Title: A Boy and a Bear in a Boat
Author/Illustrator: Dave Shelton
Pages: 294 pages
Publisher/Date: David Fickling Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., c2012.
“But,” said the boy, frowning, “doesn’t that mean we should be there by now? I mean, I know you said it would take a little while, but I thought you meant an hour or so, not all night. So shouldn’t we be there? Or at least be able to see it by now?”
“Oh, I see what you mean,” said the bear. “Well, yes, normally we would have arrived by now but unfortunately there were . . . unforeseeable anomalies in the currents and we had to adjust our course a bi. So now we’re running a little behind schedule. Sorry.”
“Oh, I see,” said the boy. He didn’t see at all. “But are we nearly there?”
“Not really, no.”
The boy’s face fell.
“But everything is in hand,” said the bear. “Don’t worry.” (10-11)
Everything is not “in hand” as the bear wants to put it, and the boy soon finds that out. While traveling to an undisclosed location an undisclosed distance away over an undisclosed body of water, the boy and the bear find themselves having more adventures than Gilligan and his team had on their proposed three-hour tour. Stranded on their tiny boat, the bear resolutely rows, while the boy progressively grows more bored of the never-ending sea and sky (which are inevitably the one of two answers for the bear’s game of “I Spy”). But just when his boredom reaches his breaking point is when their adventure truly begins, and the boy realizes that not having an adventure may have its advantages.
This somewhat existential tale reminds me of Life of Pi. Since it’s been a while since I’ve read Life of Pi, maybe for the only reason that a boy is stuck on a boat with a wild animal. But this bear is nothing like the tiger in Life of Pi, most noticeably because the anthropomorphized bear talks, eats, stands, and acts like a human, although a very laid back human. He reminds me more of Pooh, who spouts ideas that catch readers off guard in a children’s book. For instance, when asked if it was tomorrow, he responds with:
“Well, no,” he said. “Obviously it can’t be tomorrow, can it? It’s today. It’s always today, isn’t it? But, yes, it is the today that was tomorrow yesterday. If you see what I mean.” (10)
Hopefully you see what I mean.
The book is more an examination of human emotion and interaction than an action story. The boy gets frustrated with the bear, and the bear gets frustrated with the boy. We see snippets of insight and depth, but mostly we have an almost Laurel and Hardy show for children, with the bear’s simple nature going against the boy’s more regimented and reasoned life style. The comedic aspects get unbelievable in the end, but readers have suspended their belief from the beginning, so it really isn’t a stretch to presume storms, sea monsters, tides, and all sort of other troubles are lurking just around the … well not really around the bend since there is no bend, but lurking really close to wherever it is they are. This is why the open-ended nature of the conclusion seems to fit so nicely because it’s such a non-specific story to begin with.
Give this to your more reflective children, or those readers who like to be in on a joke as the boy and the bear try to figure each other out and they grow increasingly exasperated by each other. Personally, I think it’s going to be a hard sell to any kid, but adult audiences (teachers/librarians) might enjoy it and be able to get it into the hands of the right readers.