Thursday, 21 March 2013

A Boy and A Bear in a Boat, by Dave Shelton

Hmmmm.  For the first Carnegie 2013 shortlist book I've read, it's not off to the best start.

A small boy  boards a boat captained by a bear.  A talking, rowing, boat owning bear.  With opposable oar-holding-thumbs and everything.  The origins of this remarkable creature are never revealed.  The boy never asks.  I get that it's a kid's book and animals do all kinds of crazy shiz in books, but I'm still trying to work this particular story out.  The boy, incidentally, talks about his mum, school and so on, so it's safe to assume that up until this point he has led a relatively normal existence.

Speaking of never revealed, we also do not find out where this unusual duo are headed.  The boy simply asks to be boated to "the other side".  Things that we do discover: bears like tea, but not fire.  Polish comics are indecipherable to the non-polish.  Elderley sandwiches are not appealing.  A Captain is only as good as his hat.

I can't quite decide who this book is pitched at.  (Is this one of the judging criteria?) On the surface, it's a simplistic narrative.  Nothing particularly hard to understand happens.  A sea monster, some fishing, a couple of games...I guess it is an adventure story, but it's a very mildly paced adventure story, gently pootling along.  The language is seemingly simple, the sentences are short.  However, thrown in every so ofter are random passages that are actually quite conceptual, ironic or sarcastic.  Not the sort of thing that you would find in a book aiming for the readership that this book appears to be aiming for.  The sort of thing which makes you wonder why the sentences are so short or the majority of the language very simple.  It's pretty disjointed really.

I did enjoy the role reversal that began to happen in the latter part of the book- the reluctant boy has to become brave and has to learn to be part of a team, embracing sudden leadership when the (until recently) good spirited and eternally optemistic bear has a sudden, pretty justified, crisis of confidence...

Bear. Boy. Boat. Moon.
All in all, I'm not keen.  I can see why it was shortlisted because it is unusual.  BUT.  It has no identifiable beginning, a load of random middle, and then no discernible ending.  However, the illustrations are brilliant, I do enjoy a good picture.  In all, the whole books feels like a picture book that has been extended to prose.  If it wasn't a picture book, then the author has missed a trick. 
Would probably be nice read aloud though.  But it would take quite a while.

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