Today, the spotlight is shining on a Christmassy tale of family, acceptance and togetherness. The Good Bear by Sarah Lean (with illustrations by Fiona Woodcock) recalls the story of a young girl on a visit to Norway to see her estranged father, where she meets and befriends a big friendly bear.
The book begins on Christmas eve with Ursula asking her mother (Thea) to tell her a story of her mother’s childhood visit to see her estranged father many Christmases ago. The story of the “Good Bear” is that childhood memory of Thea’s. I like this unusual set-up, with the actual story being the mother re-living a childhood adventure. It gave the narrator’s voice a sense of hindsight and the ability to give the reader a fuller insight into the emotions that drove the people involved.
Before the book begins, there is a lovely heart-felt letter from the author to the reader in which Sarah recalls wanting a typewriter as a child but never getting one. I didn’t realise how central to The Good Bear this part of Sarah’s history would be, but it is pivotal in telling Thea’s story, alongside her friendship with Bear. In the letter, Sarah says something that I think really encapsulates the message of The Good Bear:
“We all face situations that threaten to overcome that part of us which holds so much promise, and yet these challenges may be even more important for discovering our potential… we need not be alone facing any situation, if only we’d recognize the potential in those around us too.”
Thea dreams of being a writer and writes to her estranged father, asking for a typewriter for her birthday. The typewriter doesn’t come, but Thea’s mother arranges for her daughter to visit Henry for the Christmas holidays where she will also meet Henry’s new partner, Inge, and her two children, Elissa and Lars. Desperate to reconnect with her father, Thea hopes this visit will give them a chance to bond. But the family dynamics, rivalries and different cultural traditions are not easy to navigate. Emotions run high and Henry doesn’t seem to be interested in his daughter or getting her a typewriter!
When Theo sees a classic typewriter in a town shop, she befriends the shop owner, V, and begins to visit regularly to write, using it as a way to make sense of her feelings about her father. Despite this, things are looking rather bleak, until Thea comes across a huge bear in the woods! The most unlikely of friendships is formed. Much of the story focusses around Thea’s efforts to help the bear, but in fact, it may be the bear who ends up helping build bridges between Thea and her step-family…
If I could describe this book in one word it would be “honest”. The protagonist openly shares her hopes, fears, mistakes and disappointments. Having lived through the adjustments of getting to know a step-family myself, I found Thea’s feelings incredibly relatable. I think The Good Bear would be a really comforting and reassuring book for children whose parents have separated and have “new families”.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 15 October 2020
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary review contains my honest opinion.