Friday, January 2, 2015

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

This delectable picture book ticked all the boxes for me, from the rotund trio in their sailboat on the cover of the generously proportioned square format hardcover, to the map of their journey on the final endpapers, the book had me exclaiming over the clever details in both the visual and the text.
The three young bears - Dash, Theo and Charlie (who is a girl bear) try to get at the honey pot on a high ledge when they knock down and break their mother's treasured blue shell.

A little bit afraid of their mother ("who, after all, was a bear"), they take to sea in their boat, deciding that if they can replace the shell she won't be so mad. 

They ask other seafaring bears for advice, including a raft full of Huckleberry Finn types, and the Moby Dick inspired crew of a boat called the Melville. A "big, salty bear" tells them to look for "an island shaped like a lumpy hat" though has no idea where the shell would be. "Just look in the right place".

They have an amazing journey including a page where the text simply says "Their voyage was not without incident." but the double-page spread depicts, in gorgeous watery blues and greens, a pod of whales under the water and lifting the boat up into the air.

When they finally find the lumpy island they commence looking everywhere - under the water (this page reminds me of The Water Babies), in the trees, on top of the mountain where a mountain goat obviously doesn't think much of their invading his territory, even in a dark cave.

The by now very grumpy bears ("were most unhappy and stared at teach other with very squinty, very mad bear eyes"). They have a jolly good bicker amongst themselves about whose fault everything is until a storm - another dramatic spread with the only text a large "BOOM!" with lightning in the sky and huge waves sweeping in. "They don't care whose fault it is anymore, they were all in the same boat." - such cleverness, and again on the next page "And then, like turning a page, the little boat sailed out of the storm" They are miraculously near their home island, completing the adventure story cycle of home, off on an adventure, and home again, and know they must go and face their Mama, and because they are again "in just the right place" they find another blue shell on the beach and race home with it. Mama of course forgives them and gives them (with a little echo of Max in Where the Wild Things Are) a warm supper - but no dessert.

There are many more literary references hinted at, the bears' boat is called the Ursula K which is surely a nod to Ursula LeGuin, but also perhaps to the term 'Ursine' - relating to bears. They sail past an island featuring a fun fair which is surely Coney Island, I'm sure there are others that I haven't identified and I keep going back for another look to see what else I can spot. 

A charming story with finely acquitted watercolour illustrations with added depths to ensure enjoyment of both adult and child reader. A complete and rather perfect picture book.

Three Bears in a Boat written and illustrated by David Soman (Dial Books for Young Readers - Penguin USA. ISBN 978-0-8037-3993-2.

No comments: