Illustrated by David Mackintosh
Clarion/HMH, US release 2018. UK/2017.
Hardcover, 32 pages Picture book, Ages 3-7
Archie isn’t wearing a bear suit, he is a bear. And when he tires of ignorant humans, he sets off to the forest. Here he meets a friendly bear. The bear he meets isn’t wearing a boy suit, he is a boy. Once that matter is settled, they enjoy the forest together. The bear teaches the Archie things boys do and turns out Archie’s very good at them. Archie teaches bear skills he has as a bear and turns out the bear is very good them.
But as their time goes, it starts to get cold and neither of their suits help either of them stay warm, even after they swap. So they head to a place where they can both be warm and enjoy the things they both like:
“Boys like warm quilts, warm fires, and honey sandwiches,” said the bear.
“So do bears,” said Archie.
At the start of the story, both Archie and the bear make all-cap-declarations of who they are. As they continue on, the story relaxes into another rhythm, one of enjoying each other’s company in unthreatening, less emotionally charged ways. They take turns taking the lead and sharing their way of moving about the world with the other, skipping stones or catching fish… Their relationship yields an effortlessness, much like the book itself. It has little interest in educating a young reader with heavy messaging of identity and acceptance and just eases into the enjoyment of two characters who simply are whom they are and want to be.
While there is a playfulness; the consistency of characterization suggests Archie’s bearness and the bear’s boyness aren’t just two characters simply being imaginative.
The artwork evokes a simple-straightforward-this-is-just-the-way-it-is vibe, and youthful energy in Archie’s line-work. I love how solid/dense the bear is. While it feels like a tale, the absence of flourishes relay the idea that this is not a fantasy; these are not characters simply playing pretend games. You would never mistake the boy and bear and forest for Christopher Robin and Pooh and the 100-Acre-Wood.
The pair go to Archie’s house for warmth, and the book closes with the absence of other human life. They’re probably in bed, but their absence signals not a return from wherever Archie went off to at the beginning, but a continuation of Archie. We close the book with the sensation of: this is the way it is in the world of the book—a journey we take as a reader from finding the exchanges, the declarations and pats on the head to be all too normal/familiar, to this new sensation of normal. What happened between that beginning and ending? The story of a new friendship. A story and a relationship and no real need to figure it all out.
Recommended as a nice addition to wintry reading, and for its unusual approach to just letting people be; maybe shelve alongside Little Red Riding Hood and The Girl and The Wolf by Vermette
Zanni Louise has been a storyteller since childhood. It wasn’t until she had her first child that she pursued a grown-up career as an author. She lives in Australia with her family and a cat named Mary Feather Flower.
David Mackintosh is an illustrator, graphic designer, and art director, celebrated for his bold, quirky style and his innovative book designs. David lives in London, draws a lot, has a bicycle, and loves making things, books with pictures in them, and being read to.