Macmillan Children’s Books
With every book I see by Catherine Rayner, I think to myself, this is her best, but now staring out at me from the cover of her new one are five absolutely wonderful bears and I know this is going to be my favourite ever.
It begins with just one Bear, a nice one by all accounts; but then he finds himself face to face with Other Bear, a shaggy one. Bear’s initial reaction is guarded, even a tad antagonistic so Other Bear calmly continues walking, followed now by Bear rather more slowly, each thinking different thoughts and looking in different directions, but both moving the same way towards a new bear.
Slightly suspicious, Grunty Bear asks what the other two want and seems rather embarrassed by their placatory response, so decides to tag along.
Soon before the three, looking right down at them stands the far from friendly Very Big Bear. “Go away” he says immediately. The other three ask “Why?” “Because I don’t know you,” comes the response.
Their calm, friendly “… good to meet you. Have a nice day” disarms Very Big Bear. Feeling a trifle lonely he follows the others. They now, we learn, are starting to think similar thoughts and to enjoy one another’s company. Of course they’re all looking in the same direction and consequently all spot a bear in a very large tree. A Stuck Bear but one that eschews their company and indeed their help, for its evident that Stuck Bear needs help.
So there we have four like-minded bears co-operatively and gently encouraging their fellow bear safely to the ground.
The now Unstuck Bear wants to know why the others helped and is calmly told, “Some things are hard on your own”
There follows a crucial life lesson for Unstuck Bear that is equally applicable to humans, for we too tend to be wary of those whom we perceive as different. Many of us know however that superficial differences are easily transcended and strong friendships can be built by kindness and empathy.
With her utterly delightful ink and watercolour illustrations, Catherine’s story is a brilliant one to demonstrate this to young children, though perhaps it’s not they who need the story so much as their parents and grandparents. Share, share, share wherever you get an opportunity.