A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton
I loved this. From what I have read this may not be a hot favourite to win the Carnegie award but nonetheless I loved it. When I am choosing a book to read one of the things that deters me is a review that tells me a book is “heart-warming” or that I will find it “uplifting”. This tends to make me feel manipulated by the publisher and the general hype surrounding a book. It is going to be difficult for me to describe this charming and slightly surreal story without using either of these descriptions.
This is about a boy who gets into a boat with a bear and asks to be taken “to the other side”. We never learn why they are taking this journey nor where exactly they are travelling to and we don’t even discover their names. At first things go well for the duo; the sky is blue, the sea is calm and the mood is tranquil. After a couple of days it dawns on the boy that they may be lost. Will the bear admit that they are lost? Oh no, definitely not. He is most definitely a “glass half full” type of bear. From this point on there are a number of adventures or “unforeseeable anomalies” as the bear describes them. These range from a rather dodgy looking last sandwich to a large and terrible sea-monster and events of varying difficulty in between.
It is the journey that is important rather than the destination as we eavesdrop on the conversation between the boy and the bear as they continue on their way. Dave Shelton’s writing is so engaging and if there can be such a thing he appears to be a master of comic timing on the written page. There were several points where I chuckled out loud, especially during the “on-board entertainment”. The relationship between the two is appealing and the bear particularly is a loveable character being kind, caring and comforting although at times a little clueless. At first the boy is frankly a bit irritating but as the story progresses his character develops as he matures and accepts some responsibility. I grew to care and it can’t only be me who is willing the pair on to find land and happiness.
The best children’s books are those that can be enjoyed on many levels and this one does that extremely well. It would be possible to view this as an allegory of life itself and the need to keep going no matter what and to learn to rub along with others in sometimes trying circumstances. Perhaps a useful starting point for a philosophical discussion in school? However it would also be great read aloud for younger children and could be read by competent readers of about 9 plus.
The illustrations throughout by the author are a huge part of the story and convey the emotions of the characters beautifully. They are simply gorgeous and add much to the story. I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it highly to children and adults. It is both heart-warming and uplifting. Please don’t let that put you off.