Just when you think you’re being guided by an omniscient narrator, author-illustrator Julia Sarcone-Roach throws you a curveball in this very funny picture book about the art of misdirection.
“By now I think you know what happened to your sandwich,” the book opens. Standing there in a lush forest is a bear. The narrator tells us right off the bat that this missing-sandwich mystery is all thanks to this creature. He was tempted by the smell of berries, you see, and hopped into a red truck carting fruit. Before he knew it, he was asleep in the bed of the truck and awoke to find himself in a big city. The bear is confused about where he is, but he makes the most of it, timidly exploring, sniffing and tasting as he goes. When he makes it to a park, it’s precisely then that he sees your sandwich and eats it, the narrator insists. When he smells dogs, the bear flees.
On the next spread is the twist: Two pointy, fluffy ears pop up from the bottom of a page, along with two speech balloons: “So. That’s what happened to your sandwich. The bear ate it.” We turn the page to see a small, fluffy dog, talking to a little girl. He’s trying hard to convince her—despite the lettuce at his feet—that it really was the bear’s fault. That’s right: If you thought it strange that a big, burly bear would run from dogs, consider your narrator.
Clues are dropped hither and thither about the dog’s culpability here, clues that are fun to spot when re-reading. Teachers and school librarians, take note: It’s Inferencing 101 for young readers, and it’s great fun. Sarcone-Roach’s textured acrylic and pencil illustrations are sunny and rendered with an energy that serves the story well. The bear is sometimes a blur of movement, and his curiosity propels the story forward, even if we find out in the end that he never existed.
This story is mischief-making at its finest. And just like a good sandwich, it's hard to resist.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.