Five Bears

Authored by Catherine Rayner
Illustrated by Catherine Rayner
Published by Macmillan

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Welcome to the new book by Catherine Rayner. Five bears encounter each other one by one. All very different, the initial meetings are awkward, suspicious, grunty or downright rude. One by one, they have second thoughts and decide to join in, perhaps a little awkwardly at first, but gradually coming together until, as a group of four, they meet a large polar bear somewhat improbably stuck up a tree. Stuck Bear rebuffs initial overtures of help, but gradually, through the encouragement of the four, he climbs down the tree and asks why they bothered to help. Because they tell him, ‘some things are hard on your own. Nothing more!’ Of course, the five bears become firm friends and have a lot of fun together.

It is, as it says on the front cover, a book about friendship. It’s also about diversity. But it is much more than a book about five different species of bears who discover that they can be friends despite their different appearances. It allows the reader to explore the nuances of initial meetings and the fact that outward appearances and rudeness may well mask internal torment. It demonstrates that sometimes the best way to encourage shyness is to simply be pleasant, walk on and give space to catch up when they feel brave enough.

The text is constructed to facilitate anticipation and is therefore a good read aloud book. More subtle is the gradual alignment of thought and action: two bears wandering along at different paces, thinking different thoughts and looking in different directions; three bears wandering at different paces, thinking different thoughts but looking in the same direction; four bears starting to think that it was pleasant to be with other bears, etc. Eventually, five bears form a tight friendship and despite being different, have a lot of fun, and listen to and learn about each other.

Whilst in places I found the dialogue a little clunky, the illustrations more than compensate. Catherine Rayner’s illustrations convey the slow, deliberate movement of bears and a range of expressions across each double page spread. Definitely worthy of a place in Early Years and KS1 classrooms.

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