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Barbara Joosse The Reader's HugóBarbara Joosse in her own words...
Nikolai, The Only Bear
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Papa, Do You Love Me?
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Mama, Do You Love Me?

Based on the universal fear of all childrenówill I be lovedóa child tests to be reassured of her mother's unconditional love.

Barbara Joose and Barbara Lavallee, the illustrator, add a setting of the Arctic, brilliant color illustrations and a glossary of all the animals that are used in the book. Often referred to as Eskimo, most native Arctic people refer to themselves as Inuit which means "to people".

Children will realize that we are all the same and we all face those fears and want to be accepted and reassured of love, no matter what culture or for that matter, what age.

"Mama, what if I carried our eggs --
Our ptarmigan eggs! --
and I tried to be careful,
and I tried to walk slowly,
but I fell and the eggs broke?"

"Then I would be sorry,
But still, I would love you."

"What if I threw water at our lamp?"

"Then, Dear One, I would be very angry.
But still, I would love you."

"What if I turned into a walrus?

"Then I would be surprised and a little scared
But still, I would love you."

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Like adults, many children cocoon themselves from a world that's busy, confusing and sometimes scary. Even the conversation of a well-meaning adult is often received as so much blah blah blah. How, then, can we touch a child?

By its very nature, a picture book offers refreshing possibilities. Because it's often read many times, a picture book can be absorbed slowly, at a child's own pace. When it's read just before bed, at the delicious interval between sleep and awake, a child's book-companion can accompany her into her private dream world. Finally, when a picture book is read out loud, the reader and listener are often wrapped in a hug, the child's ear just at your heart, with the book you share the seal of the hug.

The world portrayed in a picture book can be gentle or harsh, familiar or new, internal or external, but it must, I believe, always be hopeful. If the universal adult emotion is longing, the universal child emotion is belonging. A picture book should portray a world in which a child-in fact, this particular listener child-belongs.

I often write about cultures that are not my own, but a world that is. Like you, I belong to a global family. In my books, I want to find the things that make us unique and the things we have in common. I want to give children permission to enter all of these worlds as a legacy of their birth. I often include a glossary, to help children develop a sense of mastery.

When I begin a picture book, I think about the questions a child wonders, how I can give my characters dignity, use reassuring rhythms and sounds and metaphors, allow a shared experience between reader and listener, and give a book many layers to be absorbed over time.

Before I began writing Nikolai, the Only Bear I thought about how important it is for a child to feel he belongs, especially when he's adopted. Belonging, not rescuing, gives a child permission to be sometimes-naughty, as a natural rhythm in a natural family. Nikolai is the only bear at Orphanage Number One in Novosibirsk, Russia. Although no one else at the orphanage speaks bear, Nikolai maintains a quiet dignity. When a fur-faced man and smooth-faced woman arrive, and understand Nikolai's bearish ways, he knows he has belonged to a family all along. Nikolai is a bear, not a human, so children of each gender and many colors can identify with him. Further, a cuddly "teddy" inspires children to feel soft-bearish, just as their own parents feel about them.

Set in Kenya, Papa, Do You Love Me? celebrates the special bond between father and son. This Maasai boy gives voice to the questions all children wonder-"Papa, do you love me? How much? How long?" And even more difficult--"What if I'm afraid? What if I make a terrible mistake? Will you still love me then?" The universality of these questions, and the loving way Papa responds, allow children across cultures to feel embraced by a father who might-or might not-be there.