This is an absolutely brilliant picture book - a crime to solve and illustrations that excite and draw in the child reader.
The story line is that, in a nutshell, branches are going missing from trees in the forest and the animals set about working out who has taken them. Meanwhile, we see bear with an axe, a saw, a pile of paper, and getting cross with an unsuccessful paper aeroplane. Can we, the readers, work out what is going on in the woods before the animals do?
The animals identify bear as the culprit and he's taken to the police station and then questioned in court where we learn why he has been taking the branches. These are very grown-up concepts and Jeffers has successfully kept the `criminal procedures' both clear and simple, perfect for foundation stage children and Key stage 1 (2-7). The text is short on each double page - only a sentence or two - and there's always something interesting to look at as well, whether it is bear in the background hurrying away, a clue on the ground or looking at the animals thought bubbles. My son (4), for example, loves to dwell on the opening picture of homes under the ground for all the animals before we have even got going on the story.
The illustrations are a bit quirky, with a wry humour for the adult reader, and yet are boldly stylish. The pages have a clean fresh wooden feel to them which is consistent with the green message of the book's publisher - the paper the book is printed upon is from replenished forests. The animal's speech bubbles, in which there are small pictures rather than text, are consistent in their size and almost-rectangular shape so that on opening this book you feel as if you've walked into Habitat! The pictures are also cleverly done to appeal internationally, with North American/Canadian animals suited to the logging habitats such as the beaver and the moose mixing with a boy, a goose and a pig who use a traditionally British red phone box to call generic cop and police car. [My children were also pleased to spot the Jeffers Penguin's cameo appearance as a court spectator.]
After the court case, and after bear has planted seeds to replace the trees he cut down, the animals all help him to achieve his dream, reusing his many prototypes to build a winning paper aeroplane, as bear generations had before him.
This brilliant book also has a bit of "paper planery" on it's end papers (bear's drawings on folding aeroplanes) and a more advanced set of instructions on the secrets of Paper-makery, the recycling of paper in your own home. In all, a fantastic and rounded package of a story.
A masterstroke, and I think Jeffer's best book so far.