happy 50th anniversary to paddington bear!!

The Paddington Closet

Today we’re celebrating our most esteemed guest of honor at the Teddy Bear and Friends Picnic — Paddington!

This October marks 50 years since A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond, was first published by William Collins & Sons in 1958. Paddington has certainly done well for himself since then, with a total of 70 titles translated into 40 languages, and over 35 million books sold. Not bad for a little stowaway from Darkest Peru.


The 28 resident Paddingtons have been gearing up for this birthday celebration for quite some time, but I must report yet another fiasco that could have very well pooped this party for good.

Everything was going swimmingly the past two months until I posted the “Vote for Your Favorite Bear Poll.” We assumed it would be a face-off between Paddington and Pooh, but as it turns out, Pooh won by a mile, and only ONE PERSON voted for Paddington.
   “Paddington Bear” by R. John Wright (2000)

Now, if it had been a close race, the Paddingtons would have accepted defeat gracefully, knowing full well the power of the Disney Machine. They would have had an extra marmalade sandwich and cup of cocoa, and that would have been that.

But only one vote?

The resident Paddingtons were crushed to smithereens. They prostrated themselves with grief:

“Nobody likes us. Nobody likes us. Nobody likes us.”

*Hard stare now emanating from your computer screen*


Friends, they will not be consoled. The only remedy I can think of is to tell you about two books published especially for their 50th Anniversary, and to sing Paddington’s praises in my loudest voice. Very easy to do, since he’s my personal favorite!

First, there’s an adorable mini book about Paddington’s favorite food, called My Book of Marmalade (HarperCollins, 2008). Marmalade is what sustained our bear on his long voyage from Darkest Peru to Paddington Station in London. He made the jar Aunt Lucy gave him last the entire trip, thanks to a skill he learned as a cub: eking. This is the fine art of making a chunk last for several days (easiest for those without functioning teeth). As you may know, Paddington is never without a marmalade sandwich tucked under his hat for emergencies. Some of these have been known to remain there for weeks.

Stickiness is part of his charm, and Mrs. Bird, the housekeeper, loves him all the more for it. In this book, Mrs. Bird shares her special recipe for marmalade, with a few suggestions for other uses. There’s also “Marmalade: A Potted History,” “Marmalade Dos and Don’ts,” “Marmalade Facts,” “How to Remove Marmalade Stains,” and the thoroughly engaging “Marmalade Memories.” Peggy Fortnum’s pen-and-ink drawings decorate the book throughout, on orange and white pages complete with orange paw prints. This is a great gift book for all ages, and a must-have for diehard fans.

Paddington Here and Now (HarperCollins, 2008), is the 12th in Michael Bond’s chapter book series, the first installment in 30 years. Has Michael Bond lost his touch? Not a chunk! All the familiar and cherished elements remain: elevenses with Mr. Gruber at his antiques shop in Portobello Road; Mr. Curry, the grumpy next door neighbor; the Browns — patient, protective, and ever amazed by their resident bear; and Mrs. Bird, the stern housekeeper with a heart of gold.

Paddington, of course, has seven new adventures, the kind only he can have (he’s famous for saying,”Things just happen to me. I’m that sort of bear”) — such as painting Mr. Curry’s front gate with non-drying, anti-burglar paint, having his shopping cart towed away, being interrogated about his immigration status, and trying to pay for a first class vacation for seven using one air mile. You have to love his resourcefulness, ingenuity and unending desire to do his very best no matter the task at hand.

 One of R.W. Alley’s illustrations from PADDINGTON HERE AND NOW

Moreover, Mr. Bond (who received an OBE for his contribution to children’s literature), has skillfully managed to give this book a contemporary feel. There is mention of stir fry, air miles, the London Eye, and Paddington’s encounter with an undercover reporter while working in the garden. Ever so polite, Paddington answers all questions posed by this annoying, intrusive man, who like some journalists, hears what he wants to hear in order to write a sensationalized story (echoes of the National Enquirer here). It is clear that Paddington, despite his naivete, has the upper hand with his arsenal of hard stares, British wit, and perfect comic timing.

These “assaults” of the modern world blend perfectly with the timeless elements prevalent in the series, such as the issue of immigration. Paddington’s tenuous stowaway status brings out the protective nature in all of us (who could resist a tag that says, “Please look after this bear. Thank you”), and it certainly resonates with anyone trying to find a home in a strange, foreign country.

Bronze statue at Paddington Station, London, England

One of the main reasons Paddington appeals to me so much is that at no time in any of the books, does anyone ever question either the appropriateness or outrageousness of adopting a live bear. It is universally acknowledged, in a matter-of-fact manner, that Paddington is real and he’s accepted by the Browns without prejudgment. He’s often referred to as a “gentleman bear,” and his behavior and intentions are exemplary, even as his actions wreak havoc. Here and Now contains deliciously detailed pen-and-ink drawings by R.W. Alley (interview here).

