Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-374-30098-2 $16.99
Reviewed from galleys R 5-7 yrs
Polar bear Ursula and her human water ballet partner, Ricardo, can’t wait to compete at their pool’s water ballet championship, but that dream dies when the pool suddenly bans bears and fickle Ricardo replaces Ursula with Hortense the giraffe. Ursula then discovers and joins a kinder mixed-species water ballet group at the local pond, and the team attends the water ballet championship with their bears disguised as bunnies. In performance, the ursine team members shed their costumes and the group defiantly performs their dance, and while they don’t take the prize, they win a bigger victory, as the local citizens gleefully abandon the bear ban. The straightfaced silliness of the premise guarantees laughs, but there’s also real tenderness in the portrayal of Ursula’s sadness at her fair-weather friend’s rejection. The use of bears as this world’s scapegoat and the randomness of their ban may give kids new insights into the concept of prejudice as well, and the book comfortably [End Page 601] and capably mixes absurdity with pathos. Slightly scratchy black outlines provide a casual structure to the watery coloration of the illustrations, and abundant amusing details (the squirrel at the pool’s front desk is reading “Romeoak and Julinut”) add to the humor. Perfect for poolside reading or for storytimes about swimming, summer, or the Olympics, Ursula’s story is a real winner.