Reviewed by Emma Wasson
The book is a normal hardbound book in blue with a shiny protective cover which shows an illustration of the bears in their garden in London. There are only a few illustrations throughout the book but all are well drawn and portray the characters in question.
The story is very well written, its uses excellent descriptive language which I think will aid with younger readers vocabulary. The story is also very informative as it includes various facts not just about various London landmarks but also about plays and numerous historical facts.
I started off reading this book to my six year old daughter as I thought that she would love a story of a group of bears having adventures around London and we read the first chapter together on one evening. My daughter was very keen to match up each individual bear mentioned to the illustrations on the front cover guessing by the short description whom she thought each bear might be. The first chapter sees the bears go off on a trip to the theatre however they are inadvertently left on the London underground and my daughter was very frightened by this and worried that the bears would not be reunited with their owners, which they were in the end and went on to have more adventures once they reached the theatre. She enjoyed this first chapter, however she has not seen a Christmas Carol so there were many parts of the story which she did not understand.
I then read the rest of the book myself with the intention to read a chapter a night to my daughter, however upon reading further into the book I was very glad that I had read it myself and not to my daughter as I think she would have been very frightened. The reason for this is that many adult themes are raised during the book, and although they all do have a happy ending, thanks to the bears interventions, I do not think that the themes raised in the book are suitable for younger readers at all. There is one burglary, theft in the form of pick pocketing, an old wartime bomb found, a suspected suicide bomber found in the houses of parliament, where it states perhaps the most frightening line to any child:
“Yes,’ came the reply. ‘You must have heard the explosion.’ They all nodded silently. ‘Well, if we are found here, we will be suspected of having explosives inside us.’ They all gasped. ‘And we will be destroyed,’ he concluded. The bears were horrified.” (page 82)
The book also raises road rage very briefly, deals with money worries and even deals with schoolboy pranks at the local museum.
The book also addresses many moral lessons, again on an adult theme, quoting an example below from page 79:
“So much violence’ sighed Zenia, ‘and so much cruelty and suffering.’
‘It is really not very different today,’ murmured Herman. ‘There are still wars and each one seems to be the war to end all wars.’
‘Mmm, but it never does,’ observed Franz.”
I found it quite strange that these cute teddy bears are lecturing people on such adult themed issues, and this could potentially be the crux of the problem with the entire book. The fact that the main characters are teddy bears who have in fact come to life is really a theme aimed at a much younger reader than the book is probably aiming at. I am not sure that when my daughter is old enough to be able to understand the adult themes raised in the book, whether she will want to read about a group of ‘living’ teddy bears having adventures around London, or upon reading the book she may never want to visit London again for fear of being bombed or robbed.
The main question would be is do older children want to read about a group of teddy bears who are all alive and living as though they are humans?
However as I mentioned above there is a happy ending to each storyline with the bears thwarting the robbers, using washing up liquid and the TV control. Saving the day by finding the wartime bomb. Using their initiative and trapping the pickpocketer by tying his shoelaces together, and always working as a team and sticking together. Even though there are many bad things that happen during the bears’ week together the underlying theme is one of a happy close nit family unit who enjoy spending time with each other and visiting and having visitors.
Julia and Her Bears in London is a very well written book using excellent descriptive language, and is written with an oldey worldly charm. However the book does address many adult themes. To name a few: theft, burglary, bombs (wartime, a suspected suicide bomber, to the bears themselves being a bomb), road rage and money problems. All of the themes addressed in the book are dealt with appropriately and all have a happy ending, usually thanks to the bears, although for this reason I recommend that this book be targeted towards slightly older children who are more worldly wise and able to cope with these adult themes portrayed in the book.
I would say the book is on a par for value for money with other books available in the UK of this quality.
Available to buy from Amazon here.