Straight’s first book for children (she penned the adult novel I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots) is sure to strike a chord with any child who’s ever had an absolutely indispensable blankie, stuffed animal or other comfort object. When Gaila’s baby sister drops Bear E. Bear in the mud, Gaila and her mother team up to make him presentable again before bedtime. Scenes of the clean-up operation-Gaila helping pour soap into the washer, keeping vigil by the dryer, etc.-are intercut with other glimpses of cozy family life as well as with flashbacks to Bear E. Bear’s earlier days (e.g., the time Grandma repaired the bruin’s nose). The author’s intimate style, perceptive family observations and reassuringly familiar details (“His fur was spiky on top of his head, like my uncle John’s hair”) make for a rich mix, though her time shifts may prove slightly confusing to a young audience. Russo’s (It Begins with an A) typically upbeat, boldly colored gouache illustrations portray a mixed-race family (happily, there’s no fuss or explanation about this in the text). A warm, sympathetic look at a classic childhood experience.
Susan Straight, professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, has won the Gold Medal for Fiction from the San Francisco-based Commonwealth Club for her fifth novel, “Highwire Moon.” All her novels are set in the fictitious town of Rio Seco, a loose parallel to her hometown of Riverside, where she still lives.