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Sunday, 4 September 2011

We're Going on A Bear Hunt: Hoooo woooo! Hoooo woooo!

We're Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen (writer)
& Helen Oxenbury (illustrator), Walker Books, 1989.
Our edition: Walker Books, 1997.

Click on the cover to listen to the way we read We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt is a family adventure of playful bravery, evocative noises and giggly fear.

The Story
Based on an old campfire song, We're Going on a Bear Hunt tells the story of a family (refreshingly, a father with four kids and a dog) that sets out one morning on an adventure to catch a bear. They are determined ("We're going on a bear hunt"), confident (We're going to catch a big one), optimistic ("What a beautiful day!") and fearless ("We're not scared").

On the way, they encounter all sorts of obstacles they "can't go over and can't go under" but just have to "go through", and, luckily, they all make interesting noises. These obstacles include a field of long wavy grass (swishy swashy), a deep cold river (splash splosh), a field of thick oozy mud (squelch squerch), a big dark forest (stumble trip!), a swirling whirling snowstorm (Hoooo woooo!) and finally a narrow gloomy cave (tiptoe! tiptoe!).

Waiting for them in the cave is the last thing they expect to find. An actual bear! They all turn around and run out, having to make their way back through all the obstacles in reverse order, making all those funny noises again, but far more quickly and with the bear running after them, back to their front door and eventually into bed and under the covers with the determination never to go on a bear hunt again.

The Illustrations
Helen Oxenbury's pencil and watercolour illustrations, alternating colour and black and white double page spreads, bring to life this family's day out, with a perfect rendering of that combination of excitement and contented exhaustion children tend to display on a day out.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt has wonderful movement scenes:

Splash splosh

Oh no! We forgot to close the door!

And just as great scenes of the family at rest in between obstacles:

We like the faces of them all when they enter into the cave:
Tiptoe! Tiptoe!

And when they get to the bedroom. Aaaah!

Our son loves the scene where they are under the blanket, particuarly the head poking out in the bottom left hand corner and the safe teddy-bear the baby is playing with:

And we all like the last scene, of course, with the bear walking back alone, looking more like he's in need of a friend than a bite to eat:

Reading it Aloud
We're Going on a Bear Hunt is written to be recited or sung out loud.

We did not know the song it is based on and I confess we found it hard to find a comfortable rhythm to it at the very start. It somehow seemed to fall flat. However after a few readings, we made it our own and our son has loved it ever since (we bought it when he was around 15 months).

It has all the perfect elements to be read aloud to young kids: repetition (both words and rhythm), plenty of interesting sounds, and a sudden change in tempo which breaks the tension and brings on a wonderful comic effect that gets children giggling every time, before it all calms down again right at the end. And on top of all that, the chance -almost the compulsion- for the child to join in, with voice or body or both.

We sometimes read it "quietly" and concentrate on the sounds (like in the recording), or read it more actively, acting it out, moving our hands through the grass while we say swishy swashy, pretending to swim through the splash splosh, getting up and walking in the squelch squerchy mud and pretending to stumble and trip through the forest, before shivering through the snowstorm and tiptoeing into the cave and then doing it all in reverse order on the way back!

Whether we are reading it quietly or actively, we always move our arms to:

We can't go over it.
We can't go under it. 
Oh no!
We've got to go through it!

A couple of interesting We're Going on a Bear Hunt videos:

Check out this lightly animated version of the story:

And Michael Rosen himself telling it: 

(c) of all the illustrations in this post: Helen Oxenbury, 1989.

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