The origin of Bear Child
Bear Child is an illustrated book for 4-7 year olds. But, it didn’t start out as a story for children. My wife, Chris died three years ago from the effects of a brain tumour – I wrote it as a gift for her when she was in hospital. She loved the story and showed to friends and visitors. Her lifelong obsession with bears and her own fiercely independent spirit were the main inspirations for the story.
Chris had collected teddy bears from an early age. At 14, she wrote a story about Paddington Bear that won a national competition: her prize was to meet Paddington’s creator, Michael Bond on the set of his television series. At university studying graphic design, her final dissertation was about the history and manufacture of teddy bears. Her house was full of bear images and paintings. She and I even visited Minnesota once to spend time with wild black bears in the woods, under the expert guidance of Dr Lyn Rogers, the ‘bear whisperer.’
She was so obsessed that I sometimes joked that she was really half woman and half bear. From this came the idea in Bear Child of the bear folk – shapeshifters born of the ancient marriage between humans and bears, when the world was young.
The character of Ursula is exactly how I imagined from family stories that Chris had been as a child: independent, intelligent, curious and – of course – believing she might really be a bear child. When Ursula’s daddy tells her what bear children do when they grow up, he is actually describing how Chris lived her life: travelling far and wide; reading lots of books; collecting interesting stuff; running, swimming and skiing; growing things in her garden and looking after the world; having lots of friends and laughing a lot. She too was a cook, a clown, an artist and a teacher, who lived an adventurous and extraordinary life.
As a storyteller, I was also inspired by traditional folktales and myths. In particular, I drew on a Native American Haida story about the intermingling of bears and humans. I took the idea of how the first bears came to earth from a Siberian Ostyak myth. I created the notion of them returning to the Great Bear when their time was done, because I wanted Chris to be able to turn to that image as she came to the end of her life. She died peacefully at home and Bear Child was one of the last things we spoke about. Months later, I had the idea of turning the story into a children’s book.
You might call Bear Child a kind of love letter to my late wife. It is both a celebration of a life well-lived and an encouragement to others, especially girls, to believe in themselves and to follow their own star.
Who are the bear folk and what makes them special?
Bear Child is an inspirational story of parental love, belief and embracing individuality. This beautiful picture book weaves together Geoff Mead’s charming words with Sanne Dufft’s ethereal illustrations to create a truly timeless folktale.
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