Book Review: The Bears on Hemlock Mountain

Rating: ★★★★☆

Jonathan and his family live at the foot of the big hill that is called Hemlock Mountain.  One spring, expecting many relatives for a feast, his mother sends him over Hemlock Mountain to fetch a large iron pot from his aunt.  All of the adults (except his Uncle James, who has taught him how to observe wildlife) believe that there are no bears on Hemlock Mountain, but Jonathan isn’t so sure.  Still, he makes it across without meeting any.  At his aunt’s house he eats too many cookies and falls asleep, starting home just as the sun begins to set.  There he sees some bears, and hides under the pot.  His father and uncles come to rescue him just in time, and he proudly presents the pot to his mother.

This brief book is masterfully crafted, and through Dalgiesh’s easy-to-read prose the young reader gets a picture of Jonathan’s close-knit, loyal, and sometimes overwhelming colonial family.  In one day Jonathan experiences the pleasures of the outdoors, the comforts of the hearth, and the terror of a small child alone at night.

The story is really about dealing with fear, and the characters try to deal with the possibility of bears through denial.  Jonathan and others repeat to themselves that “There ARE no bears on Hemlock Mountain.”  But this attempt at avoiding the truth is ineffective, and it is with relief that Jonathan finally announces that “There ARE bears on Hemlock Mountain!”  His pride at carrying the heavy pot pales next to the fact that he has faced the frightening truth everyone else has avoided.

Sensitive children might be troubled by the scene in which Jonathan meets the bears, but his quick rescue provides a comforting end to this suspenseful story.  This is a great early chapter book, either for young listeners or young readers.

The newest edition of this book has a cover that seems more scary than the story actually merits, so I recommend an earlier edition.

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Publication Information: Dalgiesh, Alice. Bears on Hemlock Mountain, The. Sewell, Helen (Illustrator). Aladdin. 1952. ISBN: 0689716044.
Categories: 4 Stars, Age 04-08, Book Tree,, First Chapter Books, Honey For a Child's Heart, Newbery Honor
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Posted on November 9, 2009

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