This children's book is a story my son selected for himself from our local library, I was a little unsure if it would be one he would like as it feature a little girl but that doesn't seemed to have put him off. He is at a stage where he is asking if something is girls or a boy's toy or song and rejecting girl things at the moment.
Chris Wormell is a Children's author and illustrator from here in the UK. He has written several children's books including George and the dragon and has won a Smarties bronze award for his children's books.
This is a very simple story but a hugely evocative one of a girl who lives alone in the wildness with only a small brown dog for company. They have to hunt for their food and live in a cave. One day in winter when they return to their cave they find a bear has been there and fear it coming back which it does. The twist is this isn't a bad bear but a mother bear coming back for her cub and the little girl and dog and the cub go to find the mother bear and they all live together in the end in the cave.
The story and the accompanying illustrations are beautiful and one that my son loves having read to him on an evening. The pictures have an almost haunting quality to them and the simple water colour pictures seem to be able to convey a huge array of emotions. When the girl and the dog are looking across the wild wildness to find others you can feel and sense their loneliness and isolation. These pictures with the language used by Wormell can make you feel their sadness. This also contrasts well with her sense of resilience and self reliance as she and the dog manage to feed themselves and keep each other safe despite her hair being a terrible mess and her face being grubby.
The fear of being abandoned and alone which one the major fears of most children is tackled well in this book. My son feels a huge sympathy for the girl and often comments how she looks sad, but he equally comments on how she looks like she is having fun by catching fish and eating bugs. The pictures of the girl doing these tasks almost has a primitive cave painting feel to it as she expertly pieces the fish and cooks it for their tea. Once the story moves on to the bear coming to the cave and we see the big track bear tracks in the snow the fear and worry for the girl builds as we wonder how she will cope. However we see her expertly get rid of the bear. But the picture of the bear leaves us actually feeling sorry for the bear as it looks down on her with such sadness in its eyes.
When we see the bear cub you can feel the anguished and the sense of identity that the girl has for this little cub as they try to find the bear's mother. When they all are reunited we move more into a fairytale and a more traditional children's story where they all curl up happily together. My son loves the end picture of them all snug together where it is hard to tell where bears, girl and dog end as they all blur into one huge ball.
This book is very different to most children's books we have read with our son as it has such a mixture of sadness, fear, courage and friendship in it but he adores the book. I think part of this is due to seeing all the things the girl gets up to such as fishing, cooking and shouting echoes across the wildness. But I also think part of the appeal for him is the way in which the girl and the little dog do everything together as friends and he likes this relationship especially when it gets added to by the bears and they all snuggle down together. My son at nearly four loves snuggling up with mummy, daddy and his bears and how they all end up together seems to give him a great sense of reassurance and familiarity like snuggling up with us. The pictures of the wildness and the living in the cave also seem to remind him of camping which he is very keen to experience. The pictures of the snowy scenes are especially pertinent for him at the moment as he gets giddy for Christmas and asking will it snow soon as he wants to wade through the snow like the little girl does.
The question of why the girl is by herself is never tackled or answered and I don't think the book loses anything by this. I also love the fact that only one set of bear footprints is ever visible in the snow so the mother bear went there to have her cub and I think this is an interesting point to possibly to be picked up by older children.
The learning points from this book are mainly about survival and how we need to get food and shelter to survive and how we take these things for granted in our lives. But the little girl has to be courageous and skilled to get these things in her life and these are great talking pints about where do fish come from and why can she eat bugs and worms which is something I wont let him do.
This is a lovely book which my son enjoys hugely due looking at the pictures and having it read to him. The story is a bit unusual but my son and I do think it is delightful. Some children may find it a bit scary and stark due to the pictures and the loneliness of the little girl. However my son is always reassured by how snug and comfortable everyone looks in the cave at the end. I would recommend this book for children 3 upwards even though the book itself is recommend for children 4 upwards. It is available from Amazon from around £4 at present.