Review of Thomas and Peter Weck's The Lima Bear Stories: The Labyrinth

the-labyrinth_300dpiReview of Thomas and Peter Weck’s The Lima Bear Stories: The Labyrinth
The Lima Bear Stories: The Labyrinth
Thomas and Peter Weck (Thomas Weck (Ethiopia 1965-67)
Illustrated by Len DiSalvo
Lima Bear Press, $15.95
30 pages

Reviewed by Tony D’Souza (Ivory Coast 2000-02, Madagascar 2002-03)

The Lima Bears are back in the fourth installment of the engaging series by father and son team Thomas and Peter Weck, along with illustrator Len DiSalvo. In The Labyrinth, the Weck’s lively, happy kingdom of Limalot, inhabited by the ever-friendly and teeny-tiny Lima Bears, is under-going regime change, a very timely story to tell in our election year! Good King Limalot Bear has grown too old for the throne, and having no son, he naturally decides to pass his scepter to his fair daughter, the lovely and kind Princess Belinda Bean. But not so fast, says the scheming Mean ol’Bean, a militaristic tiny bear who plans a junta to install his tyrannical rule. Who will save the kingdom from this awful fate? None other than the series’ plucky hero, the wisest-and tiniest-bear of them all, my kids’ favorite underdog, L. Joe Bean.

My kids and I spent a warm half-hour cuddled together on the couch, enthralled in this rather tense tale of Mean ol’ Bean’s plan to lure Princess Belinda Bean into Limalot’s magical and immense Labyrinth, where she will be lost forever. As everyone in Beandom knows, deep inside the Labyrinth is a beautiful flower garden, and just like my kids, Princess Belinda Bean has a soft spot for anything that blooms. Mean ol’ Bean hatches his plan and lures Princess Belinda into the Labyrinth’s center to see the garden. But just as he is about to leave her there, L. Joe Bean appears to save the day. What ensues is a high-speed chariot chase, including some swordplay, and the lucky arrival of helpful giant bees.

What I like best about the Wecks’ series, including The Labyrinth, is that the stories are in tune with my children. The illustrations, especially of the magical garden, are a riot of sharp, consistent images and intense colors. It’s hard to look away from DiSalvo’s lush depictions of Limalot, and of course the cute bears. Mean ol’ Bean is mean without being too frightening, and the kids identify with the diminutive Princess Belinda and L. Joe Bean. I really liked that this book offers a positive and strong female character for my daughter to follow in the Princess, and of course my son enjoys the sword-fighting and heroics. Ultimately, the Wecks’ tackle one of the most important issues for any parent: forgiveness. Mean ol’ Bean really hasn’t been very nice to anyone, and yet when he needs help himself, L. Joe Bean shows him the kind of mercy we all want our kids to understand.

We took a little time after the story to do some of the activities the Wecks’ include at the end of the book, like talking about mazes, and going through vocabulary they haven’t encountered until this story. Being the writer I am, I of course used this book to tell my kids the tale of Midas and the Minotaur. They didn’t like that scary one half as much as they did this one about the friendly beans. The Lima Bear Stories are among my children’s favorite books, and therefore mine. My daughter said excitedly, “A new bear book!” when I took it out of the mailing envelope, and knew what to expect from this wholly realized fictional world. I’m grateful to the Wecks for their series, which entertain my kids, and make me feel like a great Dad. I’m also glad there’s a new one, since we’ve already read the other three sooo many times!

Thomas Weck is a nationally award-winning author of children’s books who served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia from 1965-1967. Along with his son, Peter Weck, and illustrator Len DiSalvo, Weck has created a series of children’s books, The Lima Bear Stories, about a kingdom of bears the size of beans who metaphorically confront and overcome many of the issues that small children do. The stories are based on the ones Weck told his own children. Lima Bear Press, Weck’s imprint, publishes “children’s stories that are engaging, imaginative, and humorous while each carries an important life message such as tolerance, honesty, and courage.”

Reviewer Tony D’Souza’s  (Ivory Coast 2000-2002, Madagascar 2002-03) third novel, Mule, has been optioned by Warner Bros. He has two children, a daughter, Gwen, 4, and son, Rohan, 3, who read (or rather, have read to them) as many books as their dad can handle.

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