Reviews /

Are We There Yet?

Authored by Sven Volker
Published by Cicada Books Ltd

When Bear emerges from his cave after a long deep sleep, he is greeted by Butterfly, who offers to take him on a great journey. At first, Bear feels it is important to know where they are heading but throughout their travels, he learns that, as Butterfly tells him, ‘The journey itself is the reward’. Do we as readers ever discover where the journey leads them? Well, Bear is convinced that their final resting place is so familiar it smells like home. The end of the book is perhaps deliberately ambiguous. Is Bear completing his last journey? The final pages seem to imply this is the case.

Their travels are physically demanding, and Bear needs encouragement to climb the mountains and swim across the river. With Butterfly’s support, he learns to believe in himself and to slow down and enjoy the experience. Bear senses the restorative power of nature, feeling the forest floor, ‘…cool and wet beneath his feet’, and paying attention to the changes in the seasons, to death and rebirth. The choice of a butterfly as Bear’s guide is deliberate; young children are often familiar with this lifecycle so who better to draw attention to it? Indeed, the whole book is framed by a frontispiece and endpiece that demonstrate that as Butterfly says, ‘The end of one journey is the beginning of another’.

The contrast between the two characters is stark in their outlook and visual presence on the page. Bear’s large black silhouette dominates, with only his eyes visible. In contrast, Butterfly is a shimmer of yellow and blue. The book is visually stunning, with Volker using strong blocks of colour and often angular lines to give shape to the landscape.

Butterfly’s philosophical musings in response to Bear’s questioning and the interplay between image and text provide some great talking points. Are We There Yet? is certainly a book where repeated readings would enable children to develop their responses. A thought-provoking text that is worthy of a place in any primary classroom.