Home Book Analysis How Kids Find Hope In Hard Times With ‘Simon And the Bear’

How Kids Find Hope In Hard Times With ‘Simon And the Bear’

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Sharing this post on social media? Use this description to make it accessible: [Image description: Illustration from ‘Simon and the Bear,’ by Eric A. Kimmele &Matthw Trueman. A young man who I perceive as white-presenting snuggles up with a polar bear on an iceberg. Before them, the shamash and seven candles are lit on the menorah.]

Simon and the bear

‘Simon And The Bear’

Simon And The Bear

Picture book, Recommended for ages 5-9


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A Hanukkah book for everyone

Simon And The Bear encapsulates everything about the winter holidays that I want to keep, plucked from the rubble of icky greedy consumerism, competition, and show-offishness.

It’s got none of that, and so much of the good stuff:

Generosity. Selflessness. Accepting hard circumstances. Breathing through the darkness. Gratitude. Acceptance of what is, but making space for hope.

SO GOOD… not because it’s easy to read. But because it’s difficult.

There are at least a couple times where Simon is just flat out accepting – I am going to die out here on the cold ice.

Which makes a nice contrast because he still has HOPE. Making space for doomed circumstances – but also hope – is what makes it so powerful. But definitely hold off or scaffold & prepare for younger/sensitive kids.


How we grow through hard stories

Listening during play & make-up stories

Around age 4, the stories kids play start to get macabre (lots of dying, explosions, abandonment). They’re exploring valid fears as they learn how vulnerable they are in a big world.

This is a sign that kids are looking to master potentially traumatic experiences and fears. Same goes for weapons play (turning things into guns, etc.). Kids are exploring contingency plans, working out anxiety – to feel like they can overcome larger predators.

Many caregivers are afraid this means their kids are becoming violent and try to quash these types of play and stories. Instead, I’ve found it’s better to discuss them.

“I noticed earlier when you were playing you were talking about … is this something you think of?”

“Do you have these feelings/fears that something like this could happen to you or someone else?””

This is the time to introduce stories working through common fears

Trauma mastery is retroactively, re-involving ourselves in roles where we had a sense of loss of control. We run through these post-mortems, analyzing what went wrong, how we could prevent this from happening to us again.

This kind of macabre & violent play creates that same sense of control – but it’s more preventative, like a vaccination. Play is to help kids with a pre-mortem – what could I do IF…? So they can feel more prepared. Very healthy.

Introducing triggering topics with support

So these kinds of dark and scary stories can fill a need for kids to master these fears, and also be a good time to open these discussions up with guidance from an older person, or even peers who are wrestling with these same fears. That way they don’t have to hash it all out on their own.

So long as we make sure kids are prepared to read a difficult story, they give informed consent, and you’re there to listen to them without judgement about how the story makes them feel – these kinds of books don’t have to be a shock to the system.

You may also like: Immigrants Belong Here: Books Helping Kids Advocate For Human Rights

Is this #OwnVoices?

Author: Eric A. Kimmel (he/him)
Illustrator: Matthew Trueman (pronouns unknown)

Kimmel takes some deep liberties appropriating stories from cultures outside his own (specifically, his appropriation & butchering of Anasi stories). But in this case, he is an #OwnVoices Jewish author – although unlike Simon, he’s not an immigrant. But his grandmother came to the US in 1906 before WWI, and he based some of his stories based on her tellings.

I can’t find any illustrator bios on Trueman for background.

Learn more about #OwnVoices, coined by autistic author Corinne Duyvis

How we calculate the overall awesomeness score of books.

You might also like: Hanukkah Book For Gentiles & Interfaith Families

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