A boy and a bear in a boat. The whole plot is almost covered by the title. I picked this book up thinking it should be in our junior or fast fiction section but now I am not so sure. The audience could be quite a young child and yet there is a message here too for an older reader right up to an adult about human relationships, purpose, goals and our journey through life. Like The Life of Pi this is a deeply philosophical book but it is also very very funny.
Start with the cover. This is a map with the stain of a tea cup in the corner. This is the map used by the bear.
The boy steps onto a boat rowed by a bear and they set off for a distant shore. This is a small row boat called Harriet.
"He watched the bear. It was a reassuring sight. He rowed as if it were the most natural movement he could make. As natural as walking, or breathing even. He had a steady, casual rhythm and seemed to be making almost no effort at all but the boat sped along just the same."
The whole book is about this journey. I cannot tell you how it ends but along the way the boy and the bear will discover a lot about themselves and about each other. The illustrations in this book are perfect and an integral part of the story telling. One page is a colour comic which the boy finds in the bottom of the boat. Sadly it is in a foreign language and so the boy is unable to make much sense of the plot.
There are some delightful touches in this story such as when the bear makes a cup of tea each day at four o'clock - this is such a complex ritual which include the playing of a ukulele. The pair do not have much food but bear has bought along some sandwiches with very interesting fillings such as tuna, peanut butter and pineapple, sprouts and honey, bacon, sausage, egg, porridge, cornflakes and coffee beans and the most important one of all the Very Last Sandwich.
I highly recommend this book but take your time and read it slowly. Also before you begin do read the back cover - it is all true. After one reading be warned you may feel the need to read it all again.
Here is an interview and book reading by the author. Here is a glowing review.
On the surface this book is all laughs, underneath it is much deeper. Between the lines this book is a metaphor for the circumstances in which we find ourselves, spending time with people we don't like and rubbing along and not knowing what lies over the horizon.