When I was little, I had a white teddy bear. It wasn’t particularly special, but I liked to bring it with me everywhere around the house. Over time, the fur turned brown and it probably smelled, uh, ‘special’, but oddly, I just became more attached to it.
Now that I’m a parent, though, while I find it sweet that my daughter is very affectionate towards her motley collection of stuffed creatures, it’s hard not to wince when she grabs them with less-than-clean hands and plants kisses on them with food-smeared lips; or, worse, when she’s in a toy shop and attempts to hug and/or kiss various stuffed animals, all of which have probably been manhandled by countless other kids and have remnants of their DNA to show for it. But that’s the difference between kids and grown-ups: kids don’t think about practical things like dust, germs and stains — they just go with their heart.
Thus, anyone who has ever had a cherished (and probably somewhat grubby) soft toy will be able to relate to the little girl, Flora, in Wash-a-Bye Bear, a heartwarming book that beautifully captures the magical relationship between a child and her most beloved stuffed toy.
When Flora’s mom informs her it’s time to send her bear for a wash, she reluctantly agrees. To show her solidarity with the bear, however, Flora decides to wait patiently by the washing machine. As the machine spins and washes away the various spills and stains on the bear, Flora reminisces on their time together; in a series of illustrations that brilliantly echo the ‘window’ on the front-loading washing machine, complete with soapy bubbles bordering them, we are poignantly reminded that every glob of grime on the bear is, in fact, a souvenir of Flora’s adventures with her bear, and evidence of a well-loved toy.
Of course, this is not to say that the book discourages us from giving toys a good wash now and then. On the contrary, since — thankfully, for the sanity of moms everywhere — love and memories don’t get washed away by soap, only grime and germs.