The Biggest Bear

by Lynd Ward

Paperback, 1973



Call number




Houghton Mifflin Harcourt USA (1973), 88 pages


Johnny goes hunting for a bearskin to hang on his family's barn and returns with a small bundle of trouble.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ChelseaHopton
The is a Caldecott Medal award winning book that is great to be read to young children (4yrs-8). A little boy is on a mission to go out and find a huge bear to bring back to his grandfather to hang the skin in the barn. Every once else in the valley had huge bear skins hanging and this humiliated
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the little boy, Johnny. Read to find out what kind of bear he brings back to the valley!
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LibraryThing member isaacfellows
Here's one of this semester's best surprises for me; Lynd Ward is an awesome artist. His evocation of the forest is grand. I'd love to introduce children to this forgotten work in a storytime.
LibraryThing member KarriesKorner
This book was published in 1952 before anyone would think twice about whether it was politically correct to write a book about a boy who sets out to shoot a bear. Despite the intial premise that Johnny Orchard, in order to prove himself a brave boy, sets out to find the biggest bear he can find
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with the intent of killing him, this book is still a really nice story.

Johnny isn't as cold and heartless as he pretends, especially when he finds a bear cub in the woods and decides to bring him home. As Johnny raises the cub there are all kinds of hijinks that go on around the homestead, and soon Johnny's bear is so big that he can no longer with the family.

The subtle message in the book is what happens to wild animals when they are taken from their natural habitat and forced to live the life that humans live. The reader starts to feel sorry for the bear and Johnny as it becomes clear that Johnny has to do something to remove the bear from his home. Taking responsiblity for his actions, Johnny leads the bear to the woods, and in his hands are the rifle that he had hunted with a long time ago when he found the bear. The implication is clear -- because the bear has been domesticated, it won't be able to survive in the wild and Johnny must deal with that.

The suspense of whether Johnny is going to shoot his bear doesn't last but a minute, and animal rights people will have no argument with this book on that level.

The illustrations are line drawings in a sepia tone, and are beautiful. The text and illustrations work very well together, creating a truly beautiful reading experience. This would be a great story for any boy who fancies himself a hunter, or who wants to own a gun. Likewise, it is for children who think they want to adopt exotic pets like lions, tigers, monkeys and bears (oh my!).

The Biggest Bear has endured all these years, and I can't see it ever being out-of-date.
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LibraryThing member SFM13
There is a special bond between the bear and Johnny that is clearly evident in Ward’s expressive art. In modern times, readers may look at this book as cruelty to animals, but in the time the story was first written this wasn’t considered an issue.
LibraryThing member tashabear
Hard to believe this book won a Caldecott.
I don't believe in banning books, but this one I might make an exception for. Hunting? Raising a bear and shooting it because it eats too much food?
Really shoddy bear illustrations? The bear ends up in a tiny little cage?
This book is replete with
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depressing, dated and ignorant beliefs and behaviors.
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LibraryThing member caltstatt
Johnny Orchard is a little boy who lives in a valley where maple sugar and bear hides are very common. He is ashamed though that his barn does not dorn a bear hide. Therefore he decides to go to the woods to shoot a bear. He finds a bear, but it is a cub and it eats the maple sugar Johnny feeds it.
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Johnny takes the bear home and it grows to be enormous because it eats everything and takes food from the neighbors. The neighbors get upset and Johnny must take the bear away. The only problem is that the bear always follows Johnny back. One day Johnny is taking the bear to the woods to shoot it, but the bear takes off and Johnny can just hold the rope. They wind up in a trap. Men come and tell Johnny they are excited the bear is so big and they are taking him to the zoo. Johnny is happy he gets to go see the bear anytime he wants and take him maple sugar.

