Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Roxbury. 1989, Walker Books
There are a lot of problems with this book.
First, the concept of going on a bear hunt and being excited about it. Who on earth wakes up in the morning and says “Yay! We’re going to hunt a bear! Let’s track down and slaughter some megafauna!” And if you say “Well, they don’t mean literally a hunt, they just mean going to go and find a bear”, then don’t bloody use the word “hunt” then. It’s intrinsically violent, and if it’s not being done for food is actually sadistic.
Now, the one thing this book does have going for it, is being outside. They are walking in the wild, taking in some wonderful nature time. That’s great. Except they literally complain about every fucking thing as soon as they get out the door. Long grass? Oh no! We’ve got to go through it! Harden the hell up for Christ’s sake.
To be fair, the next obstacle is a deep cold river. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it! OK wait, don’t harden up that much, Jesus. You’ve got 1 adult and 4 kids, no boat, and no towels. What’s the current like? And how deep and how cold is it? In the illustration the kids are up to their arm pits, and if they’re in bear country then it’s going to be pretty bloody cold. This really does not seem like a good idea, unless you’re really committed to killing a goddamn bear for some reason.
Then, mud. Well, you’re already saturated from the river so I don’t see what the big problem is here.
But now they’ve got a forest. A big, dark, forest. Oh no! And covered in mud nonetheless. Welp, best press on, we’ve got to go through it! Stumble, trip, stumble trip, stumble trip. I’m going to be surprised if anyone makes it out of this shit alive.
Next up is a snow storm, which is just so meteorologically improbable that I’m not even going to bother. These people are not even remotely prepared for these kinds of conditions. As a Dad, I’m all for winging when it comes to these adventures. Just opening the door, stepping outside and see where a walk takes you. But this guy is just too irresponsible for this to even be remotely enjoyable. It’s painful to watch.
Finally, they get to the cave. Uh oh! A narrow, gloomy cave. Well yes, again, one would imagine that when you go on a bear hunt you would expect to find some caves. But we’ve complained about everything else up to this point, so may as well complain about this as well. We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!
Tip toe, tip toe, what’s that? A bear! Alright, finally! Quick, who brought the shot gun? Or some kind of bear-killing-thing. Even just a sharp stick of some kind. Anyone? No? No-one brought anything. Nothing at all that would be able to see this adventure through to its repeatedly stated conclusion.
Keep in mind, as the narrator, up until this point you’ve had to say: “We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one, what a beautiful day, we’re not scared” SIX whole times. And then when the big moment comes, you’re forced to just crumble like this. It’s devastating.
Now they have to run all the way back though everything above: The cave, the snow storm, the forrest, the mud, the river, and the long grass. And in the illustrations, the bear, who at this point really hadn’t done anything untoward except to wake up to a bunch of people in his cave, is just a bit behind them the whole time.
And the worst part is, he doesn’t look remotely menacing. You can almost see him saying “Wait! Hold on, guys? Come back! You like bears? I’m a bear! We can totally hang out! It’s not like I take you seriously as hunters or anything, you’ve come literally completely unarmed and carrying infants, so let’s just play some games or something.”
But no. These whiny little shits just run all the way home, through their front door, up the stairs, back down the stairs cos they forgot to shut the door, back up the stairs, into the bedroom and under the covers. No-one had a shower or a bath or even bothered to take their clothes off, so now the sheets are filthy too.
Meanwhile, the bear is still coming up the path to the window with an outstretched arm, practically begging for companionship. Only to be met by a locked door hiding cowardly humans inside. The last picture of the book is the bear walking dejectedly back along a rocky beach to his cave, shoulders slumped in the moonlight.
As a children’s book at least it has repetition and rhythm, and as I said at the beginning, it involves “being outside”, which is good. But apart form that, it’s at best a dangerous waste of time for all involved, and at worst, a crushing reminder of a poor bear’s loneliness.