Postmodernism in picture story books is such a common thing that it even has its own wikipedia page. According to the page, No bears fits into the category of ‘books that are aware of themselves’. While some books that are self-aware are awful, this one is loads of fun.
Meg McKinlay has done a fantastic job of conjuring up a bossy little girl who is sick of books about bears and determined (since she is in charge) to create a bearless book. This is hilarious on a number of levels. Firstly you can’t say ‘there are no bears in this book’ without saying the word bears. The very statement conjures the thing into existence. I am sure there is a name for this concept but I can’t find it. I did in the process find out that you can prove a negative (check out the caption below the picture) and that, according to Gamp’s Law, you can’t conjure food. Secondly, there is quite obviously a bear on every page and thirdly, the bear is not only the book’s hero but also very gracious about it despite the little girls ignorant jibes.
On a side note, if you are reading other reviews of this book – and the internet has plenty – you might feel the urge to write in a good-natured way and tell the author that they are out of their mind and the girl in the book is actually called Prue and why do you keep referring to her as Ella? I would resist that urge because, unless they are all suffering from some collective dilusion, it seems that the weight of evidence that she might be called another name in a parallel edition of this book is pretty convincing. Why don’t the American’s get the name Prue? It’s a cool name.
The illustrations by Liela Rudge (the other half of the old team that did Duck for a day, but I would keep that on the down-low) are a bit Oliver Jeffers. Anyone who knows my sycophantic devotion to Jeffers will know that that is code for ‘ace’. The jaunty fonting and word position add to the effortless casualness of this book – some books try to hard and it’s obvious, some don’t try hard enough (although thanks to the discerning nature of publishers and the good people at the CBCA, teacher librarians like myself aren’t put through them that often) this book is spot on. Giving kids a taste of postmodernism at a young age is an excellent idea. The world is a really wierd place, let them know it early.