The Ring Bear
By: David Michael Slater
Reviewed By: Lisa Cohn
In The Ring Bear, a picture book by David Michael Slater (Flashlight Press, 2004), a single mother and her son, Westley, love to play rascally pirates. Like many single parents and their kids, it's clear the mom and her son are incredibly close: They've created their own fantasy world about Westley the Wicked and Mom the Mean.
Enter Stan, Mom's boyfriend, who sometimes comes aboard their ship but refuses to wear an eye patch and doesn't want to search for stowaways. Westley thinks it's okay if Stan comes on board, as long as he understands he's a visitor, not a real pirate like Mom and Westley.
When Mom tells Westley that she's going to marry Stan and wants him to be the ring bearer at the wedding, Westley staggers back to his pretend ship. He mistakenly thinks Mom said she wants him to be the "ring bear."
Imaginative Westley assumes the role of Ring Bear and acts out his confused feelings about his mom's marriage. He snatches out of Stan's hands flowers meant for his mom; he pounces on Stan and Mom when they're watching TV; he hides in his bear cave and plots ways to wreck the wedding.
In this warm and beautifully illustrated book, children get a realistic look at how it feels to have a parent re-marry. Westley knows his mom loves him; but what about Stan? Slater, author of Cheese Louise! and a seventh grade language arts teacher, does a great job of engaging both adults and children with this humorous book. The Ring Bear, like most picture books, ends happily: Stan dons an eye patch during the wedding, then Mom, Westley and Stan sail off together.
While the happy ending may not reflect the cold realities of early stepfamily life, it will give stepchildren hope about the potential for feeling loved and accepted by a new stepparent.
Lisa Cohn, an award-winning writer, is co-author of "One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories And Advice For Stepfamilies." To read her other articles and learn about her book, visit http://www.stepfamilyadvice.com/.