Why are all my Read Harder 2018 books so far being “Read Easier” instead? I feel like such a loser. (But I’m almost done with Year 1 of Sparkler, so then I’ll be able to dive into some heftier reading!) This time I’m reporting on Challenge #11, “A children’s classic published before 1980.”
For those of you who are somehow unaware of Paddington, he is so called because Mr. & Mrs. Brown find him one day in Paddington Station, with a tag around his neck saying “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” He explains to them that he’s just immigrated from “darkest Peru,” since his elderly aunt moved into a retirement home for bears (who knew there was such a thing?) and can no longer look after him. The Browns are perplexed — both at finding a bear in a railway station and by the fact that he can talk and is so terribly polite — and decide to take him home. (Giving him the new name of Paddington, since he insists that no one would be able to pronounce his Peruvian name.) Of course, being the nicest, sweetest talking bear (except, perhaps, for Winnie the Pooh), he quickly becomes a precious member of the family, and forgiven for any trouble he might cause (flooding the bathroom, for example) because he just tries so very hard to fix everything, even when he doesn’t quite understand what went wrong.
He’s described as being a light brown in color, apart from very dark ears, despite that spectacled bears are the only bears in Peru, and they tend to be black, or a very dark brown. (Yes, I did have to look up what species of bear he is. And did you know that if you Google “bears of Peru” the hits include question-pages like “What kind of bear is Paddington?”) BTW, the hat in the illustrations is very Peruvian: it’s got exactly the same shape as the hat on the doll I bought as a souvenir when I was in Peru.
Anyway, that’s all rather incidental, and I should get to the actual review of the book. Reading this was an interesting experience for me, because although I grew up watching the television show (or was it a series of short specials?), I’d never actually read any of the books before. I kept hearing various bits of the text in my head in the voice from the show…although sometimes my head’s wires got crossed and I would hear the Brigadier’s voice reading Mr. Brown’s lines. (And he wasn’t in it! I checked IMDB, and Michael Hordern (Senex in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) did the voice work. And he doesn’t sound anything like Nicholas Courtney! Very weird.) I’d really like to see the show again; I’ll have to see if it’s on Netflix or Hulu or something. (I know they did a DVD release right about the time the (first) new movie came out, but finding it now might be difficult. And I don’t necessarily want to buy it.) It was stop-motion animation, with a little plush-like bear (with a slightly Muppety face) for Paddington and paper cut-outs for the humans….which sounds really weird now that I come to say it, but I loved it at the time. Like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it was all read by a single person. (Um, okay, technically The Grinch also had June Foray doing Cindy Lou Who, but…it was mostly just Boris Karloff. Wait, how the heck did I just end up talking about The Grinch?)
Um, right, so, back to the book after yet another digression. (God, I suck at book reviews!) So, this book doesn’t follow many of the traditional rules. It’s so episodic that each chapter is basically its own short story. (And yet it was always published as a book, not as short stories in a magazine.) On top of that, there are jumps of indeterminate amounts of time summed up with a vague sentence or two (particularly between the early settling in chapters and the “indispensable part of the family” chapters that make up the rest of the book, and characters who should have been introduced in the proper time and whose relationships with the rest of the cast demonstrated are introduced only when they’re needed, and we’re just told how they relate to the main cast. (Like the mean neighbor, Mr. Curry, who doesn’t like anyone and particularly doesn’t like Paddington…which we’re only told in the chapter when he first appears, very late in the book.) Despite all that, it all works beautifully. (And, let’s be honest, in a complicated novel clearly intended for adults only, I would have taken far more issue with this sort of thing. But in a light-hearted, innocent book that is so very child-friendly, it’s easier to accept.)
This is a warm, friendly, happy-endings-for-all kind of book; the kind of book to turn to fight off a bad mood or a bad day. Or just because you want a reason to smile. Or something to read to your/someone’s kid as a bedtime story that has a little more bulk than the average picture book, but won’t leave them asking “how are they going to get out of that?” at the end of the chapter when you want ’em to go to bed.
That being the case, it’s easy to see why Paddington’s so popular that they’ve put up a statue of him at Paddington Station. (Seriously.)
Anyway, I am now in the midst of Issue 12 (of 12) from Year 1 of Sparkler (so far the only year I’ve gotten, despite that my Kickstarter pledge was for all five years), so as soon as I finish that, I’ll post a review of it (because?) and then finally move on to some meatier books. (In case anyone’s curious, the reason I read this in the midst of reading the other is that Sparkler is an electronic magazine, and I didn’t want to take my iPad with me to the airport when I went to meet my father’s flight.) Given that February is right around the corner, I’ll probably move on to Challenge #10, 13 or 17 next. Possibly in part dictated by which ones I can get from the library, as I’m really trying to cut back on the clutter around here…though I guess I could always go ebook if need be…
After thinking about it, I’ve decided Paddington wins “nicest, sweetest, talking bear” easily. Pooh is a bit too likely to purposefully break rules. (Particularly where his diet is concerned.) Not, of course, that either of them would be likely to want to compete for the title. They’d be more likely to sit down to a picnic together, though they might have a bit of an argument about which is better, marmelade or honey. But a very nice, polite argument that would probably end with both of them agreeing that both sticky substances are very sweet and therefore very tasty.