British author-illustrator Dave Shelton has written a unique story about, yes, a boy and a bear in a boat. There are no other characters (other than a sea monster) and the boy and the bear do not have names. They call each other simply “Boy” and “Bear.” The only location in the story is the sea. In this setting, Shelton is able to create a quietly powerful fable about friendship.
The boy boards the board from a nondescript jetty at the beginning of the story and persistently asks the bear, who is the captain of the small rowboat, if “they are there yet,” although where “there” is, is never discussed. With such a blank canvas, the conversations between the bear and the boy become the plot and the action. How these two learn to get along and survive through storms, hunger and boredom is not only the heart of the story, it is the story.
Shelton’s book is mostly a quiet study, with a few harrowing moments, and the reader is drawn slowly into their world. It takes a while to realize that the normal things one would wonder about a story—Why is the boy in the boat? Where are they going? What happens when they get there?—are not the kind to be asked of this book. The ending is as much a mystery as the beginning, but the answers to the right questions are given: who the boy and the bear are to each other, what their strengths are together and whether their friendship will be enough to be everything there is.
With marvelous illustrations by the author, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat would be a wonderful choice to share aloud with a child.