By Dave Shelton, published by David Fickling Books.
Goodreads synopsis: A boy and a bear go to sea, equipped with a suitcase, a comic book, and a ukulele. The bear assures the boy that they are traveling a short distance and it really shouldn’t take very long. But then they encounter “unforeseeable anomalies”: turbulent stormy seas! a terrifying sea monster! and the rank remains of The Very Last Sandwich. The odds are pitted against the boy and the bear and their boat. Will the Harriet, their trusted vessel, withstand the violent lashings of the salty waves? And will anyone ever answer their message in a bottle?
My review: I’ve been wanting to read this for a while, and was so glad to start it. Upon beginning A Boy and a Bear in a Boat, though, I was taken by surprise. I had no idea this was a children’s book! However, I enjoyed this quite a bit. Right from the start the book filled my head with questions- Where are this boy and this bear going? What are their names? Why is a small boy going on a sea voyage with a bear? Unfortunately, none of these questions were answered. The story managed to last 290 action-packed pages, without revealing the boy and bear’s names, or where they’re going! Despite the fact that it didn’t answer anything for me, I still really enjoyed it. The boy and the bear had to overcome many difficulties, like sudden storms, sea-monsters, and toxic-mouldy sandwiches. Every page was crammed with drama, and I loved reading about these two unlikely partners’s adventure. At no point did I get bored of reading it! The whole plot was really original and had strong themes of friendship throughout, with made this imaginative, fantastical adventure realistic, in a way.
The unnamed boy and bear were really great characters. At first, I was really confused as to why these two beings were on a boat and sailing in the middle of nowhere. Then, I ended up pushing my confusion aside as I came to love the characters. I really enjoyed reading about how the boy began to warm to the bear, because he really disliked him at first. I didn’t really enjoy the boy’s character at all, to begin with, but when he saved the bear and grew to enjoy his company about halfway through, I started to appreciate him more. The bear, on the other hand, I loved right from the start: he was unpredictable and pretty witty, especially during his conversations and games of I-spy. Also, I think that just because he was a talking bear, I instantly fell in love with him.
The only thing that I didn’t really like about A Boy and a Bear in a Boat was its language choice. The book consisted of large, kid-friendly text and lots of illustrations to break it up, and yet there were so many words and phrases that would probably be really hard for a 9-11 year old to understand. If there was one thing could change about this book, it would be either to make it a simpler read with less complex language, or to bulk it up more and target it at slightly older children. Apart from that, I really enjoyed this! The plot was fun and the characters brave and strong. The characters didn’t have backgrounds and the sailing destination wasn’t clear, but I think that was a good technique that made me wonder about the future possibilities for the boy and the bear long after I put the book down. Also, the dynamic, detailed beautiful illustrations, also by the author, brought the story to life really well. I’d love to read more from Dave Shelton soon!
I received A Boy and a Bear in a Boat from my school, for a book-club read because we’re shadowing the Carnegie shortlist.