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Bella's Blessings
by Brenda Stokes
Illustrated by Trisha DesRosiers
AGES: 4 to 8
SIZE: 9 x 9
PRICES: $19.95 Cdn, $17.95 US
HARDCOVER: 9781897476611

Kirkus Reviews

Grandma Beaver and her grandkit, Bella, share a special bond and a family tradition.

When Bella is born, her grandmother sews a bag that she calls a blessing bag. Over the years, Grandma Beaver places special rocks into the bag as gifts. On the rocks, she writes words that come to have meaning in her granddaughter’s life: love, dedication, honesty, beauty, kindness and courage. After the addition of each stone, Bella learns a lesson about the word as she experiences an appreciation for that quality in her own life. As the wordy story progresses, the illustrations show an aging and more fragile grandmother, and Bella learns what courage is when Grandma Beaver dies. The birth of Bella’s brother allows her to repeat the beloved custom and remember her grandmother at the same time. The gentle illustrations are primarily rendered in earthy browns and greens, adding reds and pinks when Bella tells a lie or confesses to Mama that she has not truly lived up to her grandmother’s expectations. Each spread leaves little to the reader’s imagination, as every nuance of text is expressed in smiling suns, flying butterflies and pensive owls. Schools embracing character education often choose a "word of the year," and this offering will dovetail nicely there.

Clearly didactic and unabashedly sentimental, though undeniably well-meant. (Picture book. 4-6)


Quill and Quire

Bella’s Blessings, the debut picture book by Albertan author Brenda Stokes and B.C. illustrator Trisha DesRosiers, is a classic morally instructional story. It has all the hallmarks of the genre: a certain cloying earnestness of tone, a lack of subtlety in the delivery of its message, and a binary vision of childhood in which children always feel bad when they’re being bad, and good when they’re being good. What saves the book from feeling like a sermon is the deep vein of emotion and sweetness running through it. The story coats its heavy load of medicine with a bowlful of sugar.

Bella is a little beaver with an open-hearted demeanor and a never-explained pair of what appear to be tiny leaves growing out of the top of her head. When she is born, her grandmother goes in search of a stone. When she finds one that seems smooth and special, she writes “Love” on it, and places it in the bottom of a bag she has knit herself. The word and the stone are a blessing. “I am so blessed to have you as my grandkit,” she tells the baby. “In return I shall bless you each spring.”

Bella proves to be a loving child, able to charm the crustiest river creatures. The following spring, Grandma Beaver writes “Dedication” on a stone, and drops that in the bag. Bella then finds the will to stick with the dance lessons she has asked to join. And so on through “Honesty,” “Beauty,” “Kindness,” and, when Grandma falls ill and is about to leave the young beaver forever, “Courage.” Bella is soon blessed with a younger brother, for whom she sews a blessing bag, into which she drops a stone marked “Love.”

It’s a genuinely touching, if not particularly thrilling, little tale. DesRosiers’ illustrations are cute and keep the anthro pomorphizing under control, so the animals still look roughly animal-like.