A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton is the sixth book on the Carnegie Medal Shortlist (which means yay two more to go and then I can decide on my winner). Shockingly it does exactly what it says in the title; it is about a boy and a bear in a boat. The boy is taking a journey and the bear is his captain. We never really find out where they are going and at times it seems as though the bear is very lost, but they persist on their way, encountering sea monsters, strange island/rocks and a ghostly ship.
And that is about it! Nothing else really seems to happen; they travel along in the Harriet and the boy moans a lot; they lose the Harriet and the boy moans and is sorry for the loss; they find the Harriet and then they lose it again. Do they ever get to wherever it is they are going? No. Do we ever find out where they are going? No. Do we even learn why on earth the boy willingly got in to a boat with a talking bear? No. So really I was left with so many more questions than I like at the end of a book, particularly a children’s book.
I read the majority of this book last night as I went to bed early and I was very conscious of the fact I needed to finish it by Friday ready to discuss with my small enrichment class. The benefit of this is that I stormed through it, as I think if I had kept dipping in to it I would have lost interest. It also made me think about the purpose/message of the book and for me it seems to be the idea that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The boy moans about being on the Harriet yet he misses it when it is gone and he feels the same about the presence of the bear in places. It also shows how you need to be adaptable when striving for your goal as many obstacles will get in your way, yet if you persevere you will get there. Whilst these are admirable messages to include in a book, I’m not sure they will be easily identified by the eight year old target audience. Of course the writer might not have included these themes and it is me over thinking it, but never mind.
Do I think A Boy and a Bear in a Boat is a winner? Sadly not. It is a (and I hate to use this word) nice story, but it was hardly memorable in my eyes and began to get a bit tedious in places. I am hoping the next two reads; Midwinterblood and The Weight of Water will offer some form of competition as at the moment I think there is only one possible winner and unfortunately I don’t think it will be my favourite Code Name Verity.