cover image A Boy and a Bear in a Boat

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat

Dave Shelton. Random/Fickling, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-3857-5249-7

The phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” encapsulates the viewpoint and placid tone of this quietly comedic adventure in which an unnamed boy and bear traverse the open sea in a rowboat and form an unlikely friendship. For British author/illustrator Shelton, it’s all about the journey: neither the intended destination nor the reason for the trip is specified. The boy simply climbs into the bear’s boat, asks for a ride “Just over to the other side, please,” and off they go. Days later, they’re still at it, with nothing but sea and sky in sight. The essential tension comes from the relationship between the two as they face such challenges as storms, hunger, and a sea monster, and alternate between irritation with and affection for each other. Shelton’s grayscale illustrations appear throughout, along with a few well-chosen color paintings, such as scenes from an inexplicable comic book the boy reads: “It seemed to be just one episode of a longer story.... There was no way of knowing what had gone on before or what would happen after.” Readers won’t miss the parallel. Ages 8–12. (June)