Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton

I have fallen in love.  Not just plain old ordinary comfy love, but utterly all encompassing, delirious love.  Naturally, when that sort of thing happens to me…it’s all over a book.

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat is not my usual obsession either.  It’s a small book for little people.  Such a gorgeous small book, with a map for a cover with a tea stain and a squashed fly.  There’s a heaviness to this book that promises all sorts of wonderment when you hold it.  This book feels special.  And it is.

I have a sort of mission.  Books for 5-8’s are over populated with sparkly things and doe eyed animals and farts. And I know from experience that there are quite a number of serious little boys and girls in this age group.  Children who are looking for more from their stories than bums and wands and puppies with bandages.  So when I find something extraordinary, my heart leaps and I have to share.

This story begins as a boy (called boy) meets a bear (called bear) and climbs aboard his boat (called Harriet).  They venture out to sea together and head “to the other side” armed with a suitcase and an unreadable comic and a ukulele…and plenty of tea breaks.  The trip contains some danger, in the form of a radioactive sandwich and a sea monster and various other perils. But mostly it is about the quiet times when a deep and glorious friendship between the mismatched pair begins to develop. 

If any of you have ever been on an immensely long journey with a child, you will instantly identify with this scenario. 


The bear carried on rowing and looked at the boy grumpily.

“Don’t you dare,” he said, “say, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’”

“Oh. OK.”

But playing I Spy where the only rule is, the spy has to be *outside* the boat, proves utterly pointless and completely frustrating in the middle of the ocean.  The bear however, continues to spend ages working on his guess.

“I spy with my little eye something beginning with S”

“Oh, I know,” said the bear. “Hang on…”

He furrowed his brow in concentration, rolled his eyes up to one side, down at the deck, up to the other side, scrunched them shut, opened them again, tapped his foot, scratched his head, scratched his bottom, scratched an ear, muttered to himself, waggled his jaw, hummed a little. The boy half expected smoke to come out of his ears he seemed to be thinking so hard.

“Is it…oh, no hang on…er…oh,I know, it’s um…”

All the eye rolling and scratching and tapping and waggling stopped for a moment and the bear looked blankly at the boy.

“Um, what did you say it began with again?” said the bear.

“S,” said the boy. Like everything we’ve spied for the last hour, he thought.

“Oh, yes. S. Hmm, that’s a good one. Let’s see now…”

The illustrations are a joy.  They punctuate the text beautifully making this not only a shared reading experience but also a beautiful possession.  The facial expressions worn especially by the bear throughout are superb.

With chapters called On-Board Entertainment and Inclement Weather and problems including anomalies in the current and regrettable additional delays, you’ll understand this is not a book that ever talks down to its audience.  I would imagine there’s not a small child out there who won’t come away from this story with an increased vocabulary. They’ll also be pretty good at making the perfect cup of tea.

I think it’s safe to say this is one of my utterly favourite books, ever. Stand out books for emerging readers are in short supply in comparison to other age groups.  Which is a real shame as there are a lot of glorious picture books and plenty outstanding confident readers…but we risk losing kids in the intervening years if we can’t find enough variety for this stage. I would urge you to seek out a Boy and a Bear in a Boat and find a child to give it to. You will both be enchanted.

And just to prove how right I am, here’s a snippet read by the author himself:

About Eve Harvey

Eve Harvey is a bookaholic. She is forever to be found with her nose in a book. If there are none around then newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal packets, road signs or the tiny washing labels found on the seams of jumpers will do. Eve used to have full time job as a children's bookseller and she was the very first Waterstone's Children's Expert Bookseller in Scotland. Her first love was definitely literature for children and teens, about which she has nerd-level knowledge. However she has since become involved in grown-up books and has co-written her first adult novel with Cath Murphy. Eve and Cath Podcast, blog and have far too much fun on their website Domestic Hell. Eve lives in a field just outside Edinburgh in Scotland with her daughter and son and two dogs and two rabbits. She also has some tanks of tropical fish and vows one day to start up a marine aquarium. And the day she signs her very first publishing deal she is going to celebrate by buying a pair of Horsefields tortoises. You can find Eve through her Agent, Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter or on her website :

11 comments on “A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton

  1. Peta
    March 17, 2012

    Thank you for this review – your passion for the book won me over and I’ve just bought it! Slightly worried I might end up keeping it for myself instead of handing it over to the intended recipient but I can always buy another copy for him!

  2. Sounds charming! Must we teach kids about “regrettable additional delays” at such a young age? It’s probably a few of the aggravating words in the English language!

  3. Hilary
    March 17, 2012

    Forget 5-8s – this is one for me! I so enjoyed your review, Eve, and am so certain that I’d love this book, that I’ve – er – treated myself. I am so pleased to hear you say that not all early readers want the same things. I was one of those serious little ones, and I was hugely grateful for original, wordy, clever books when I was a child.

  4. Jackie
    March 18, 2012

    This sounds like a terrific book and for more than the 5-8’s. It looks like a good sized boat in the illustration, perfect for all sorts of adventures. Like Hilary, I was a serious little reader & probably would’ve enjoyed this one, so I hope modern little readers will find it.

  5. Pingback: What do Bears talk about? | Living Life in Glorious Colour

  6. Maggie L R
    March 19, 2012

    Sounds perfect for my young grandchildren. They are avid readers and listeners as thier parents read to them. Thanks for the review. I like your site.

  7. Sarah McIntyre
    March 19, 2012

    Great review! I like it when you wrote, ‘I know from experience that there are quite a number of serious little boys and girls in this age group. Children who are looking for more from their stories than bums and wands and puppies with bandages.’ That’s so true, I was one of those children and I love a book that takes me into another world and holds me there.
    Thanks for that!

  8. littlenavyfish
    March 20, 2012

    I LOVED this review. I don’t have or know any children, but I don’t care. I’m going to buy it anyway, and wait until my friends start having babies (reading it during that wait, obviously). Then I can be the cool aunt who brings great books when she comes to visit!

  9. kirstyjane
    March 21, 2012

    I am absolutely getting this book for my fiance — he’ll love it (but I’m going to read it first, you know, quality control)! Thank you Eve for this, and what a lovely review.

  10. Eve Harvey
    March 23, 2012

    Oh what lovely comments! Thank you everyone 🙂 I am so glad you’re all going out to get this too. It really is a superb book…hope you all love it!


  11. Pingback: Thirteen Chairs by Dave Shelton | Vulpes Libris

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This entry was posted on March 17, 2012 by in Entries by Eve, Fiction: children's.



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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