Mr Bear

As a child I spent a lot of time reading and really revelled in my bookish nature. My favourite books were fairly varied, I did love the classics (still do for comfort reading), I liked to terrify myself with Alan Garner's writing, to relax with comics (I loved getting the Garfield collections from the library). Another library favourite was the Paranormal section (this wouldn't surprise Rich one bit), I hadn't the patience for many of the paranormal books I borrowed though, they were very wordy!
A love of illustration and of children's books has been a constant throughout my adult life. I used to pop into WHSmith after work sometimes and browse the picture book section. I quite like Oliver Jeffers' work, his watercolours are fab.
The Mr. Bear books pictured below are amazing, they're pure genius, the storylines, the illustrations, the paper stock. The books were written by a lady named Chizuko Kuratomi and illustrated by Kozo Kakimoto and are out of print here in the UK (a fact I am bemused by), I hope this is not the case in Japan.
Mum and dad always chose really good books for us to read as children, we used to borrow the Mr. Bear books from the library. The library on a Saturday morning was a bit of a ritual for us with dad, lovely dad who indulged my morbid curiosity with ghosts and who bought me my first Alan Garner book. Dad actually met Garner when he was a schoolboy in Wilmslow in the late 60s. His class went to Garner's house near Goostrey (I think - it's an amazing house, google it!*) and spent a couple of hours there!

Fans of illustration and of really good, quirky stories for kids are pretty much guaranteed to enjoy these books. You can find most of them for a really good price on ebay and the like. Some are harder to come by and are priced crazy-high (as is always the case on ebay and amazon with rare books).

Mr. Bear is the most lovable character. He's fairly dense but very kind; these characteristics lead to truly funny situations and sometimes touching ones. In Mr. Bear Postman, Mr Bear gets a job as the town's postman. Every day he passes a little old lady rabbit (Mr. Bear's world is filled with rabbits), anyway, the little old lady rabbit always looks out as he passes, but she never receives any post and Mr. Bear feels sorry for her. One night he sits down and writes her a letter and posts it through her letterbox. He writes the old lady rabbit lots of letters (he doesn't think she knows it's him sending them but she's sharper than he!) and one day she greets him with his own letter as a thank you for being so kind as to write to her. The story ends with us discovering that the old rabbit does have family and that she isn't so lonely after all, I think her niece is with her at the end.

The funniest one I've read so far is Mr. Bear's Meal which is really hilarious and involves Mr. Bear spending a night in the cells (he thinks it's a hotel and that his jailers are so kind!).

James is also currently very fond of the Foxwood series of books (which, again, I love). These are stylistically very different to the Mr. Bear series both in terms of story and illustration but are equally as good.
They're absolutely brilliant books in fact, the storylines are clever and engaging, the illustrations are the type you can look at for ages and enjoy finding details in. The characters are also brill, they're not sickeningly lovely all the time, there are a few cases of 'oh do shut up!' which I appreciate because children are like that, they banter, they tease and they can laugh at each other's foibles - Harvey, Rue & Willy really do that.
The Foxwood books are also (inexplicably) out of print and I got a little annoyed because I couldn't complete the collection on ebay/abebooks/amazon because the last book, The Magic Sleigh, is really hard to come by. After a LOT of reseach I found that it is included in the second volume of The Foxwood Collection (can't find the ISBN, published 1999 by Ted Smart), along with Robbery at Foxwood, The Foxwood Kidnap and The Secret Valley.
This second volume of the collection was a fraction of the price of buying The Magic Sleigh on its own which I couldn't find anywhere at a reasonable price. I noticed that on ebay I had missed out on one at £5... It merits a mention that the collections of the stories are printed at a larger scale and therefore you get more illustration space to pore over all the beautiful detail in the pictures.
It was worth hunting down The Magic Sleigh as it is the loveliest Christmas story, the illustrations are packed with interest and detail and feel so beautiful, so English and so homely. And Father Christmas is in it! Nobody really seems to call him Father Christmas these days, especially not at the school, it seems that James is the only one referring to him as Father Christmas.

*Toad Hall - website here. To my immense delight I discovered that Garner has bequeathed his fascinating home to The Blackden Trust.

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