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.
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.
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.
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).
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.