Let’s see if they’re feeling better now:


Some seem to be rallying. Their full recovery from this devastating blow is now entirely up to you. If your only exposure to Paddington has been limited to a few of his picture books, or seeing his likeness on a sippy cup, and you haven’t actually read the original chapter book series or shared it with your children, make it a priority! There’s definitely more to Paddington than meets the eye. And don’t forget the marmalade!

 More good stuff:

Visit illustrator R.W. Alley’s website.

Fabulous article/interview with Michael Bond at the TimesOnline. Did you know he wrote the first Paddington novel in just ten days? And that the character of Paddington was based on his father? Or that he was thinking of the child refugees in wartime Britain and Europe when creating Paddington?

Read about the Marmalade Festival held in the Lake District every year (lovely photos).

Paddington’s Official Website. I especially love this page, featuring the different illustrators that have been honored with depicting his likeness.

COOL FACTOID: A Paddington soft toy was the first object passed through by English tunnellers to their French counterparts when both sides of the Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) were joined together. My husband Len, the civil engineer, served as consultant on this project!

Oh, and one more thing:


  Please look after yourself. Thank you!

Interior spread from PADDINGTON HERE AND NOW posted by permission,
copyright © 2008 R.W. Alley, published by HarperCollins. All rights reserved

bears, bears, bears: join us for some summer fun!

                                    The Vanderbears have a little smackerel. 

What: Teddy Bear and Friends Summer Picnic

Where: jama rattigan’s alphabet soup

When: July – August

Why: To celebrate Paddington’s 50th and Corduroy’s 40th Birthdays

How to participate: Post pictures of your teddy, blog about your childhood bear or your favorite bear books, share stories about how bears have comforted in times of distress, what joy they have brought to others, or what part they have played in your life. Tell us about any bear stories, poems or songs you have written, or show us any pieces of bear art you have created. And don’t forget real-life bears — can you recommend any good books about pandas, polar bears, koalas or grizzlies? Leave me a comment on any upcoming post so I can link to you.

Attire: Come as you are, and bring your teddy!

Read the bear essentials!

Robert’s Snow: Please Look After Snowflake Artist R.W. Alley


Happy November!  So glad you’re here.  Have you ever seen such beautiful snow?

Today, my beary special guest is the one and only children’s book illustrator and Paddington Bear portraitist, R.W. Alley!

Can you believe it? I am so delighted, thrilled, and honored that he agreed to drop by, talk about his 2007 Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure snowflake, and let us in on what he’s been up to lately. The 28 resident Paddingtons even brushed their fur to welcome the talented illustrator who was born right here in Virginia, gained international recognition for his Paddington pictures, and who, admittedly, has never stopped being ten years old.

You are probably familiar with Michael Bond’s thirteen novels documenting the endearing ursine who came to live with the Brown family at 32 Windsor Gardens, London. You may also know that Peggy Fortnum was the first to draw Paddington’s likeness, and that there have been at least four other artists who have followed suit. But in 1997, R.W. Alley was selected to carry on Paddington’s legacy by illustrating a series of PB picture books. As an avid bear collector and diehard Paddington fan, I must say that no one else has drawn Paddington quite as well as he does.

Why? Because it’s a lot more than a duffle coat, floppy hat, black ears and Wellington boots. The real challenge lies in infusing the pictures with energy, capturing facial expressions which really nail Paddington’s personality, and pinning down a much beloved bear long enough to allow his readers to truly internalize him. Hats off to Robert Whitlock Alley! Thanks to his pictures, Paddington has never been more loveable, more mischievous, more irresistible.

Though Paddington usually takes center stage, Bob Alley has illustrated over one hundred  picture books, easy readers, chapter books and poetry collections for other authors, such as Larry Dane Brimner, Andrew Clements, Jean Van Leeuwen, Claudia Mills, and Susan Katz. He has also self-illustrated about a dozen other titles: The Clever Carpenter (Random House, 1988) and There Once Was a Witch (HarperFestival, 2003), to name just two. Such is the prodigious output of the former Haverford art history student who spent class time “doodling in the margins and dreaming up stories.”

These days, Bob Alley lives in Barrington, Rhode Island, with his lovely wife, Zoe, and their two children, Cassie and Max. He can usually be found in his garage studio, happily working in his slippers.


Jama:  Welcome, Bob! Let’s begin by talking about your snowflake. Where does the drawing come from?

Paddington at Paddington Station, London,” will be featured in Auction 3, December 3-7, 2007.

Bob:  This drawing is from the title page of the newest Paddington picture book. The book is in full color, but since Paddington was first illustrated in pen and ink, and since his 50th anniversary is being celebrated with a new novel decorated with pen and ink drawings by me, I thought this was an appropriate image for the snowflake. Sort of retro. Very popular these days.

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