Comfort and joy

Erik Blegvad endpapers for The Winter Bear

Ruth Craft: The Winter Bear
Illustrated by Erik Blegvad
Collins Picture Lions 1976 (1974)

This is one of the most delightful of picture books for this time of year. A perfect blend of poetry and watercolour & ink illustrations, The Winter Bear tells the story of three children who set off for a brief brisk walk in the countryside as dusk and snow approach and discover something lodged, tatty and unloved, in some branches.

Retrieving it with difficulty they return home to render it presentable and something to be loved. As a mini-saga, a journey with a beginning, middle and end, it’s as beautiful a miniature to look at as well as to read aloud.

It opens with preparations for the expedition:

You’d think it was a shipwreck,
But as you know,
When you walk in the winter,
Wherever you go,
You must put something on!

And so they set out across the fields, away from the farmhouse and outbuildings, as the sun sinks lower in the sky.

They walk on walls, jump across streams, count birds, make a posy (“In winter? You’re crazy!”) with seeds, dried weeds, bryony vine and old man’s beard, stroke a cow’s back: “Even a cow wears a sensible coat just now.”

And then, as it starts to snow, they spot something caught high up in a hedge. It’s

A brown knitted bear,
Knitted with care.
A bit damp, a bit leafy,
In need of repair,
But still, an excellent bear.

As the snowflakes thicken the three rush home to where their Mum is waiting, crying out “Here’s a bear | In the winter with nothing to wear, | He must have something on!” And so it is that he is dried and dolls clothes put on him, and he is ensconced in the best arm chair: “A warm friendly place | For a cold winter bear.”

This complementary combination of images and words unites delight and compassion. We don’t need to know the backstories, we just need the comforting rhythm of the words and rhymes, the magic of the snow falling and the chimney smoke rising into the cold air and the rescued bear safe and snug and warm.

Blegvad’s sensitive wash of watercolours absolutely capture the details as well as the feel of a crisp winter’s late afternoon, while Craft’s words echo the lilt of childhood phrases and nursery rhymes. For young minds, and not a few older ones, this seasonal story must surely offer a modicum of comfort and joy.

You know my politics. I’m not feeling much comfort and joy this morning, Friday the 13th, in Tory Brexit Britain. Please be gentle, people

17 thoughts on “Comfort and joy

    1. Thank you, Nick. Amidst all the anger and dismay today has brought I take heart from some of the words of hope uttered by the likes of George Monbiot: we do what we can to model what compassion and other moral positives look like. And if children’s literature does anything it gives a context in which compassion can be nurtured.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It was and remains an absolute favourite of mine to read to our children and now our grandchildren, especially when we once lived in a similar farmhouse which occasionally found itself isolated in a snowy landscape.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. No, but grandkids built dens and planted trees. Right now, after a devastating election campaign and the thumping victory of a cruel rightwing government, the only teddy I’d like to see found is one called Hope.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. I can’t fully express how awful, angry and awash with emotions I feel, Piotrek, though 24 hours on the numbness is slowly easing. Maybe in a few days I may be able to articulate coherently what I think, but at the moment I may either rage or cry.

              Liked by 1 person

  1. The Winter Bear! I too loved that book, and yet until your post I had forgotten its very existence! That posy! The posy of old man’s beard and bryony vine made me squeak with recognition! Thank you for this, it was such a joy and cheered me up.

    It’s a lovely choice given what’s happened. I was so upset I cried. It felt like a real triumph of all that is wrong with the world. I have read why people said they voted Tory and that actually did help a bit, but every time I think of what has happened or see one of these morally vacuous people on the telly that rage and sorrow washes back over me.

    I hope you soon begin to feel better, I hope the future is not as dark as I fear.


    1. Yes, that posy, such a lovely additional touch. 🙂 Glad it brought cheer to you in these dark — both literally and metaphorically — days. I’m avoiding any news for the next few days and focusing on more positive creative things, to get myself in a better frame of mind…


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