Tuesday, May 19, 2020

#Booky100Keepers Day 16: "The Bear Under the Stairs" by Helen Cooper (Picture Corgi)

So many of the books that you'll see (and have already seen) in our #Booky100Keepers list have been written about on this blog many times and we make absolutely no apology for once again featuring Helen Cooper's masterpiece "The Bear Under the Stairs".

Another library loan initially, we were quite 'down' on this book when we first reviewed it, as it absolutely terrified the pants off poor C when it was read to her at bedtime (possibly not helped one little bit by some ad-libbed extra dialogue from me, talking in a gruff grizzly voice when it came to the bear himself.

It's the story of William, a young lad who is petrified of grizzly bears, and is convinced that one lives in the cupboard under the stairs.

William imagines the bear doing all sorts of nefarious things. Hiding under the dinner table imagining what boys taste like when eaten for dinner, and of course running around looking very bloodthirsty!

I swear, even after years of reading this book we're convinced we still find new hidden bear shapes in every page thanks to Helen Cooper's masterful illustrative skills
William tries to appease the bear by feeding it with anything other than himself. He throws a pear into the cupboard under the stairs, in the hope that the bear will nosh that instead.

William's excellent drawing of the bear. Yikes!
After a while, and after several more secret feedings, William's Mum finally notices a dreadful pong wafting through the house...time to confront that grizzly where he sleeps!

Ew what a pong!
We've seen so many critiques of this book, largely from adults who want to find a deep philosophical meaning within. Many others who want to take the core message and leave it at that, but for us it's always been a book that "plays" with the reader, and invites them to ask themselves "What if the bear IS actually there, what if it's not in William's imagination (clearly in the illustrations it's having a merry old time in the house until it gets confronted and chased away, even though no one ever actually really sees it in the context of the story - except us, the readers!)

I don't think either of us can recall many books that go to work on your imagination, your skill at visualisation and your interpretation of so many different emotional triggers (fear, anxiety, bravery, a comforting bit of parental wisdom) so expertly. I remember we borrowed so many of Helen's other books ("The Baby Who Wouldn't Go To bed is also utterly glorious - though weirdly C never took to "Pumpkin Soup" or any of its follow-ups) - But ah this one, this is one of the finest picture books ever written and it's no faint praise that I could very much imagine C keeping this forever and perhaps even sharing (and scaring) with her own kids one day maybe.

Original reviews and articles: 

The original review (how wrong could we get it but hey we were only starting out back then!)

2012 (now we're getting it!)

Books that stick - a ReadItTorial from 2018

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