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===For Bear Lovers===
For some children there's something about a teddy bear (for some adults too, for that matter!)
Do you remember your first/special bear? One of my earlier memories is 50 or so years ago, visiting a great aunt and uncle in the town we now live in. As we went round a sharp corner my car door opened and panic ensued. I didn't fall out, but somehow in the drama I lost little Ted. All very traumatic, and what a good job car safety has improved so much! It's funny how these things stay with you over the years. That memory enables me to be sympathetic to our Preschool children who are distraught if a special toy can't be found, even if only temporarily.
===Context - How I Used This Book===
I work in a Preschool and read this story to a small group of three girls, all 3 and 4 years in age, in the story area, when many of the other children were outside playing and a few were playing in the house area.
This children's book takes the child/special toy relationship and turns it round a bit. The premise of toys coming alive and getting up to all sorts of magic, especially in the night, is not exactly new. Hamish lives in a Teddy Bear Shop, but at night they all go through a special door into their very own House Of Teddies, where they have everything they could wish for and get up to all kinds of things. Hamish is 'the liveliest bear' and strongly reminds me of some of the 3 and 4 year old boys I work with - and a few girls! He's not averse to saying 'no!' when he doesn't want to do something Big Bear asks him to do, because he 'liked to do things in his own way'. This bear knows his own mind! He seems far too busy enjoying life in the House of Teddies to find his own special child - 'But Hamish thought, "I don't need a special child."' One day, inevitably, that changes and he falls in love with a little girl - but is that love reciprocated? Will she take him home? Hamish goes through all sorts of anguish in the process of finding out if she is his special child.
The artwork consists of clear illustrations of the main characters and their environment. To my inexpert eye they look like pen and ink drawings, with watercolours for the colouring. It's a fairly restricted palette, seemingly centred round the beige and browns of the bears. Blue in various shades is the other dominant colour, featuring on most pages, sometimes leaning closer to green but on one night-time page to purple. Moira Munro has then used other colours sparingly, such as red on Hamish's scooter. I find this seems to bring a unity to the artwork.
The characters are cartoon-like in style - cute, but not sweet. I suppose that would have been out of character for Hamish! The pictures of Hamish himself sometimes puzzled me because sometimes he is drawn so loosely that he appears to have no feet, yet in other pictures you can clearly see small feet at the end of his strange little body. It's not a typical illustration of a teddy bear. I can't quite decide whether this is refreshingly different or unappealing - but then it wasn't written with the likes of me in mind!
===Reflections On The Story ===
I've already said that I don't find the story line particularly original. There's nothing wrong with that; the saying goes there's nothing new under the sun. Actually there's some value in being able to discuss with the children which other stories it reminds them of. I firmly believe that the discussion we have about stories can sometimes be as important as the reading, as it helps the children make connections in their thinking and experience, develops language skills and so on.
What I did struggle with a bit, as an adult, was the way in which Hamish tried to attract the girl's attention in the toy shop, when at the beginning it seemed to be clear that the magical side of things was only for when the shop was closed. It doesn't quite work for me.
I was also puzzled that the child in question, who is young enough to be pulling a toy wooden duck on a string, is able to visit the toy shop twice on her own.
I doubt either of these concerns would occur to the children who read it, though! And in terms of the target age group, I would say it sits comfortably in the 3-5 range, which is ideal for our Preschool.
This is a story written in prose - there are no rhyming sections. I think it's strong on the use of vocabulary, with words like 'evenings' 'eyes searching' and 'scrambled', which might be new to some children. Munro uses alliteration but it's not overdone - except perhaps in 'Favourite foods to feast on'. There's plenty of room for discussion: how did Hamish feel when he wasn't noticed? How could he solve the problem? Have you ever felt disappointed?
On the other hand, I'm not sure whether the vocabulary used wouldn't make it hard for an older child to read themselves - reading levels are outside my area of knowledge!
The typeface is large and clear. On some pages there are chunks of text interspersed with small illustrations, on others there's a larger illustration across the double spread and a larger piece of text in one corner.
Reading it aloud, as I did the other day to three little girls in preschool, I found that there was plenty of opportunity to use dramatic effect to enliven it, through words like 'CRASH!' and the use of vocal expression. I just felt there was something missing to make it a memorable story. It's pleasant enough to read, but it lacks a bit of magic itself for me in the reading, and I noticed the children didn't seem to be totally engaged. Now of course in a group situation there are nearly always distractions around, so that could have been an issue and as a bedtime story at home, for instance, it might be better received. I have doubts about whether it would be a good story to read to our whole group at Preschool in story time as this can be up to 24 children.
It's a nice enough book but not particularly memorable for me, so I'm giving it a moderate 3 star rating.
===The Author and Illustrator===
The introductory page to the book tells me that Moira Munro has a doctorate in Ergonomics and for 15 years was a health and safety specialist - maybe that explains Hamish's antics! At the age of 40 she decided to change her work/life balance, working as an illustrator. She lives in Glasgow with her husband and daughter - or at least did in 2003! I visited her website and found it unusual and refreshing that she gives a breakdown of how this book - her first - came about. It makes an interesting read if you're thinking of writing yourself. Her section on Tips For Parents, particularly with regard to creativity, was also good - discussing how to be judicious in the use of praise, which fits with my own endorsement of approaches like High/Scope, where encouragement is preferred to praise. She recommends Alfie Kohn's book "Unconditional Parenting. Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason" which is one I've always intended to read but never got round to. So I'd say the website is worth a visit.
First published in Great Britain in 2003 by Piccadilly Press Ltd.
ISBN 978-1-85340-772-7 (paperback)
This copy has the price £5.99 printed on the back, but I believe it came as part of a collection from The Book People so Preschool probably paid less.
Thank you for reading my review, which may also appear on other sites.
© Verbena July 2013