On Bears and Elephants and Pancakes

I’m still in my ‘cheating’ week, and have finished the wonderful The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and am now onto Stardust by Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favourite authors. I am enjoying it immensely. However, in order to not feel so bad about cheating, let’s talk about some more picture books on the 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up list.

I talked about how picture books stay with you in a previous post, but now let’s talk about some of the reasons why. One big reason, of course, is the words. Words in a picture book are so important – almost doubly important than in other books, because each word has so much more weighting. If there are only 32 pages in a picture book (the standard number of pages in a picture book, due to the way they fold the pages when they are making the book), and there is only a paragraph, or a sentence, or even just two words on each page, every word really counts. You have to make each word count. You have to make each word special. It has to have purpose. Because, more than likely, a good picture book is going to be read at bedtime a hundred times, and if it doesn’t live up to a hundred readings, those words are just not good enough.

Two picture books that I really like are We Are Going On A Bear Hunt, written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, and The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Raymond Briggs with illustrations by Elfrida Vipont. Written in 1989 and 1969 respectively, they have stood the testament of time. I remember watching Playschool perform We Are Going on a Bear Hunt when I was four or five, and saying the words and doing the actions along with it. The Elephant and the Bad Baby I only encountered at the bookshop, but I think it is fantastic. These two books are so readable because of the words they use – or the repetition of the words they use.

We Are Going On A Bear Hunt uses such descriptive words, words that make you feel like you are squelching through mud or swishing through long grass yourself. The fact that it can pretty much be acted out as a play, as Playschool did in the 1990s (and possibly still today – I haven’t watched Playschool in a while) shows just how perfectly written it is. It somehow reminds me how how people say that Shakespeare should be watched, not read. A reading of We Are Going on A Bear Hunt is like a performance. 

And as for The Elephant and the Bad Baby  – it is the story of a bad baby who is offered a ride by an elephant, and the elephant steals ice cream and chips and all sorts of other goodies as they gallop along the street, with a trail of unhappy vendors chasing after them. Most pages are actually almost the same, with just the type of food and the type of vendor changed, but this repetition is what makes it good. I love the sound that the elephant makes (‘Rumpeta Rumpeta’ – I’ve never heard an elephant say that, have you? Yet it is such a delicious word to say) and I love how each page, the trail of vendors chasing the elephant and the bad baby gets longer. But my favourite bit is how the bad baby apologises to the vendors, and its (because we never know if the bad baby is a boy or a girl) its mother makes all the vendors, the elegant and the bad baby pancakes for tea.



  1. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions (and I just love the title of this post!).

  2. I can recite most of those books by heart 🙂 Lovely post.

  3. Pingback: On where the list of 1001 Children’s Books I Must Read Before I Grow Up (Too Much) comes from | 1001 Children's Books

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