The moment readers open “The Bear in the Book,” they return to what feels more like the familiar world of American storytelling, in a book first published in the United States — even though both author and illustrator live in France. In American picture books, the art of sharing the space between author and illustrator is highly valued, and Kate Banks and Georg Hallensleben have concocted here a charming pas de deux about a boy and his mother for young children.
The book centers on an intimate mother-and-child moment, like a Mary Cassatt painting, as they savor a bedtime story about a bear. As the boy turns the pages, he strokes the pictures, urging the bear to sleep. Banks describes the bear’s journey in lilting prose: “ ‘Winter settled like a big hush,’ read the boy’s mother. ‘And the big black bear slept.’ ” Finally, the boy himself goes to sleep, with a copy of “The Bear in the Book” on his bed. Hallensleben creates characters, landscapes and interior scenes with equal skill. In “The Bear in the Book,” readers are in the hands of two masters — Banks with her well-chosen words and Hallensleben with his lush, color-saturated paintings.