We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: a literary criticism

A teddy bear with a copy of We're Going on a Bear Hunt.

Youngest is absolutely loving We’re Going on a Bear Hunt at the moment. It seems to be the basis of a current topic at nursery and she often asks for it at bedtime.

I’m always happy to oblige. It’s a cracking book that I adore. Michael Rosen is a linguistic genius and Helen Oxenbury’s illustrations are perfect.

But none of this makes this much-loved classic immune to becoming the focus of one of my flippant literary criticisms!

When I wrote daft analyses of Dear Zoo and Where the Wild Things Are around 18 months ago, people asked me to give the same treatment to other titles.

So, better late than never, here are some questions that I have about We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

What’s wrong with a nice jigsaw puzzle?

Okay, as a parent of three, I appreciate that kids get bored now and then. I also get that they’re difficult to appease when they get into a certain frame of mind. But going on a bear hunt? Who suggested that to them?

When I was a kid and got bored, I’d ask my dad what I should do. He’d say “Do a jigsaw puzzle” and I’d go “Okay”. And that was at the same time this book was published! If puzzles were good enough for me, why weren’t they enough for them, eh? Ingrates.

How do they propose to catch the bear?

Presumably, our plucky heroes have an inkling what a bear looks like. They also brag about wanting to catch a big one and not being scared. So how exactly do they propose to catch one?

They set out armed only with a stick and a dog. No big net. No tranquiliser gun. They haven’t even brought a pic-a-nic basket. Rookies.

How far do they travel?

The ursine-hunting family venture through long grass and cross a river before ending up at a muddy coastal wetland area. Then they go back inland, through a forest and fields and then back to a coastal cave where the bear lives.

It’s a bit of a scenic route, isn’t it? Granted, they didn’t have Google Maps in 1989, but it has been commonly accepted since Roman times that following a straight line is usually the best approach. Amateurs.

What on earth is going on with the weather?

Given the frequent references to the fact that it’s a beautiful day and that the vast majority of the trees are covered in leaves, what’s with the swirling whirling snowstorm? They go from balmy to blizzard with the turn of a page!

Is it a reference to King Lear, perhaps? The Shakespearean storm is about the inner turmoil of the main protagonist and eventually leads to him questioning the wisdom of his previous decisions. Actually, that can’t be the case with this lot – they just carry on regardless. Fools.

What did they expect?

When the intrepid explorers improbably find a bear in the British countryside, they quite sensibly leg it. Actually, they tiptoe at first, but they exit pursued by a bear. But, honestly, what were they expecting?

Bears are big, scary animals synonymous with bad tempers. While the motives behind this one following them home remain ambiguous, it has to be said that they must have had a vague idea it could be a frightening experience. Wallies.

Do you have any unanswered questions about We’re Going on a Bear Hunt?

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