Sometimes, the stories behind books are as fascinating — or even more so — than the books themselves, as is the case for Finding Winnie, when two stranger-than-fiction real-life sequences of events — an army veterinarian buying a baby bear off a trapper at a train station, and a little boy’s unusual friendship with a certain grown bear at the London Zoo — collide to result in the creation of one of the most beloved literary characters ever written: Winnie the Pooh.
Neighbours: love them or loathe them — either way, you have to learn to live with them. And so it is that when a family of gregarious rabbits decide to build their house beside that of a cantankerous, solitude-loving bear, life as the latter knows it changes for good (pun intended).
Three little bears break their mother’s beautiful blue seashell by accident. And so, knowing that they are in a lot of trouble, they quickly set out in their sailboat to find another one to replace it before she discovers what they have done.
Dark spaces tend to feed the imagination in an undesirable manner, since the lack of light impairs our vision and heightens the sense of the unknown. In The Bear Under the Stairs, this dark, unknown space takes the form of the storage area under the stairs in William’s house, where the young protagonist is convinced lives a scary grizzly bear who is out to eat him for tea!
In Found, Bear finds a toy bunny in the forest and tries his best to search for its ‘family’. As Bear spends more time with the bunny, however, he finds himself being emotionally conflicted between his wish to keep it and his empathy for the bunny’s family — especially since no one comes to claim it… Until one day, someone does.
While more and more children’s books are published every year, and they do seem to be getting increasingly polished and sophisticated, especially in terms of the high quality of illustrations found in most of the books (possibly because a lot of the art can now be created or edited digitally), a lot of the time, these books seem to be designed to appeal more to adult sensibilities and tastes. In fact, these days, you can hardly tell who’s the intended audience for ‘children’s books’. Consequently, the simple, hopeful — i.e. childlike — innocence that was the mainstay of so many beloved ‘old’ stories, is almost non-existent in today’s children’s books.
Fortunately, unlike bad ’80s fashion, good children’s books never really go out of style — so a book can be published in 1960 and yet still delight a child today as much as it did another more than half a century ago. If that’s not a kind of magic, I don’t know what is.
While Mooncake hasn’t been published THAT long ago — 1983, for the record — it’s definitely an old-school classic that will resonate strongly with children, and take the adults reading it back to a simpler time.
It’s an all-too-familiar story: father and son are supposed to take a nice snooze together, but the dad falls asleep before the kid, who has other, more fun ideas… (Of course, this usually just means that the child is either still fooling about on the bed, or, at the very most, has sneaked off to play with some toys on his own.)
In The Bear’s Song, however, Little Bear takes bedtime shenanigans to the extreme when he single-mindedly — and rather recklessly — runs off to chase after a hapless bee in search of that ‘bear’s gold’ — honey — while his unsuspecting father is hibernating.
If the extreme weather conditions that everyone has been experiencing around the world, especially in the last few months — unusually snowy and super-cold winter in the northern hemisphere; excessively hot and dry summer in the southern hemisphere — are anything to go by, it’s no longer possible to deny that climate change is well underway, and unfortunately, not for the better. Even here in equatorial Singapore, we are not spared: where we used to experience frequent showers and thunderstorms, in the last two months, we haven’t so much as seen a drop of rain, and as a result, all the poor plants are turning brown and wilting from the dry heat — in fact, February 2014 was the driest month here since 1869! Thus, the arrival of the milder conditions of spring (or autumn, as the case may be), is a harbinger of hope that maybe, just maybe, this crazy weather is temporary and that, fingers crossed, things will soon go back to normal.
But I digress.
For many little children, especially girls, even before they start to make friends or play together with other kids, they may already have a vague concept of what friendship means, through their interactions with their toys — particularly stuffed toys that easily lend themselves to make-believe conversations and physical expressions of affection, i.e. hugs and kisses. And while adults tend to dismiss such one-sided pretend-play as ‘cute, harmless fun’, in the minds of children, these ‘pretend-friends’ are probably as real to them as anybody else in their lives — and the bond between them and their toys actually serves as good practice for when they actually do get out there and attempt to make real-life friends.
The process of growing up not only involves changes in appearance and size, but also emotional maturity, thanks to the combination of a gradual accruement of experience and knowledge, as well as societal expectations of us to behave a certain way by a certain age. In other words, even if you tried, you can’t help but grow up eventually — although, not without experiencing some growing pains along the way, no doubt.
In Little Bear’s Little Boat, Little Bear spends idyllic days on his beloved little boat, just rowing, fishing and dreaming on Huckleberry Lake.