Written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.
H and I and some of our friends saw a production of this using puppetry at the Little Angels Theatre in Islington this weekend. For me, it was bittersweet. H was utterly awe-struck by the whole theatre experience. He shouted in breathless fear at the actors, begged them to stop the bear hunt, warned his friend (little girl about half his size, at least twice as brave), and marvelled at the gloved hands doing the puppetry. I felt that here was the exact point at which I no longer had anything left of my baby. He is now a proper little boy with an imagination that will lead him on his own path into the world.
It is a beautiful book, too. Most of all I love the watercolours of the river and mud and forest scenes, which are done in a palette of streaky, milky greys and browns that exactly evoke the gentle light and the cool skies of an English walk.
Michael Rosen has written that the story is based on a folk song. The plot is simple: repeated obstacles in the landscape, family forges through, finds bear, bear chases them all the way home, where they take shelter under a lovely pink duvet. The story can be recited in its entirety after two or three readings, and H and I often tell it to each other on the bus (we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it!).
Apparently, the book is also really properly scary. I don’t quite get it, because I have no imagination and nothing ever scared me much as a child. H, however, actually visibly quivers in fear as the family race home and forget to shut the door on the bear and have to sprint back down to slam it just in time.
Definitely a classic, and forever enhanced for us by the wonderful puppet show.
H comment: We not go on bear hunt, Mummy. No, we aren’t. No. Go another day. Bit scared.