A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about our family’s obsession — I mean love — of Christopher Robin’s Silly Old Bear. Our family also has a deep and abiding love for Old Bear by Jane Hissey and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about it. We’ve found that too many people do not know about these delightful books. I have my mother-in-law to thank for introducing us to Hissey’s books — she brought her first grandchild the gift of Old Bear and we were immediately hooked.
At first look, it seems like the Old Bear stories could be a little copycattish of Pooh and friends. It’s British, it’s about a group of stuffed animal friends who all exist in real life, the adventures are gentle, and kindness suffuses every page. (So, in my opinion, even if it was a copycat, we’d still want to read them.) But the characters in the Old Bear stories are quite different, endearing in their own way, and not at all simple copies of the characters in the Hundred Acre Wood. The gentle adventures take place inside in a playroom. There is no Christopher Robin mentioned. The personalities of the characters are different — delightful all on their own.
Old Bear, Little Bear, Jolly Tall (a giraffe), Bramwell Brown (another plush sable-brown bear), and their friends have boat races, try on dragon personas, put on plays, engage in heroic rescues, and hold birthday camps. Every story is delightful and imaginative, as well as safe and genuine in that way only stories about beloved stuffed animals can be.
It’s the character of Old Bear, I think, that fully distinguishes these stories from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, however. Old Bear is old. The backflap tells us that Old Bear was the author’s teddy bear. Bramwell Brown and Little Bear were given to her firstborn and the others “turned up” over the years in the Hissey household in Sussex. Old Bear is looser in his joints, a bit tattered, well-loved and worn. Hissey’s art — which is beautiful — shows us how old Old Bear is, particularly in the original Old Bear story, in which Old Bear is rescued by his friends from the attic where he’d been placed for safe keeping.
The gentle wisdom that Old Bear provides is pretty unique in the genre of personified toys, I believe. I notice when I read these stories out loud that my voice lowers and my words slow — Old Bear’s voice is one to listen to. He’s lived a long time, knows many things, and although he’ll never force his life experience and wisdom on anyone, he is willing to share it. He will gently encourage, caution, and bolster his younger, more boisterous friends. And he always listens. He’s like a great-grandfather in the playroom. I appreciate his presence.
I’ve been thinking about it for days….can you think of another book/series with an older animal — A Wise One? One that is revered, protected, sought out for her or his wisdom? I can’t, but I so appreciate Old Bear that I sure would like to increase my list of such characters if they exist. Drop me a line in the comments if you think of some.