Young Johnny Orchard is mortified that his family has never shot a bear. The men in his village bring home bears with predictable regularity, and this is more than Johnny’s pride can endure. He sets off one day, rifle in hand, to bring back his very own bear and establish the family honor. His hunting trip is successful and he brings home a bear, but it is only a cub, small enough to carry.

Johnny’s adventure and its consequences will entertain young readers as they watch his bear grow to be “the biggest bear.” Many children will relate to the sadness Johnny feels when he finally admits that his bear is too big to stay.

While Johnny is the hero of this story, the bear himself is the star in Lynd Ward’s marvelously detailed illustrations. Much of the humor in this tale is told through pictures. The joy with which the young cub pounces on the chicken’s mash and the anguish with which the now-biggest-bear and Johnny bid one another good-bye are truly expressive.  As Johnny struggles to do the right thing, the bear’s expressions seem to mock the seriousness of the situation; the young reader feels for Johnny Orchard.

A tale of love and duty together with a surprise ending will delight young readers and parents alike.

Margaret Hannon is a homeschooling mother.  She and her husband live in Bolton, MA with five of their eight children.