Bear That Went Bump in the Night
by Shereen H. Waterman
Westwood Books Publishing

"A big dark shadow was leaving the chicken house, strolling toward the creek and forest shadows beyond."

Seven-year-old Larry and his younger sister Suzie live with their parents in a lush wilderness where both are already acquiring survival skills. Larry can spear salmon and (most of the time) toss them into his father's waiting truck, while Suzie looks on, charged with counting the catch as it accumulates. As they complete this enjoyable task to bring food to the table, Larry spots a bear moving around upstream. He and Dad talk about bears and their habits. This one appears to be fishing like they are, probably to feed her cubs. Gradually it seems to be approaching, and Dad says it's probably just curious about them. Back home, Mom cooks fresh salmon steaks. But that night, Mom hears a strange sound, and the next morning Suzie wails when she finds that something has stolen the jello that had been set outside to cool. Dad reckons it's the bear.

Things get really serious a few nights later when the bear steals two piglets. As the family discusses different kinds of bear species and their relation to other animals, Dad and Mom get out their guns and do some target practice, just in case. The next episode involves the bear's raid on the henhouse, followed by a fire in the barn when the bear knocks over the kerosene heater. The grownups fire their weapons, but the bear escapes. Claw marks tell Dad that the bear is a black bear, not a brown one or a grizzly. Neighbor Ned joins them, concerned about the shooting, and agrees to help the family track and kill the bear that Dad says must be "smart, curious, and hungry," like Larry. The bear lore shared by Ned and Dad leads them on its trail, but, at times, it seems like their prey is smarter than they are. They will finally find it but in a most unusual place.

One of the charms of this book, written for older children to read and learn from, is the setting. Author Waterman was born in an Alaskan homestead like the one she depicts so vividly, and, she reveals, is the "Suzie" of this story. She is a retired schoolteacher. Her love of that profession is evidenced by her use of the book's well-constructed plot as a means to pique the reader's curiosity about bears and other mammals, hunting and fishing, and inhabiting the wild terrain. Too, she presents a warm portrait of a happy, well-adjusted family of four with shared interests and skills. Each one gets attention, and all contribute to the general welfare. Waterman has included some helpful questions at the end of the book, entitled "To Teachers/Homeschoolers: Discussion Guide." She points out that the setting gives a picture of "an increasingly rare lifestyle" and can be useful in exploring the ethos of our American pioneer culture. As she suggests, her realistic family memories can serve as a vehicle for its young readers to write about their own experiences and to compare and contrast them with Larry's family and their authentic wilderness lifestyle.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home