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The Picture Book Buzz

Koala is NOT a Bear - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Do you remember summer camp? The nervousness of being away from home, the uncertainty about what would happen all week, and the fear that no one would like you and you won't fit in. Not to mention the overwhelming responsibility of taking care of all those little campers in your cabin.

Wait, you were thinking back to attending summer camp, not being the counselor? Well, I suppose the same fears and worries affected everyone there. But once the gear was stowed, rules read, and the s'mores roasting, most everyone was relaxed and ready to have a fun week. That's not to say there weren't hurt feelings; moments when a camper (or counselor) just wanted to go home. But usually, it turned out to be a fun time.

But imagine that you couldn't find your cabin. That you couldn't figure out where you belonged. Then you might have the experience of Koala when she attends camp for the first time.

Koala is NOT a Bear

Author: Kristin L. Gray

Illustrator: Rachel McAlister

Publisher: Sterling Children's Books (2019)

Ages: 4-7



Friendship, animal classification, STEM, and belonging.


It's Koala's first day at camp, and she thinks she's found her place in the Bear Cabin—until know-it-all Kangaroo comes along and tells Koala in no uncertain terms that she is not a bear. Koala points out all the ways in which she resembles her new friend, Grizzly, but Kangaroo just isn't buying it. As Koala tries to find her place, alert readers will recognize clues about where Koala belongs. Using humor and fun illustrations, this engaging story will reel kids in and leave them with a satisfying ending.

Opening Lines:

Koala had never been to camp before.

She couldn't wait to swim, toast marshmallows, and meet her cabinmates.

But she'd never been away from her family, so she packed a few reminders of home . . .

just in case.

Why I Like this book:

What an ingenious way to learn about animal classification and how to compare and contrast animals. A great way to make STEM fun.

Arriving at camp, Koala searches high and low for her cabin. Just as she's welcomed to Grizzly's cabin, an unabashed (slightly aggressive) know-it-all kangaroo interrupts to assert that Koala is NOT a bear and doesn't belong in that cabin.

Text © Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Image © Rachel McAlister, 2019.

Grizzly and Koala list all the ways that they are similar and that therefore Koala is indeed a bear.

Fellow camper, Duck, provides the comic relief throughout. "If she walks like a bear and talks like a bear," said Duck. "She must be a bear."

After every similarity that Koala and Grizzly find is countered, and it becomes painfully obvious at lunch that they don't eat the same meals, Kangaroo wins and Koala questions if she should have even come to camp.

Text © Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Image © Rachel McAlister, 2019.

Up to this moment, the lively, digital illustrations of the big-eyed animals have been in bright colors. The shift to grey outlines, do a great job of highlighting Koala's misery.

The summer camp setting is so inventive. I love Rachel's cafeteria scene with the diverse animals from around the globe. Kids will identify with Koala's desire to belong, being the odd one out, and missing her family. You'll have to read it to find out which cabin Koala belongs to and the fun teaser at the end. A fun book combining friendship, belonging, and science (including an author's note).


- write or draw your own story of a summer camp you attended or one you would create; or

- create a chart comparing koala to bear and koala to kangaroo.

If you missed Kristen L. Gray's interview on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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