Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat

I'm in danger of spiralling out of control into dribbly, hysterical and ever-so-slightly scary fandom today. Just slap me about the face a bit if I'm going on too much. I could be like one of those posters you see outside West End theatres that probably shouldn't be taken too literally:

'(This book is)  JUST RUDDY BRILLIANT!! RIOT, STAB, MAIM or KILL to get a copy!!!' Polly, Little Wooden Horse.

Don't obviously. But do really seriously consider simply buying or borrowing a copy of Dave Shelton's 'A Boy and a Bear in a Boat' from bookshop or library. It is a thing of great beauty and just about unrivaled charm. I think/hope it might do very well and then you'll be able to say You Were There and Knew First.

It is not like any other children's book I have read, in that the title really tells you everything you need to know about the book. I am used to books for Bill that cram excitement after excitement into each incident packed chapter: The 'Billy Bonkers' approach for example which I reviewed here and of which I am also fond.  'A Boy and a Bear in a Boat' by contrast takes a boy and puts him into um, a boat which is rowed by, you guessed it, a bear and sets them on a voyage through an (almost) featureless sea and sky. It is the relationship between the three which  is the story.
Guess what. Bill was enthralled despite the lack of 'Ishallmakeyouwanttoturnthepagenow', in your face plot punchers.

Not that nothing happens. The boy and the bear play 'I spy' a lot and  find an incomprehensible foreign comic. There's a nasty incident with a sandwich and some slightly hairy fishing amongst other stuff. How to make a proper cup of tea turns out to be quite important. In between there's the development of a lovely dialogue between boy and bear familiar to any parent who has ever taken their children on a long journey. Rarely has boredom been so interestingly documented.
Here's a chapter read by the author to give you a flavour.

The book is also a beautiful thing to look at and hold. It has a controversially restrained, tea stained  map cover and the story is scattered with illustrations and some double spreads by the author; who is also a comic artist. It sits in the hand very comfortably. The sort of book that you sniff and stroke if you're a bit of a weirdo...

The husband read this fresh to Bill. He's always enjoyed Magnus Mills' novels of which this is reminiscent in style. They both giggled all the way through and it was lovely to watch them both (I'd sneakily read ahead). We all really looked forward to bedtime for the next installment whilst it was on the go. There have been few books that have brought all of us together for enjoyment so successfully. We gave away a copy as a birthday present for a friend yesterday and it was great to hear Bill's passionate endorsement: 'It's really, really funny. You're gonna love it!'
Not just me see? Hope you're writing another one Mr. Shelton, no pressure or anything.

'A Boy and a Bear in a Boat' by Dave Shelton, pub. David Fickling books, isbn 978-0-385-61896-0


  1. That does look good- and sounds good! How amazing that we live in a time in which an author can read a book to two families on opposite sides of the world in less than an hour!

  2. Have you ever read 'Pleasant Fieldmouse' by Jan Wahl? It's a similarly quiet, cozy sort of book that sneaks up on you and casts its spell. By the by, my copy of 'A Picture History of Britain' arrived just today and I'm absolutely delighted with it! I'm so glad to have learned about it via your blog!

    1. I'm so pleased you like it! I don't know the Jan Wahl...I shall look it up with pleasure.

  3. I looked this one up on Amazon after reading your glowing review; this comes out in the US in June--with a completely different cover! I guess the publisher decided the understated British version wouldn't play with American audiences! The world of book covers is a fascinating one....

    1. absolutely. you might be interested in this interview about that very subject:
      I LOVE the British cover but there's no doubting it's a very brave choice...time will tell if foolhardy brave.

  4. GRRRR this is not in my library system!! I so want to read it now I've read your review!