We're Going on a Bear Hunt: The Felixstowe link
PUBLISHED: 16:49 28 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:55 28 October 2018
How Suffolk inspired 'the look' - and how Helen Oxenbury created a famous children's books logo
Some of the drawings for Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt were inspired by the coast around Felixstowe Ferry and the mouth of the Deben – areas whose squelchy mud and wind-ruffled grasses are lodged in Helen Oxenbury’s soul.
And as Leonard Marcus writes in his book, “One reason Helen felt so engaged by the text was that it gave her the chance to bring landscape into her work following a long run of books for babies and toddlers for which featureless (or nearly so) monochromatic backgrounds had been key elements of the age-appropriate design.”
He also raises an intriguing point about the illustrator feeling it important to know the bear’s backstory.
“She recalled in the Guardian: ‘It occurred to me three-quarters of the way through that possibly the bear was all on his own in the cave, and might just have wanted some company rather than to eat the children.’
“In the dramatic moonlit scene printed on the closing endpapers, the bear, with his back to the viewer, slopes off into the night, looking utterly downcast…
“The sudden pivot from suspense to pathos lends the story an unexpectedly poignant added dimension. In that one seemingly unscripted moment, a merry song of innocence becomes a song of experience as well.”
Helen’s bear – ‘woven into the fabric’
Apart from Penguin Books’… er… penguin, one of the most memorable publishing logos must be Walker’s bear. And for that we must thank Helen Oxenbury.
It was the mid-1980s when founder Sebastian Walker and his first art director asked Helen to come up with iconography for them.
“The Walker Bear is always in motion, right foot first, perpetually carrying the flickering candle in its green candlestick – respected the world over as a symbol of publishing quality and distinction,” says current publisher Deirdre McDermott.
“So it is that the story of Helen Oxenbury’s astonishing contribution to children’s books is intrinsically woven into the fabric and legacy of Walker Books.”
Was Helen given a free hand? “Yes, I think so,” says the modest artist. “It was so long ago! I don’t think I was the first person they asked. It wasn’t exactly scraping the barrel… but I came up with an image they liked!”