Can Bears Ski? - Raymond Antrobus, ill. Polly Dunbar
Updated: Feb 12
We love this book in this house...and not just because it's a lovely story, brightly and beautifully illustrated, but because there was a personal connection in this that made it particularly poignant for our family.
Telling the story of Boy Bear, who struggles with various situations involving his hearing before visiting an audiologist and being given hearing aids, this book resonates because we have gone through a very similar story ourselves, as my daughter had problems at school and home with her hearing too, and now wears a pair of sparkly pink aids to help her.
The story is thoughtfully and cleverly plotted, showing the issues Boy Bear faces in various situations such as school lessons and lunchtime conversations, before showing him going through tests at the audiologist and then being prescribed the hearing aids. It is not a negative experience, and this for me was very important...the ending of the book, and Boy Bear's joyous shout of 'Bears can Ski!' is a triumphant final scene, and I loved the inclusive, honest representation of the character and the processes he went through (both before and after the diagnosis!).
The effect on Isla of recognising herself in the character and events in the book was truly moving, and I'm sure a reaction that will be echoed by others, either going through or who have already been through, similar experiences themselves. The messages of love, acceptance and understanding are beautifully told through the poetic prose of the Ted Hughes award-winning author, Raymond Antrobus. His writing is caring and empathetic, showing his personal awareness and experience of the issues being shown (deafness), and I'm sure it will go along way towards helping others with their understanding too.
Polly Dunbar's bright, bold illustrations are fun, friendly and engaging, and I am thrilled that she has agreed to answer some questions posed to her by Isla and I as part of the blog tour for this book today.
Q. Did you have a favourite picture book when you were little?
A. Yes, my favourite book was Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake, I just loved the sheer joy of it, I still do. Blake always gets so much emotion into his line and that’s something I’ve always aspired to in my work. It was lovely coincidence that Raymond and I both had Happy Birthday Moon by Frank Asch when we were children and we both loved it. I put a little picture of the Moon in a top hat in the book, see if you can find it. It’s a little nod to the book, it inspired us both.
Q. Do you feel you had to do anything differently because it is about deafness/hearing issues, or was it done exactly like any book you've illustrated - e.g. did you use brighter colours/bigger images because of the message/audience so there was a bigger visual impact - do text/images have to be more considered as the book will not be 'heard’?
A. That’s a really interesting question especially the bit about not being heard. I approach each book I do in a different way, not hugely consciously, I just try and read the text and visualise the atmosphere in my mind. The line of the bear is made with a Japanese brush pen, it gives a bold strong line and looks a little furry in place. It is the first time I’ve used it and maybe the strongest look for my work. I think you’re right, I wanted this book to leap out to be vivid in contrast to the muteness of the snow scene which is a wonderful symbol for being deaf. But also Raymond’s writing is powerful and strong..I needed to match that with the pictures and after all, Boy Bear Likes his colours LOUD.
Q. When Isla was reading the book, she kept saying 'That's like me!' Which character from a book do you think you are like?
A. That is so fantastic that Isla sees herself in this book, that is exactly what we were hoping for and it makes me so happy. I just asked my three year old son which book character I’m like and he has said Little Miss Clumsy! I fancied myself as Alice from Alice in Wonderland but in the school play I was cast as the Mad Hatter, which I was much more suited for!
Q. Isla has had various colours of hearing aids since she started wearing them. The most interesting colour combination was yellow and pink swirls! We're now wearing pink glittery ones - what colour would your dream hearing aids be??
A. Ooh, pink glittery ones sound good. I have silver ones. I guess I’d like green sparkly ones or maybe turquoise Like Boy Bear’s ..if I were given the choice. I have seen people jazz up their hearing aids and that’s such a great idea. There was a time when they were “flesh” coloured as if to try and make them disappear..which doesn’t work.. I much prefer to wear them in bright colours and wear them with pride.
Q. How much collaboration/communication was there between you and Raymond? Did you/he have to change anything as you went?
A. Raymond and I met at the Walker Books offices a couple of years ago now. I had just finished roughing out the book so it was a great chance to go though it together along with our brilliant editor and designer. It’s so lovely to all sit in a room together and bounce ideas about, something I miss so much at the moment. You can pick things up from how people react to to pictures without them saying a word..maybe this is something I’ve got good up, being partially deaf, I’m always looking at body language and facial expression..this helps me to communicate but no doubt also informs my work. Raymond read the story out loud and it was so moving as it comes straight from the heart, I hope I have done it justice.
Q. Have you ever been skiing?
A. Ha ha ha..best question. The answer is no, probably a good job I’ve never been skiing, I am Little Miss Clumsy after all!
Thank you very much to Polly for answering our questions, and to Rebecca and all at Walker books for sending a copy of the book and inviting us to be a part of the blogtour for this wonderful book.
Walker Books website is www.walker.co.uk and they are on Twitter as @WalkerBooksUK
Raymond Antrobus is on Twitter as @RaymondAntrobus and his website is http://www.raymondantrobus.com
Polly Dunbar is @PollyDunbar on Twitter and her website is www.pollydunbar.com
Follow the rest of the blog tour online at the dates and places listed below:
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot on Twitter and Instagram) February 2021