Simon and the Bear

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Simon and the Bear Book Poster Image
Polar bear, faith save boy in sweet Hanukkah miracle tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

An Author's Note recounts the biblical story that's he basis for Hanukkah, involving the the Maccabees' victory over Greek occupying forces in 164 B.C. Its rituals, traditions, and food -- latkes -- are described in both that note and the story itself. Kids learn some of the Hebrew alphabet in the context of the dreidel game. 

Positive Messages

Have faith. Have hope. Never give up. Pray for a miracle. Miracles "aren't just for the Maccabees." Be kind and generous to others and that kindness may be returned one day in a way you can't imagine. Celebrate religious holidays wherever you are. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Everyone in Simon and the Bear is positive and kind: Simon, the polar bear, Simon's mom, the man in the fur coat. Simon gives up his place in the lifeboat thinking it's important for a father to join his son -- putting that man's needs above his own. The man repays his kindness once Simon makes it to New York.

Violence & Scariness

The ship hits an iceberg and sinks -- no destruction is shown, just the iceberg and closeup views of the ship's rail on an angle to indicate sinking. One line reveals that Simon grew up "without his father," but no reason is given. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Simon and the Bear, by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Matthew Trueman, is a fantasy adventure about a young immigrant boy whose ship to America sinks after it hits and iceberg. Simon is left stranded on the iceberg, but a polar bear comes, shares his latkes and keeps him safe and warm. The ordeal happens during Hanukkah, so Simon lights the candles each night and prays for a miracle -- and gets eight, including being rescued, plus a bonus miracle when he finally lands in New York. It's an engaging story that keeps the focus on faith and tradition amid wild coincidences and fantastic devices. An Author's Note recounts the biblical story of Hanukkah and its rituals still practiced today.

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What's the story?

Simon sets sail from the old country for America with a knapsack his mother has packed with food, a menorah, a box of candles, matches, a dreidel, "and plenty of latkes." "Wherever you are, Simon," she tells him, "don't forget to celebrate Hanukkah and its miracles. Who knows? You may need a miracle on your long journey. When his ship hits an iceberg, Simon offers his place in the lifeboat to a man in a fur coat who's traveling to join his son in New York. Simon jumps off the sinking ship onto the iceberg on the first night of Hanukkah, so he lights the menorah and prays for a miracle. Soon a friendly polar bear appears, catches fish for him, and keeps him safe and warm. When a ship spots his candle on the last night of Hanukkah, he's rescued and reaches New York, where he reunites with the man in the fur coat. The man happens to be the mayor of New York, who pays to have Simon's family come to America with first class tickets, and gives Simon a job as polar bear keeper of the Central Park Zoo. 

Is it any good?

SIMON AND THE BEAR, beautifully illustrated by Matthew Truman with collage and acrylics in wintry blue shades, is an engaging survival story that keeps the emphasis on praying for a miracle. "A miracle may happen for me," says Simon, "just as one happened for the Maccabees long ago." Simon counts seven miracles before his rescue becomes the eighth -- echoing the eight nights of Hanukkah. 

The protagonist is so sweet and appealing, readers will just go with his great reversal of fortune once he lands in New York. Why not have the plot resolution be miraculous? 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Hanukkah. What do you know about the biblical story and why the holiday is it's celebrated for eight nights? 

  • How does the author convey the cold of being on an iceberg? What colors does he use? 

  • Did anyone in your family come to America as an immigrant? What was their journey like? 

Book details

For kids who love Holidays and picture books

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