Today we’re more than excited and pawsitively delighted to welcome More Than Marmalade author Rosanne Tolin to Alphabet Soup!
The 60-something resident Paddingtons are simply beside themselves. They’ve brushed their fur, cleaned their whiskers, and polished off at least 126 marmalade sandwiches in anticipation.
FINALLY, they keep saying — finally someone wrote a book about Michael Bond, their favorite person in the entire universe. Indeed, it is hard to believe that this is the first published biography of the iconic British author, whose first Paddington chapter book came out back in 1958.
Though More Than Marmalade: Michael Bond and the Story of Paddington Bear (Chicago Review Press, 2020), is geared for middle grade readers, it’s a beary interesting read for Paddington fans of all ages. A work of well researched creative nonfiction, the narrative is an engaging blend of facts and fictionalized scenes that highlight Bond’s life from his childhood in Reading, England, to his death at age 91 in 2017.
Bond always felt Paddington was “real,” and in this book we learn about the real historical events and personal experiences that inspired this inimitable bear character. We see how circumstance, a vivid imagination, and perseverance all came to bear at a time when Bond hadn’t actually planned to write a children’s book.
His love of trains, lifelong empathy for immigrants, script and story writing background, BBC cameraman experiences, and a fateful decision to rescue a lone bear from a department store shelf one Christmas Eve spawned a classic children’s book series that would evolve into several TV series and two feature length films, along with a slew of children’s merchandising. In 2018, the Great Western Railway named a new Intercity Express Train after Michael Bond and Paddington Bear.
Though he grew up in a nurturing, book-loving family, Bond was deeply affected by the hardships and devastation of WWII. In newsreels and at the train station, he witnessed the traumatic displacement of child evacuees from London (his parents also hosted two Jewish refugees in their home), and at age 17, he survived an air raid in his village before enlisting in the Royal Air Force and later, the British army.
More Than Marmalade not only chronicles Bond’s path to becoming a published author, it shows how he sustained a successful, demanding career — a journey that was fraught with rejection, a broken marriage, even a bout with depression. His grandfather’s advice about never giving up, and his enduring belief in a little stowaway bear from darkest Peru got him through thick and thin.
Why is Paddington so beloved by people of all ages all over the world? How are Bond’s messages of tolerance, kindness, and acceptance — especially of foreigners — more than timely? How does this book prove than when it comes to Michael Bond and Paddington Bear, there is so much more than meets the eye?
We know you’ll enjoy hearing what Rosanne has to say. More marmalade, please!
Why did you want to write a children’s biography about Michael Bond?
As a young child, like many writers are I was a big reader. Stories that featured anthropomorphic animals were always my favorites. Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Rabbit and especially Paddington Bear were all dear to me! Even as I advanced, Aslan—of the Chronicles of Narnia fame—would also become one of my favorite characters.
When I was in high school, I was editor of our school creative writing magazine. After studying English Literature and graduating from law school, I eventually circled back to writing as a journalist for the kids section of a newspaper. Next I took a transformative job as the managing editor of a kids magazine. That was when I really decided I wanted to write for children!
Having been a journalist for a number of years, I found that I enjoyed the “truth is stranger than fiction” aspect of biographies in particular. I often find myself sucked into articles and books that feature aspects of famous people’s (as well as unsung figures’) lives.
About three years ago I came across an article in Tablet magazine titled “Paddington Jewish Roots.” The article told about Michael Bond’s inspiration for Paddington Bear, and the fact that he based his iconic character on children arriving in London on the Kindertransport. Like Paddington famously waited for a family to adopt him with nothing but a suitcase by his side, these World War II refugee children had little in their possession other than a knapsack full of clothes. These sad and lonely kids made a huge impression on young Bond, and really impacted his sensibilities. I was so intrigued to dive deeper into his story, since it was clear there was much more than what appeared on the surface.
What three things do you think young Paddington Bear lovers will find most surprising about his life?
I think the first thing that may most surprise readers, other than the fact that Paddington was based at least in part on young Jewish refugees, is that Michael Bond was not a good student. In fact, despite the fact that he was clearly hugely intelligent and talented, he really didn’t care for school.
Another thing that may surprise readers is that although Bond experienced enormous success with his first Paddington books, he went through a deep depression shortly thereafter. Which segues to the third unexpected thing about Bond. To him, Paddington was absolutely real—so much so that he often talked to him. The original Paddington he bought on Christmas Eve was often a guest at dinner, and went along on holiday with the family.
