Reviews /

Can Bears Ski?

Authored by Raymond Antrobus
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Published by Walker Books Ltd

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Can Bears Ski?  shows the journey of Bear and Dad Bear. Mysteries reveal themselves and we discover that Bear is deaf, yet Dad Bear does not always know what to do for the best on their journey.

My daughter is deaf and it is abundantly clear that this is an own voices text. Its authenticity is both a strength and a delight. The writer Raymond Antrobus and illustrator Polly Dunbar have different experiences of deafness so this is a book that speaks in truth, in riotous sound but also in subtle silence, with mentions of snow flurries and space. Bear cannot understand why he is repeatedly asked ‘Can bears ski?’ so I can see young children wanting to solve this puzzle, perhaps with the help of a parent, librarian or teacher. Upon reflection, I cannot help thinking that Can Bears Ski? is also an expression of hopes and dreams. Bear wants to ‘fly’ in the world.

Representation matters and I am ashamed to say that I missed the hearing aids worn by Bear on the front cover at first. Perhaps this is because I was drawn to Bear’s face, expressively depicted by Polly Dunbar. However, my daughter looked at the front cover and said, ‘Cool! Hearing aids!’ How important it is for children to see themselves in the literature they read! Raymond Antrobus states that deaf voices are often missing so I argue that this book should be in every library or reading area for its inclusion, its realism and also its magic.

Young children will gain from reading this book. It describes sounds with precision and includes the ever-popular counting of numbers! All children benefit from the poetic device of repetition and deaf children may well find the words in this book especially reassuring as they learn. The book explores possible challenges faced by deaf people in trying to piece together meaning. It deftly steers away from the sentimental and also from the idea that hearing aids fix or cure what is ultimately a much bigger, systemic issue.

What we learn is that Bear has plenty to bring to the world. Bear needs to see Dad Bear’s whole face to be able to communicate and understand best, which is a detail shown well through the illustration of the full moon. Bear needs Dad Bear’s proximity, time, patience and appreciation of what Bear CAN do. Put simply, we must all be better interpreters of other people. Bear has the right to time, space and a voice in the world. I hope Bear gets to go skiing!

Raymond Antrobus talked to Nikki Gamble In The Reading Corner