Bully Bean (Lima Bear Stories)
Thomas Weck (Ethiopia 1965-67) and Peter Weck, Illustrated by Len DiSalvo
Lima Bear Press
Reviewed by Tony D’Souza (Ivory Coast 2000-02, Madagascar 2002-03)
By this point, I think it’s safe to say that my kids will grow up with Thomas and Peter Weck’s Lima Bears; the series first appeared two years ago, and we’ve been following them ever since. In the short span of childhood, that’s been half my kids’ lives!
The Wecks’ have released the fifth title in their series, Bully Bean, and I’ve been finding that there’s an odd congruence between where my kids are developmentally and the subject matters the Wecks’ are tackling. The bean bears of Limalot were facing their unfounded fears in The Cave Monster right around the time my kids discovered that the dark spaces under the bed and in the closet were great places for monsters to hide. Now they have both started school, are spending the majority of their days out of the home, and dealing with the vagaries of new friendships. It’s a terrifying world, at least for me, and bullying is my main concern.
What has made the green-furred Lima Bear-the diminutive protagonist of the series-easy to identify with for my kids is not only that he exists as a small bear in a big bears’ world, but that he’s profoundly trusting and nice. Yes, he can win dazzling sword fights when necessary, but for the most part, Lima Bear is essentially a well-behaved kid. This time, Lima Bear finds himself relentlessly picked on by the brawny, beef-brained Bully Bean of the title. In a wonderful metaphor for what bullying does to the victim’s soul, Lima Bear eventually finds himself trapped and alone at the bottom of a well where Bully Bean has thrown him.
Much like in the last title, The Labyrinth, the villain’s moral failings lead to his undoing; in that book, a greedy tyrant finds himself stuck in a trap he set for others, and this time, Bully Bear is undone by a timely boulder. Now in a tight place himself, Bully Bean must admit that all his bullying has left him wondering if there’s anyone left who will save him.
Parenting, I’ve found, has been a realization of one cliché after another; the latest is that no matter how much you love your children, you cannot protect them from the world. I’ve been home with my kids nearly every day since they were born, traveled the world with them, loved them more than I have loved anything. Now I wonder how they are doing at school and if everyone is being nice to them. I think being an involved parent is the only thing one can do. Part of that is sharing with them books like this, a way for them to be reminded again that bad things happen to even the nicest people, that often there is no good reason for it, that this sort of thing can happen to anyone, and hopefully, hopefully, they’ll feel empowered enough to talk about it.
As a side note, Bully Bean is the best illustrated book in the colorful series; artist Len DiSalvo seems to have found a fine palate balance between ‘less-is-more’ on the single pages, and a controlled exuberance on the two-page spreads. His rendering of the ‘human chain’ the lima bears make to save Bully Bean is rich in its tricky composition and perspective relief.
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 2002-2003) has two children, a daughter, Gwen, and son, Rohan, both 4, who have started to read.