Please tell us a little about your research. Other than Bond’s autobiography, Bears and Forebears, which sources were most helpful and why?
I really didn’t use Bears and Forebears as a source until after I wrote a draft of my manuscript. Even then I used it more as a source to verify facts and scenes in the story. The resources I found most helpful were the dozens of interviews Bond gave with the press. Although he was exceedingly humble and a private person, he was aware of his celebrity, and agreeable to speaking about it. So much of my biography was pulled from these conversations. From there, it was a bit like putting together puzzle pieces. I established settings and dates and events like the border of the puzzle, and Bond’s own words and storytelling helped fill in the heart of it.
In addition to establishing an interesting historical context for Michael’s life, you also included invented scenes and dialogue for certain events. Were these based on documented sources, and were you at all concerned that readers would confuse fact vs. fiction?
Most of the scenes were things that actually happened! For instance, Bond’s father really did challenge him to that disastrous bicycle race. The dialogue, however, was invented—other than quotes that I attribute directly to Bond. However, I tried to match the voice and tone during that time period in England.
I used an author’s note at the outset so that readers would be aware of the latter. In it, I state that everything that takes place in the story is based on verifiable facts. However, I wrote it in a manner that I feel is a more entertaining read for a middle grader than some nonfiction tends to be. The feedback I’ve gotten from readers verifies that’s the case. They’ve told me it’s “not another boring biography.”
Michael was an avid reader who was raised by book-loving parents, so it isn’t too surprising that he became a great storyteller. I was surprised, however, to learn that he wasn’t an especially good student, leaving school at age 14. How did his early work and travel experiences spark his interest in writing?
I think Michael’s interest in writing was probably sparked by his mother’s love for reading, which she passed down to him. He acknowledged that he was lucky to grow up in a house “filled with books.” Michael was also a keen observer. Traveling the world where he experienced different scenery and cultures fueled that tendency, which in turn led him to put those unique perspectives down on paper. I also think his job as a BBC cameraman provided another big growth period for his writing. Being behind the camera—again, observing the world—was some of the best fodder for his imagination.
What were some of the biggest challenges he faced on his journey to becoming a published author?
Like any author knows, the journey to become published is often fraught with a great deal of rejection. Michael said he got so many rejection slips, he could’ve pasted them to his walls to use as wallpaper. He seemed to be a naturally resilient person, however. Or at least a stubborn one! Michael persisted and eventually his Paddington book sold like hotcakes and syrup…(er, make that marmalade and toast).
How did experiencing the hardships of WWII, as well as being exposed to various immigrant groups in his village, influence Michael’s work ethic and contribute to the creation of Paddington’s persona?
From a very young age, Michael realized he was lucky to have a happy boyhood home. He and his family took in two refugee boys from the war that were devastated by their circumstances. The fact that his parents exposed him to kids of other cultures, and cared for others in need, had a profound effect on Michael.
In turn, he welcomed the melting pot of people that comprised his neighborhood near Portobello Road. This had a direct influence on Paddington’s Peruvian roots—he was from a distant land himself, of course—and the eventual ongoing themes of the Paddington books.
In fact, shortly before Michael Bond passed, he came out with one of the final books in the series in which Paddington is detained by immigration officers. So these types of storylines intrigued Michael. He had an uncanny knack for finding the light and humor in them too.
How did Michael come to write the first Paddington Bear book? How did his lifelong love of trains figure into the stories?
Clearly Paddington’s moniker is a direct reference to Paddington Station, where the Brown family first came upon the stowaway bear. I think to Michael, trains and their stations were exciting symbols of embarking on new adventures.
The day he stumbled upon the idea for Paddington, Michael initially found himself with a bad case of writer’s block. He called his literary agent, who told him to look around the room and write about something—anything—that he saw. Michael’s eyes happened to fall upon Paddington. And the rest, as they say, is (literary) history.
One of my favorite parts of the book is when Michael says, “Unless an author believes in his character, no one else is going to. Paddington isn’t me, but I wouldn’t mind being him.” What character traits did the two of them actually share? What about Paddington did Michael aspire to?
