Picture Book Review: Dancing Bear


Dancing Bear by Manasi Subramaniam, Gwangjo (Illustrations), and Jung-a Park (Illustrations)

Age Range: 5 and up

Grade Level: Kindergarten and up

Series: None

Paperback: 32 pages

Publisher: Karadi Tales (April 16, 2013)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

About the Book:

Somu the bear is unusual. He can dance!
But Somu wants to be unchained. Can his friend Altaf understand this?
Will Altaf ever set him free? This story describes the true plight of
dancing bears in India and has been commended by wildlife organizations
and educational institutions.
This poignant story by Manasi
Subramaniam about friendship and animal rights is illustrated
sensitively by Korean illustrators Gwangjo and Jung-a Park in

Manasi Subramaniam is an award-winning writer of fiction and poetry.

Gwangjo and Jung-a Park are a team of Korean artists who have illustrated several award-winning picture books.

Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

About the Author:

Manasi Subramaniam: Manasi is a writer based in Chennai and is the
editor at Karadi Tales. She is an MA in Literature and a former
recipient of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association short fiction
prize for Asia. This is her first book for children.

About the Artists:

Gwangjo: Gwangjo studied at Korea University and during his
undergraduate degree won the support from the Buchon Cartoon Information
Centre. He currently works as a professional comic and graphic novel
artists and illustrator.

Jung-a Park: Jung-a Park was studied
illustration at SI Illustration School, one of the most prestigious
schools in Korea. She works as a graphic novel artist and professional

My Thoughts:

This is the story of a boy, his bear, and overcoming generations of tradition.  Altaf tries to train his bear to
dance, but quickly realizes that the pierced muzzle is causing his bear a
lot of pain. The bear quickly gets exhausted from this “dancing” and
can only be coerced to continue through cruelty.

I had no idea there was any such thing as a “dancing” bear until I read
this book. I had never heard of this problem before. I googled “dancing
bears in India” to learn more about it. I learned that, thankfully, in
recent years, this practice has been nearly stamped out.  But it does
continue in the more rural parts of India.

This book is an interesting look at this culture and lifestyle. Altaf loves his bear
and doesn’t want to hurt him. When he realizes that Somu’s future may
be in danger, Altaf does the brave thing and takes his bear to the
authorities for rescue. His actions inspire others, and pretty soon, several
bears are rescued. I love Altaf’s courage and his desire to right his
wrongs. I also like the way his actions have a positive effect on

The watercolor illustrations are what first drew me to this book. They
are beautiful. I love the wet-on-wet effect the artists used. They help
tell the story with emotion and understanding.


Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange
for an honest review.


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  • Reply
    Adriana Garcia
    August 22, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    It took me a while to recognize that the cover image is indeed a bear with a hurt nose… I don't know what he has strapped on him but it looks painful. I never knew about dancing bears either. I really don't know how one person got it into their head one day to try to make a bear dance. 1) for the sheer fact it's a bear and a wild animal that can kill you and 2) it's a messed up thing to do to a wild animal. It makes me think about zoos. I wonder if they are cruel around the world to their performing animals… This sounds like a great picture book. Not many are as informational as this one.

    • Reply
      August 23, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      That's what I thought! How do you decide to even try and train a bear (of all things) to do tricks? I'm so glad that this practice is mostly gone now, and I hope that effort continues to eliminate it entirely.

  • Reply
    Alise (Readers In Wonderland)
    August 24, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    This is new to me as well. I knew that some circuses have bears that do tricks but had no idea that animal cruelty like this was a part of it in India. So sad. I do like that this educates kids on a serious issue and that the story has a happy ending. It's so great to hear that it's dying out, thanks for researching it 🙂

    • Reply
      August 25, 2013 at 1:23 am

      I think that the bears in the circus generally get treated better than these bears do. But I'm not a fan of circuses either, just for that reason. I went to one a few years ago and the animals were so sad that I decided right then that I would never go to another one.

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