed because of the healing properties of their bile. The photographs at the book's conclusion show only rehabilitated bears. But for children who are concerned about the mention of "cages on bear farms" in the author's note, Godwin and Guiberson wanted to reassure them, as they have been reassured, that there are people devoting themselves to the moon bears' rescue. When Godwin connected with Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson, everything began to fall in place.

Jill Robinson was on an organized tour to a bear farm in Southern China in 1993, where, she says, "I managed to slip away from the group to the basement where the bears were having their bile extracted. I was horrified by what I found--a torture chamber, a hell-hole for animals with the caged victims groaning in agony from the impacts of crude surgery and bile extraction." Robinson was taking pictures of the scarred and wounded bears when she felt a touch on her shoulder. "Turning around, I saw a female moon bear with her paw through the bars of the cage and instinctively, but stupidly, I took it," Robinson recalled. "She didn't hurt me, but gently squeezed my fingers and looked into my eyes. I've never forgotten her silent cry for help. Although I never saw her again, Hong [Chinese for 'bear'] began the dream of the China bear rescue."

In addition to the actual bear rescue effort, Robinson spends a great deal of time on Animals Asia's "Healing Without Harm" campaign, working with the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) and others to educate practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine about alternatives to bear bile. "In Western medicine, ursodeoxycholic acid [UDCA], a bile acid found in high concentrations in bear bile, is known to modify cholesterol absorption and excretion, and is used in the treatment of gallstones, biliary cirrhosis and liver cancers. UDCA for Western medicinal use is produced synthetically for cents and is sold across the world--including in China. There are at least 54 herbal alternatives to bear bile, and they are both cheap and effective."

Although Robinson says she has no favorites among the rescued bears, might Jasper (pictured here) be one? "I always say that as much as we rescue the bears, they rescue us," Robinson responded. "When we have a bad day they are there lifting us, making us laugh with their antics out on the grass. Jasper has no time for petty arguments or disagreements and will always step into the middle of a fray as if to say, 'Come on now, boys, let's break it up.' They do, too. He welcomes new arrivals with the friendliness of an old patriarch, and still finds time to rough and tumble with the juveniles in what we affectionately term a bear bundle. For a bear that was crushed flat to the bottom of his cage for 15 years, I find his charisma and kindness breathtaking."

[Photos courtesy of Animals Asia.]

Brenda Guiberson: Searching for the Star Quality

Author Brenda Guiberson has been working with editor Laura Godwin (also v-p and publisher, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers) since the publication of her Cactus Hotel, 20 years ago. Most of Guiberson's books involve delicate ecosystems and the interconnectedness of nature. At this point in their working relationship, Godwin is as likely to suggest a project as Guiberson is. "She's a wonderful editor for me," Guiberson says. After Godwin made her donation and kept thinking about the bears, she said she wanted to do "the one thing she could do." She wanted to make a book to raise awareness of the bears. She wrote to Guiberson: "Have you heard about this situation and is it something you'd be interested in writing about?" Here Guiberson discusses the writing of Moon Bear.

How do you strike a balance between including enough details to entice young readers, but not so many that you overwhelm them?

One way I try to strike that balance is to help readers be involved. It's an emotional journey really. It's hard for the animals to get food sometimes, and there's a lot going on weather-wise. I try to draw them into the story and weave in a lot of details that are different. "Gee, the moon bear lives in a rhododendron forest; you can have a forest of rhododendrons?" As I learn facts that amaze me, I then pace the writing and the page turn with the hopes that the reader will experience similar emotion as they learn this information. I try to make it like a field trip, "Surprise, this bear is gulping red berries and has red scat as a result."  I want each book to be fun and interesting so that it becomes the first that the child reads on the subject and not the last.  I get to pick and choose the facts that are most intriguing to me--star quality, I call it. 

With just a phrase or a word, you convey so much information. How did you conduct your research?

I start by doing broad, broad research. If you only know five things and you write about them, it comes out like a grocery list. You have to know 2,000 things, so when you start to write, you can weave it in and out. I don't worry about the details at that point, but just how do I say what I want to say. When I get it flowing poetically, I go back and make sure the facts I have are correct. Then I divide the text into double-page spreads. What's the concept I want to be on this page? The time of year on that page? They have typhoons, how can I get that in there? I give it continuity so the moon bears are doing something different on every page. Each page needs to be connected to the page before, but with a different sense of place so I can get as much information in there as possible.

You mention the word "poachers" in the text. Only in the author's note do you expand on the plight of the moon bears. Did you give a lot of thought to how you'd handle the moon bears' captivity?

It was a balancing act. At first, we weren't going to mention it. Laura and I had a conversation about it and thought maybe we should just make people fall in love with the moon bear. Just say, "Here are these wonderful bears that you may not know about." Laura [got in touch with] Animals Asia, and they said we could use some of the pictures of the bears at the end of the book. The pictures are of bears in rehab, so it's hopeful. I rewrote that author's note many times. Mainly we wanted to give a hint about what's happening, and readers can decide how to follow up. [In the main text,] little kids won't know what the word "poach" means, and older ones can look it up, but it's up to the kid.

Why is it important for young people to know about these kinds of endangered species and habitats?

They care about animals, they care about causes, they like to get in on things. And kids can change their parents. If their family is going to buy a refrigerator, they'll say, "I hear we should get an Energy Star." If people change their habits early and look at things a little differently, it becomes a part of the way they do business.

Ed Young: Completing a Cycle

Ed Young, who now lives in Westchester, N.Y., was born in China--home to the moon bears. But, he says, "I had no idea there was such a bear." Once Brenda Guiberson submitted her manuscript for Moon Bear to Laura Godwin, Godwin proposed the idea of illustrating the book to Young during the ALA conference in Anaheim in the summer of 2008. "We were staying right across from Disneyland, in the same hotel with Mickey Mouse walking around in costume," he recalled. "The book had to be sympathetic because it was a plea of some sort. The color of the book is about a plea. I want to bring the moon bear into the place that the panda is looked upon."