Michael and Paddington shared character traits of empathy for others, and kind hearts. Neither one of them was perfect—wouldn’t that be dull?—but their good intentions were always there. I think more so, Michael and Paddington had a couple of differences, at least as Michael saw it. In particular, Michael admired Paddington’s sunny attitude, even when things got difficult or complicated.
Just as Michael “rescued” that last teddy bear on the department store shelf, Paddington “saved” Michael later in life. Please tell us more about that.
Michael let work overtake him at times, as he didn’t want to let himself down—nor any others relying on his books and related products. He also had a propensity for depression. He looked to Paddington to uplift him during those hard times.
Why do you think Paddington continues to resonate so strongly with readers of all ages all over the world?
Like many of us, Paddington is an outsider. After all, he’s from darkest Peru. Many of us feel like outsiders, even within our own communities. So there’s something truly endearing about this big-hearted bear who often fumbles but—with little more than marmalade, good natures and impeccable manners—he manages to make it all right.
What did you enjoy most about working on this book, and what do you hope young readers will take away from it?
One of the things I loved most about working on this book was that it brought me back to London for a while. I feel a nostalgic connection to this city, having spent several months there in my mid-20s. Those were some of the best times I’ve had traveling alone, during a really formative time. Paddington really embodies all things British, which I—maybe in an idealistic way—totally adore.
Finally, could you please share a recipe — perhaps a family favorite or something you’d eat for tea or elevenses?
Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good bite of granola, and am constantly experimenting with different add-ins to make it extra crunchy…and a little clumpy! Not only is granola a delicious snack that’s chock full of energizing ingredients, but it’s also perfect for breakfast…or elevenses! That’s about the same time of day I consistently enjoy a good cup of tea, but even if you prefer coffee or simply a cold glass of milk, these sweet, crunchy Oat Clusters are just the ticket. All aboard!
Rosanne's Crunchy Oat Granola
- 4 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup coconut
- 1/2 cup pecan halves (optional)
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup canola oil (or coconut oil, or vegetable oil)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- In a large bowl combine oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, coconut, pecans, and salt. Stir well to combine.
- In a small saucepan, mix honey, butter and oil. Bring this to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
- While the sauce simmers, line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Remove sauce from heat and pour over the oat mixture.
- Pour oat mixture onto a parchment lined baking pan.
- With a spatula, spread oat mixture to an even thickness, and press down slightly.
- Place tray onto preheated 300 degree oven and bake for 25 minutes.
- Turn off oven. Let the oats stay in it for another hour or so, with the oven door open, or until oats and oven are cool.
- Remove oats from oven. When completely cool break into pieces.
- Store in an airtight container.
Hint: You could probably substitute marmalade or real maple syrup for the honey, if you’d like. Other add-ins the are delicious include dark chocolate chips and dried cherries.
~ from Rosanne Tolin, author of More Than Marmalade: Michael Bond and the Story of Paddington Bear (Chicago Review Press, 2020)
Thanks for visiting, Rosanne!
MORE THAN MARMALADE: Michael Bond and the Story of Paddington Bear
written by Rosanne Tolin
published by Chicago Review Press, March 2020
Middle Grade Biography for ages 9-12, 176 pp.
♥️ Enjoy this video of Rosanne reading Chapter 1 from More Than Marmalade:
♥️ And here’s a short clip of Michael Bond describing how he found that teddy bear on Christmas Eve and eventually started writing about it:
🐻 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY 🐻
Rosanne has generously offered a signed copy of her book for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Tuesday, June 16, 2020. You may also enter by sending an email with PADDINGTON in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good luck!
ROSANNE’S WEBSITE BIO
During my 20-year career, I’ve held several editorial positions including managing editor of Guideposts for Kids magazine and Guideposts for Kids website, media blogger for the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, project manager of Doorposts – a biannual publication for educators – and staff features writer for The Times Newspaper of Northwest Indiana. My work has garnered multiple awards from respected organizations such as the Educational Publishers Association, Parents Guide, and the American Library Association.
A graduate of Indiana University and Chicago-Kent School of Law, I’m also a mom of four fantastic kids (seven if you include two slobbery dogs and a horse) . During the past decade, I’ve spent my spare time cheering my children from the sidelines of the football and soccer fields, the track, the wrestling mat, and the pool deck! While I can run a decent 5K and am contemplating a second marathon, I’m just as happy curled up with a good book, my bullmastiff and Golden Retriever, and a steaming mug of coffee.
Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.