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The Picture Book Buzz

Big Bear Was Not the Same - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I have been so excited for this book's release since I had the privilege to participate in the book's cover reveal! John Ledda and Joanna Rowland have created an amazingly heartfelt, lightly humorous, child-friendly picture book dealing with emotions and reactions following a traumatic event. A great book for teachers and parents to gently help kids when they themselves, or their friends, have experienced a trauma.

Big Bear Was Not the Same

Author: Joanna Rowland

Illustrator: John Ledda

Publisher: Beaming Books (2021)

Ages: 4-7



Friendship, trauma, PTSD, gentleness, hope, and healing.


One scary day can change everything . . .

Little Bear loves the woods, his home, and going on adventures with his best friend, Big Bear. Big Bear is so big and strong and brave. He always protects Little Bear and helps him feel safe. Then something scary happens to Big Bear. He's caught in a forest fire. Even after he escapes and is safe, Little Bear can tell that Big Bear is not the same. He runs, roars, or freezes in fear when ordinary things happen in the woods that remind him of that traumatic day. How can Little Bear's big, strong, brave friend be so scared now? And how can Little Bear be a good friend?

Opening Lines:

Little Bear loved the woods

and going on adventures

with his best friend Big Bear.

Their days were full of laughter,

exploring new heights, and great fun

What I LOVED about this book:

I love how succinctly Joanna Rowland portrays Little Bear and Big Bear's friendship. "Their days were full of laughter, exploring new heights, and great fun." And I adore how, after giving us the tender, empathetic cover and a romping title page, John Ledda portrays their "fun" as blowing dandelion seeds.

Text © Joanna Rowland, 2021. Image © John Ledda, 2021.

Little Bear admires and looks up to Big Bear, who is always there to protect him and offer hugs. Until, one day...

Text © Joanna Rowland, 2021. Image © John Ledda, 2021.

I think John did a great job showing the fire that scared (traumatized) Big Bear, without making it terrifying to young children. While still remaining realistic. Joanna's masterfully tight text sets up the changes that occurred to Big Bear and how they confused and concerned Little Bear. Allowing John to create a fun spread with a series of vignettes where Little Bear unsuccessfully tries food, silliness, and a dandelion make Big Bear feel better.

Slowly, each time Big Bear seemed to be okay again, and they are fishing together or playing (the image of the bears and animals playing on a log 'tetter-totter' is precious), Big Bear would be startled by noises, sights, or smells.

Text © Joanna Rowland, 2021. Image © John Ledda, 2021.

Perhaps more gently presented as an experience of two adorable bears, it's still highly realistic and genuine to both Big Bear's PTSD reactions and Little Bear's confusion in his friend's sudden transformations. Both the text and the illustrations approach this traumatic event and it's lasting effects with gentleness, honesty, and a slight undercurrent of humor. Creating a book brimming with heart and a message that a friend's undying love “no matter how far we run, how loud we roar, or how long we sit in silence" would always be there. It's a comforting, sweet story, acknowledging the reality and unpredictability of trauma and offering a promise that with time and our friends' support things can eventually get better.

With a nice touch, the book includes a note by therapist Debbie McJimsey which helps kids (and adults) understand Big Bear's and Little Bear's reactions and to realize they are perfectly normal. It includes information on the "Fight, Flight, Freeze" reaction, PTSD, and strategies to help.

Now, on a bit lighter note, as Joanna mentioned in our interview on Monday - and I did give you all time to go have a peek at it, so no yelling "spoilers" - here is the amazing 'undie' that John created for this book. I love that Joanna took the picture of the book "in the wild." Do you see the star constellations?

If you want to see other great "undies" which have already nominated and/or maybe nominate other books for the amazing "The Undies: Case Cover Awards," visit Carter Higgin's site -

Though I truly wish this topic was merely hypothetical for most kids, unfortunately with all the environmental and societal traumas over the past year(s), this book will be very useful to teachers, parents, and others helping themselves and kids work through their emotions and physical reactions. As well as showing how friends can be empathetic and understanding. This is a gem of a book about friendship, heart, healing, and hope.


- make a Big Bear and Little Bear puppet ( Use them to reenact an event that scared you. What would the bears have done?

- who would you talk to if something scared you? Make a list of family, friends, teachers, etc., you could talk to, or draw a picture of these people around you.

- have you ever had a friend growl or snap at you unexpectedly? What did you do? Sometimes people don't want to, or can't, talk about what is bothering them. Did Little Bear give you ideas for ways to help? Can you think of others?

If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with John Ledda and Joanna Rowland (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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