The Bears on Hemlock Mountain

written by Alice Dalgliesh
Illustrations by Helen Sewell

Alice Dalgliesh's The Bears on Hemlock Mountain

Children's literature review by Carla Marie Boulianne

Ages 6-8; ages 4 and up as a read aloud book

A beautiful read-aloud book for mothers and sons

"There are no bears on Hemlock Mountain, no bears at all. Of course there are no bears on Hemlock Mountain, no bears, no bears, no bears, no bears at all."

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain is a cliffhanger of an adventure with a boy, bears, and the reassuring security of a family's love. Alice Dalgelish ties a worrying mother to her growing son through a shared refrain, as though saying there are no bears will ward off the dangers of the world.

cropped image on superimposed background, Helen Sewell illustration from The Bears on Hemlock Mountain

Young Jonathan sets off on a journey to fetch a stew pot from his aunt who lives on the other side of the Hemlock Mountain, which is not much more than a hill. We hear the "crunch, crunch, crunch" of his boots in the last snows of spring as drops of snowmelt fall "drip, drip, drip" from the trees.

We "sniff, sniff" at the aroma of freshly baked cookies as Jonathan greets his aunt "full of politeness and hunger." Unfortunately, Jonathan does not hear the clock's urgent "tick, tock, time to go."

Although classified as an early chapter book for independent readers, The Bears on Hemlock Mountain should be read aloud to fully appreciate the rhythmic nature of this classic piece of children's literature.

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain - Another Newbery Honor Book for Alice Dalgliesh

Alice Dalgliesh's The Bears on Hemlock Mountain received the Newbery Honor Book award in 1953; Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark won the award that year. Alice Dalgliesh also received Newbery Honor awards for The Silver Pencil (1944) and The Courage of Sarah Noble (1954).

She was a prolific children's author, publishing more than 40 titles. Dalgliesh taught elementary school before embarking on her career as a writer and editor.

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain - Superbly Illustrated

Helen Sewell is perhaps best known for illustrating the original publications of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. Garth Williams, illustrator of The Cricket in Times Square (reviewed on this site), created artwork for later Little House editions.

Helen Sewell's illustrations for The Thanksgiving Story, also by Alice Dalgliesh, earned the picture book a Caldecott Honor. Helen Sewell was only twelve years old when she entered the prestigious Pratt Institute, founded in 1887 by philanthropist Charles Pratt to educate artists and creative professionals.

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain

My children were riveted by this read aloud book, though my four-year-old fell asleep along with Jonathan (a desirable outcome). Young children's literature captivates a child with engaging illustrations. Helen Sewell's bold, simple drawings appealed to our whole family, but my daughter insists Jonathan looks more like a man than an eight-year-old.

A wonderful librarian at my kids' school recommended this mothers and sons book. I'm so glad she did. It teaches an important lesson though melodic text and beautiful illustrations. My son snuggled in close to see the pictures as we read together.

I am so impressed by Dalgliesh's book, my children will receive a copy of The Bears on Hemlock Mountain under this year's Christmas tree to add to their ever-growing collection of classic children's literature. (Ssh. Please don't spoil the surprise.) I really have no choice since they kept asking to reread it long after its return.

The hardback edition of The Bears on Hemlock Mountain is currently out of print. I recommend spending a few extra dollars for library binding. Teachers may also want to consider purchasing the audiobook as an added resource. Rebecca Gilleland wrote a useful study guide targeted to Christian homeschoolers.

Author: Dalgliesh, Alice
Illustrator: Sewell, Helen
Title: The Bears on Hemlock Mountain

Reading level: Ages 4-8

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