How did you begin working on the art?

I was sketching on my way to China [to visit family, right after ALA]. I did drawings on the manuscript, very small, half an inch to an inch. Then I do smudges. I'm the only one who knows what I'm doing. People look at me and say, "What is he doing with these little smudges?" I use a marker pen and make white shapes. Because the book has so few words, I had to inject a lot of details that eventually took place after the research. I was thinking of the book in a big way, the details will follow. I still have the sketches on the manuscript--it's pretty much what the book turned out to be in the end.

Why did you choose collage for this project?

It usually settles in on its own. I dabble with a lot of mediums in the working of any book. I had some that were oil crayon and some with chalk, and then I started to play with collage. That seemed to work. The pages decided that they wanted to be in collage. The book has its own spirit and I follow that to completion.

You mentioned that portraits of your family are hidden in the white crescent markings of some of the moon bear images.

I was at a point where everything was finishing up, and I decided to have some fun. My mother died last year, and I wanted to do something about family, so I decided to do my whole family. My wife died three years ago, so I put her in it, and my two girls, and my teacher. As you page through, not every crescent has a picture in it, so you have to look at every picture. [In the image shown here, you can see the profile of Young's wife in the white markings of the moon bear.]

Especially on the spread of the beechnuts and acorns, every blade of grass is carefully cut out.

When the book has come to that place, where you're going for the details, it's a meditation for me. That's the easy part. The hard part is how to make this book work as a book. How does it follow from one page to another, with enough variety so the reader is not bored by looking at the same bear over and over doing 14 different things? Changing the color, the size, the viewpoint--with all of that it becomes sort of an orchestra of pictures. I wanted to see the bear from different angles, and draw it from close up. I was looking for a bear to study. I saw that there was a bear looking down at me [in my studio] that was given to me by my mother several years ago when I visited her in China.

Had the bear been in your family?

I don't think it's a family heirloom because we don't have a lot of grandmothers and grandfathers, like most families. I can't remember how it came into our hands. My mother had said, "You better take it back to the United States." And I thought, "What do I need with a bear?" And it was heavy! It's made of wood and it's well sculpted, and it has ivory teeth and things like that. The paint was worn away, but when I was looking for a real bear and that thing was looking down at me, I thought, "That looks like a moon bear." That became the company I kept during the course of making the book.

Where is the bear now?

I gave it to Jill [Robinson at Animals Asia]. She was asking me about the history of the bear and whether to give the bear a name. The one thing that came to me was the bear returning. The moon bear is named for the crescent. In China, every time the moon becomes full, it's a full cycle, and they celebrate the reunion of the family at a round table. I thought, "This whole thing is like a reunion of some sort." I gave her the Chinese characters for it, the idea of fullness, of completing a cycle. The moon bear will go back to where it belongs.


Book Review

Review: Moon Bear

Moon Bear by Brenda Guiberson (Henry Holt & Company, $16.99 Hardcover, 9780805089776, May 2010)

Have you ever seen a moon bear? After you experience this book, you will never forget them. Named for the crescent moon-shaped markings on their midnight-black fur, these bears live in China's Himalayas. Brenda Guiberson's (Cactus Hotel; Ice Bears) text, as spare and poetic as the mountains that serve as the moon bears' home in the wild, and Ed Young's (Cat and Rat) meticulously crafted full-spread collage artwork of their habitat takes us through a complete cycle of seasons.

Guiberson structures the narrative like a lyrical call and response: "Who blinks in the sunlight/ that peeks through the Himalayas?/ Sleepy moon bear,/ waking up/ from a long winter snooze." The moon bear scratches a birch tree then "licks the oozing sap," and claws at a rhododendron's trunk to mark its territory. In Young's illustration, as the moon bear makes its mark, a barely visible barking deer stares at the bear, which we now see at close range; the ursine orange-tinted eyes echo the deer's markings and contrast with the rhododendron forest that engulfs the two creatures.  Several spreads later, as the bear "scuttles" up a tree to gather cherries, we view the animal from below; the contrast of the red fruit with the green leaves carefully sculpted by the artist's scissors, as well as the white crescent collar against the predominantly black fur, with clouds aswirl in the sky, emphasize the animal's majesty. Text and artwork lead us through other details of the bear's daily routine and surroundings, in a search for "new shoots of the fast-growing bamboo," and as it "shuffles through soggy leaf litter" after a monsoon (Young's image depicts hundreds of ants exposed in the storm's path).

The year progresses, and the bear moves from the peaks of the Himalayas to the lowlands searching for food; we learn that it must carefully wind its way, "avoiding poachers and loggers." As the seasons come full circle, the book reveals that the moon bear we've been following is female ("Who shuffles out in spring/ so hungry again?/ Mama moon bear!"). Together, Guiberson and Young capture the bear's many moods, from regal to silly (as the bear "gulps... beechnuts and acorns," she looks almost cross-eyed, licking her chops with satisfaction, the red of her tongue vibrating against an autumn backdrop of mossy green) to intense as she "digs into a tree hollow" to prepare for her winter rest ("Chubby moon bear,/ snuggling in for another/ long winter snooze"). Only in a closing author's note does Guiberson expand on the text's reference to "poachers," wisely allowing children not yet ready to learn its meaning to pass it by. Those who wish to discover more about the bears' situation (most moon bears live in captivity, where they are farmed for the healing properties of their bile) can follow a link to a rescue center for the bears. For most children, this will be an eye-opening and breathtaking introduction to the moon bear that lives half a world away.

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