A king is in mourning; life has lost meaning without his beloved queen. A boy presents him with a carved wooden box, something the queen had asked him to give the king after her death. Within the box is a message from the queen, a last request: the king and the boy must travel into the mickle woods to find the bear that lives there. The king is unwilling; what's the point? Nothing matters anymore. But the boy urges the king, invoking the queen's memory. The king grudgingly agrees to go.
They travel through the dark, snowy night. It is a harsh and tiring journey, especially for the boy, but finally they reach the bear's cave, a mysterious place lit by hundreds of candles that flutter like moths. The bear is mysterious, old and wise, a storyteller with stories that just might help the king -- if only he will listen.
This is a lovely book, sweet and poignant, with illustrations that add atmosphere and depth to the words. Although it is in a picture-book format, it is not for preschoolers -- with its rich language and complex emotional storyline, it is more appropriate for elementary-age children. This is a riveting read-aloud that I highly recommend.
Through the Mickle Woods by Valiska Gregory; illustrated by Barry Moser (Little, Brown & Co., 1992)