We're going on a bear hunt
We're going to catch a big one
What a beautiful day!
We're not scared!
These, as many parents will know, are the opening lines of the eponymous story written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. It's a story of epic adventure; of intrepid journeys and of fear. Ultimate, visceral fear.
Long wavy grass.
Now grass isn't scary. Not unless you are five years old and the grass is taller than you are, and there's no way around, or over or under. Grass has sharp edges, it cuts at the skin and gets in the eyes. There are rabbit holes and ruts in the ground that you can't see.
We can't go over it
We can't go under it
We've got to go through it.
This is the crux of the adventure. The explorers do indeed go through the grass. They struggle; they face their fears; they pass through the obstacle and continue, strengthened, on their quest.
Swishy swashy swishy swashy swishy swashy.
The opening refrain is repeated and has become, for many, a playground chant. Not just Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my! But we're going to hunt bears. Fearsome, goggly-eyed, cruel, powerful bears.
A deep cold river.
Once more, the only way to cross a deep, cold, fast-flowing river that clutches at your clothes and sucks your breath away is to go through it.
Splash splosh splash splosh splash splosh.
Well, maybe not that deep.
But, my friends, on with the quest, We have to hunt our bear. We have trekked amid the wide prairies and crossed the Rubicon. There is no path but onwards.
Thick oozy mud.
Mud, to me was the worst. We had a big meadow near our house where we made camps in the stinging nettles. Five of us kids would crush the venomous stalks down and make paths and dens where no adult would come to reprimand us. When we got stung, there were dock leaves aplenty to soothe the pain. And there was a river flowing there as well, so unkempt grass and wide rivers were just part of our every day playground. Mud however...
Squelch squerch squelch squerch squelch squerch.
Still, with wellies covered in the squelchy stuff, we go on. Or maybe with wellies left stuck in the mud leaving only dirty socks trying to tiptoe through the squelchy stuff. Going back almost 50 years, I remember living in fear of my father for once losing a plimsoll in some squelchy mud. I still don't like mud to this day.
A big dark forest.
Didn't Hansel and Gretel get lost in a scary forest and nearly get eaten? Then there was Fangorn which had living, walking trees. And Dante's Dark forest and never forget those evil Schippeitaro cat-spirits from Japan.
Stumble trip stumble trip stumble trip.
So eventually, after braving the Hercynian Forest, and perhaps meeting Totoro, our heros emerge into the light, only to face...
A swirling whirling snow storm.
I've never been in a real, honest-to-goodness blizzard. Not a white-out where the snow stings and bites and hides reality behind unfocussed mirages. Where the wind blows the flakes into eddies, distorting and twisting vision with undiscerned shapes that grow, until you can almost identify them, but then dissolve to bite the skin and fool the mind, Mirages made of ice and cold, yet just as real as mirages of the burned and arid desert.
Hoo wooo hoo wooo hoo wooo.
At last, on a sandy beach, in the dying rays of the setting sun, we find...
A narrow,gloomy cave.
Cold, wet, dank, dark, tired, with one plimsoll and one sock. Tremulous, our adventurers feel the way forward, touching the damp, water-streaked walls, smelling the animal stench, mixed with carrion and offal. The cold penetrates to the very bones. The stillness amplifies every breath, every drop of perspiration.
Tip-toe tip-toe tip-toe.
Penetrating further inwards, as the darkness gets murkier, and the smells get stronger, hearing gets more acute; fingers become more sensitive as sight diminishes.
Harsh breaths, stronger, animal smells.
One shiny wet nose.
Two big furry ears.
Two big goggly eyes.
We're on a bear hunt. What could it possibly be?
It's a bear!
Quick, back through the cave, back though the snowstorm; forest, mud river and grass.
I won't spoil the ending, but let's just say they all live happily ever after. Even the bear.
It's a lovely book. Perfect for reading aloud to a child, Lots of repeating sounds and onomatopoeia. A slow build up with a rushed panicky chase before all getting home safely and eating hot buttered toast for tea. You get a flavour of it from the extracts above, but you really need the book to get the full repetitive effect and the lovely ilustrations.
I've gone a little over the top with the horror thing up there, but I guess that's part of the point of the book. To an adult, a short walk across a field, jumping over a brook, through a patch of mud and crossing a small wood is nothing. But the same walk can feel like a huge adventure to a four-year-old. It's about imagination. Never lose that.
It's still a wonderful book to have and to read out loud. My thanks to JodieBird for reminding me about it.
You can see the author acting it out here. You know how you read something and use particular intonations and accents and emphasis. Then you hear someone else read it, and it sounds odd, because they never use the same cadence? I read it using exactly the same emphases as Rosen, which makes me happy.