'A Boy and a Bear in a Boat' by Dave Shelton
I ordered this from the library after reading about it somewhere online and thinking it might be a good birthday gift for the Babe (who is rising five so I think due a change of nickname). I have read it with my breakfast for the last week and loved it.
It is quite simply a story about a boy and a bear in a boat. It starts off rather dull and slow and you wonder where it might be heading, but as the situation becomes more surreal you get caught up in the story. The front cover, in case you're wondering, is meant to have that cup stain: the blue cover is supposed to be the 'map' of the sea (utterly without landmarks) that the bear consults and he makes the ring with his cup of tea. The journey they are taking is unfortunately extended by unforeseen tidal anomalies and they end up battling a sea monster, encountering a ghost ship and having to build a raft. I think the story it unusual for a children's book because it has an inconclusive ending, but it does tread the well worn theme of friendship and learning to value people. It is also about facing up to challenges and taking responsibility; all through the story the boy is a little bit a victim of circumstance and turns to the bear for knowledge and reassurance, but then at the end the bear succumbs to despair and the boy has to take charge and save the day. The practicalities of living out at sea in a rowing boat are sorely neglected, but I guess that's just me be being an adult reader, a child would not be concerned with such tedious details. It is nearly 300 pages, though they are small and many of them are taken up with illustrations, so it does require some sustained attention, and maybe not for children who are easily scared; although the boy is in quite a vulnerable situation the threats are all very short lived and punctuated by stops for tea:
"And he smiled and stared into space, wearing an expression of deep contentment that he retained for the next quarter of an hour as he consumed, one small (and loudly appreciated) sip at a time, the rest of the contents of the cup. When he was done, he used the last drop of water from the kettle to rinse out his cup, emptied out the teapot into the sea, put everything neatly away and took up his oars again, beaming with happiness." (p.55)