Or, A Boy, A Bear and a Boat, The Boy and the Bear and the Boat and You Know, the Boat Bear Book I've Been Reading to the Kids as it has been variously known in this house for the past fortnight or so. This has been my latest Carnegie shortlisted read, and the wonderful librarian at our school suggested I read it to C, knowing that he had enjoyed Small Change for Stuart. Although it's a very different story from that one (mainly that Small Change is crammed full of mystery and plot twists, and you could tell the plot of this novel in about three sentences), it has many similar elements; most importantly that it is very, very witty.
I admit it, I fell in to the trap. "It's like Life of Pi for kids", I said, before I'd really read it properly. It's not really like Life of Pi except that there is a boat, and an animal. Unlike the tiger, the Bear is a fully realised character, and he's not wild (at least not often anyway). He is a skilled Captain, although he does have areas of difficulty, including navigation by the night sky, and playing I-Spy.
My favourite line in the entire book is "A lot of time passed very slowly". We all giggled a lot at this line. "It's like when you're waiting for something," said C. "That's just how it happens".
The genius of this book is it makes acute boredom real, yet also funny, touching and interesting. And cleverer still is that it never quite ends. It's more like Waiting for Godot for kids. Except funny. And interesting.
"I don't even know if the man who wrote it knew how it really ended" said C. Hmmm. I wonder if it's a metaphor for death and the River of Hades. I did suggest this to a friend, who felt that I was, perhaps, over-thinking it. However, I did find it quite comforting that my final journey might be with a grumpy but very loveable bear, who enjoys nothing more than a good cup of tea and a sing-song.
I will really miss this book at bed-time. I will miss the chapters where lots of time passes very slowly, and I will miss the bear's voice, which I had pretty much perfected by the end. I would strongly advise you to read this book. It's a great book to read aloud, or just to yourself if you have no available small children to read it to. Just make sure you do the proper voice for the bear...