A Bear Called Paddington/More About Paddington et al. – Michael Bond (intro: 1958)
Growing up, I was well aware of Paddington the Bear – the books, the movies, the stuffed animals, the keychains… However, for reasons unknown, I veered away from reading our really nice boxed set of Paddington books and that’s a big shame as I would have loved them even more when I was a child.
Browsing in a charity shop the other day, I came across a later Paddington book and thought I’d see what all the fuss was about and now I understand. I am wondering how many other kids are out there who haven’t read the books and just know Paddington from the marketing industry.
What I really enjoy about reading the books in this series is the sense of humor that Bond employs for his characters, both bears and otherwise. It’s a sly sense of humor, pretty dry (which is my favorite) and made me laugh out loud in quite a few places. I also loved that he has lovely manners, and tries his very best to not get in trouble, but like the sticky marmalade he loves, it’s always close by. Oh, and I can’t resist Paddington’s “hard stares” when someone does something he thinks is wrong or disagreeable. Just cracked me up every time I read that.
In case you’re not familiar with Paddington, he was found by the Brown family at Paddington railway station where he was in the Lost and Found after having stowed away in a lifeboat from Darkest Peru. He had grown up with an old auntie who had entered a retirement home and who had told the fat little bear to go to England. So he did. He lived for weeks at sea on marmalade and was a bit scruffy when he landed in England. His old auntie had put a label on him saying (as most people know): “Please look after this bear”, and luckily enough, Mr. and Mrs. Brown were sweet enough to take him home in a fostering capacity which seems to have lengthened as the time goes by.
Being chapter books, each chapter starts a new adventure usually with things “just happening” to Paddington. He doesn’t cause any problems, he’s not malicious but he does tend to be in the wrong place at the wrong time sometimes. His adventures are mostly benign – upended flower pots, having a cup of tea with one of the shop owners in town, having his first bath – so they are perfect for kids to relate to, and yet there is enough adult humor in there (subtle though it is) that the books are not boring for adults to read. The stories are also relatable in other cultures (generally speaking), and although these are very “English” books (lots of hot tea around), the events occur just the same in most other nations.
I have also seen that you don’t necessarily need to read the books in a particular order. If you go chronologically, then you can see how the story builds, of course, but each book seems to work perfectly ok as a stand-alone by itself.
My favorite illustrations are those in the original books by Peggy Fortnum as Paddington is more bear-like and less Disney-fied. He looks like a little bear as opposed to a stuffed toy in these pen-and-ink drawings, and he’s much more appealing to me.
I so wish that I had read these when I was a child, but perhaps the reason I love them now is that I can now appreciate them more. Who knows? I do know that these adventures of a little bear from Darkest Peru are really fun to read for almost any age.
Interesting aside: Just found out that Colin Firth is to play Paddington the Bear (as his voice anyway), and Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and Sally Hawkins will play Mr. and Mrs. Brown. The film sounds like it will be a mix of CGI and real actors and I’m curious to see how it turns out.