Thursday, September 29, 2011

We're Dancing on a Bear Hunt!

Read It. Move It. Share It.
Each month I recommend a picture book for Maria Hanley--dance educator extraordinaire in New York City--to incorporate into her creative movement classes. Our September pick is We're Going on a Bear Hunt, written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. When you're done reading more about the book, don't forget to check out Maria's blog to see how she used it in her classes. 

I still remember sitting in a big circle at summer camp, clapping one hand and then the other against my thighs and stamping my feet against the floor as our fearless leader took us on an adventurous bear hunt when I was a kid. Through fields of grass, thick mud, and dark forests we went, searching far and wide for that one elusive bear. Does this sound familiar to you, too?

Well, when I saw the picture book We're Going on a Bear Hunt for the first time earlier this year, this childhood memory came flooding back...not so much because of the actions we did during the bear hunt, but because of how exhilarating it was to play the game. And even though we were sitting in one place, it still included a lot of movement, which I'm sure was another reason I had so much fun with it.

I can't remember the exact words to the game I played, and I'm sure there are many versions. Here's a very expressive Michael Rosen reciting his version--the version that he created for the book. You can see from the video that the text of the book is full of rhythm and fun sounds that could easily inspire movement, as they do for Rosen himself.

Although the words to the book are what inspire the movement for me, the book wouldn't be what it is without the beautiful drawings of Helen Oxenbury. She was able to depict the characters in the book any which way she wanted, and she chose to draw them as five members of a family. I recently found out that the five characters are actually siblings, but many readers think they are a father and his four children. Either way, I think this depiction is especially nice for young children, who will likely be "reading" this book alongside other family members of their own.

However you interpret the illustrations, what's especially unique about them is that they alternate between black-and-white ones and full-color ones. Oxenbury uses black and white for the pages with the refrain (which, for the most part, is every other spread). This is for the moments when the family has yet to find out what the next obstacle on their bear hunt will be. Then she uses color for the more active pages, when the family trudges through grass, a river, mud, and even a snowstorm.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt was first published in 1989, which makes it about 22 years old today. Because this was after my summer camp days, I wonder how old the bear game actually is and what its origins are. Hmmm. Regardless, I'm very happy that it was adapted into a book so that many more kids could experience the exhilaration of those summer bear hunts I used to go on. And, I'm happy that it was adapted into a book so that dance educators could use it, too. You can see how Maria used it in her classes here.

Before I go, I also wanted to let you know about an extremely charming video interview with Helen Oxenbury over at Reading Rockets. It includes a heartwarming story about how Oxenbury's father encouraged her to go to art school and how she approached illustrating several of her most popular books, including We're Going on a Bear Hunt. I highly recommend it.

And, finally, here are a couple of lesson plans I found to go along with the case you teach young children or want to incorporate some of the plans into your reading time at home.
  • These teaching materials from the San Diego County Office of Education, created as part of the Schools of California Online Resources for Educators (SCORE) Project, include a variety of activities to help students learn more about bears.
  • And here are some lesson plans from Scholastic that incorporate elements of the story into dramatic play and other preschool activities. 

This post is also part of Read-Aloud Thursday, which is a weekly opportunity for bloggers to share some of their favorite family-friendly read-aloud books. It's hosted over at Hope Is the Word, where teacher turned stay-at-home mom Amy blogs about home education, parenting, and books. Check it out!


  1. I am always so fascinated about how you find so much information to offer us about a book. I love the little facts and the videos and pictures. Thank you! :)

  2. Thanks, Maria. I never quite know what I'm going to find out when I start a post, but I just happened to find a couple great videos to go along with this one. Yeah for another great month of reading and dancing!

  3. Popped over from Hope is in the Word. We LOVE this book! We quoted from it all summer long when we were out and about hiking around our town. Saying any line from this particular book brings a smile. Nice to learn more about it through this post!

  4. Nice review! My entire family including the 7 yr old and 4 yr old have this one memorized because it's been the 2 yr olds favorite for awhile. We've even considered hiding it. :) I mean, we love it, but there are limits to how many bear hunts you can go on on a day.

  5. Hi, Alice. Thanks for stopping by. That's too funny! I think there might be an anniversary edition of the book with a CD, but I'm not sure. I wonder if the three kids could go on a bear hunt on their own, since they know the text so well by now, and you could go in another room and have a cup of tea or something :)

  6. Oh, this is a favorite at our house, too! My girls loved it when they were toddlers, and I'm eager to introduce it to our resident sixteen month old! I wrote a post about it a few years ago:

    I think it's so neat that you pick books for a dance class. I love it!

    Thanks so much for linking up to RAT!


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