This is a cute story to be read to young students to teach them to never give up hope.
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LibraryThing member Phill242
Caldecott winner, 1953
Johnny finds a bear cub in the woods and instead of shooting it, befriends it. When it grows too large to keep, Johnny has a hard time finding it a place to live.
LibraryThing member bp0128bd
Caldecott winner, 1953
Johnny finds a bear cub in the woods and instead of shooting it, befriends it. When it grows too large to keep, Johnny has a hard time finding it a place to live.
LibraryThing member sparrowtlw
The story line is about a little boy and a bear who both go through a journey of growth and friendship. It takes place in the mountains at a farm. The artwork is done is in sepia tone, that give a feel of a time of simplicity. AS the story starts, it introduces our main character Jonny
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Orchard, who is a little boy that lives on his grandfather’s apple orchard. The story starts out with a sense of shame, because their barn is the only barn around without a bearskin hanging on it. One day Jonny decides to take matters in his own hands and sets out to get a bear for their barn wall. On his journey, he stumbles onto a bear cub, who is our second character of the story. He proudly brings the bear cub home. Jonny and the bear become instant friends. As the bear cub grows up, he causes trouble as he searches for food on the farm and neighbors farms. One day Jonny has to decide to take the bear back the woods to stay, the bear comes back, this happens repeatedly. Jonny’s father had to make the decision to but the bear down, however Jonny tells his dad that her would do it. He and the bear go into the woods in a direction that Jonny has never been before, along the way they become caught in a trap. A short time later a group of men come a long and tells Jonny that they want a bear for the zoo and Jonny’s bear was the bigger than any bear they had seen. The men tell Jonny that the bear will be well taken care of, he can see him any time, and Jonny does.

Personal Reflection:
I love the bonded that Jonny and the bear have. It reminds me have a time that I had to say goodbye to a pet because we had to move. I did not like taking the pet to the SPCA but it was the best at the time. A few days later, I got a call from the SPCA and they asked what we had named the dog because the new owners wanted to keep the name. I was so glad to hear the dog was adopted. I can imagine just how Jonny must have felt when he found out that the bear would be living a happy long life.

Extension ideas:
1. I would have the students write a story about having to let a pet go, explain how they would feel. If they are unable to write I would have them tell me.
2. Then I would have them illustrate there story
3. For snack time I would have some of the treats that the bear likes to eat, apples, maple sugar, berries, honey and different kinds of nuts (provided no one has allergies).
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Ward won the Caldecott for the detailed, sepia-toned, drawings that accompany this story.

Johnny Orchard lives on a farm at the far end of the valley, near a big woods. Whenever he walks down the road he notices that other barns have bear skins drying on their walls; he’s embarrassed that his
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family’s barn doesn’t have a bear skin. So he heads into the woods one day, with his rifle, determined to get the biggest bear.

What he finds, though is an orphaned bear cub, which he befriends with a piece of maple sugar candy. But when he brings the cub home, problems begin; and they only get worse when the bear grows B*I*G.

I think children might be intrigued by the adventure of the story, but I hope they wouldn’t feel encouraged to try to tame a wild animal. I was also somewhat dismayed by a scene where Johnny has to take his bear to the woods to kill it because it has become a nuisance. Don’t worry, he doesn’t ever actually do this, but he has every intention of doing so, and I find that disturbing in a children’s book.

The illustrations are wonderfully detailed. I kept looking at them, absorbing the farmhouse, barnyard, woods, etc. If I were rating the illustrations alone, I’d give the book 4****.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
A young boy goes off on a bear hunt, determined to bring home a hide to hang on the side of the barn, but ends up rescuing an orphaned cub instead. As the bear grows larger, so do the problems it causes, until a hard decision must be made. The illustrations are very realistic, somewhat reminiscent
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of Robert McCloskey's work, but Ward never comes as close to cuteness as McCloskey does. Lynd Ward is sort of the father of the graphic novel, having produced six wordless novels comprised solely of woodcuts, in the 1930's, as well as a "story in pictures" - The Silver Pony for children. He also illustrated many juvenile books including the first edition of Johnny Tremain.
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LibraryThing member librisissimo
The story was about a middle-schoolish boy, raised in the country and accustomed to hunting (the first page will, um, trigger some people these days). He wants to bag a bear, but instead makes friends with an orphan cub. When the bear gets too big, the boy has a hard choice to make, but all's well
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that ends well.
Illustrations are greyish-sepia-black drawings, and appropriate to the story. The bear is delightfully drawn.

Good enough reading, but the turn-page beep was most annoying; side 2 does not have it.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

10.5 inches


0395150248 / 9780395150245



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