Picture Book Snob
How to Be More Paddington
A Book of Kindness by Michael Bond and Peggy Fortnum
"Although his head is often in the clouds, he has his feet firmly on the ground and he has a strong sense of right and wrong." - Michael Bond speaking about one of the world's favourite bears in How to Be More Paddington
This is an absolutely gorgeous hardback collection of quotes and illustrations from Paddington Bear. All of the artwork is by Peggy Fortnum, who was the original illustrator of Michael Bond's stories about the well-meaning but disaster-prone bear when they first appeared in 1958. I had several Paddington books when I was younger, loved the stop-motion animated series and the recent films, and was delighted to discover this in my local bookshop.
At first, I thought this book was probably more for adults than children. When I looked through it, I realised it's full of wonderful wisdom, as gentle and reflective as Paddington, and suitable for all ages. Arranged by themes such as being helpful, being thoughtful and being polite, all of the quotes are accompanied by amusing and adorable images.
There's a note at the beginning by Michael Bond (written in 2008) in which he says one of the nicest things about being an author was that "you are never alone." Bond, who died in 2017, said his characters travelled around with him and were always to hand when he needed them, something he found "a great comfort." Given his most famous fictional invention was this loveable little bear from darkest Peru, it's unsurprising that Bond enjoyed his company.
Bond compares Paddington to a "built-in personal guru" and wrote that when, "confronted by a problem, I often find myself wondering how he would deal with it, and mentally take note of his advice." Bond told The Guardian newspaper in 2014, “Paddington’s very real to me... he comes around with me in spirit,” and that, "he stands up for things, he’s not afraid of going straight to the top and giving them a hard stare."
I can imagine Bond gave a very hard stare to whoever suggested Paddington Bear toilet paper as merchandise back at the height of Paddington-fever. Bond told The Guardian: "That was very easy to say no to." In the same interview, Bond mentions that, “Paddington is eternally optimistic and always comes back for more, no matter how many times his hopes are dashed.” This optimism permeates How to Be More Paddington. It's a lovely, hopeful and comforting book, perfect for this peculiar year and for raising the spirits at any time.
Peggy Fortnum's lively, warm and affectionate illustrations amplify the book's cheerfulness even further. Bond once said of Fortnum: “She thought very highly of Paddington, as I did of her. It was a happy combination.” Fortnum, who died in 2016 at the age of 96, seems to have been an interesting character. She answered her fan mail personally and always included a drawing of Paddington in her replies.
Fortnum was close friends with Judith Kerr, who she met at art school. Fortnum and Kerr were encouraged to concentrate on illustration by their teacher John Farleigh. He assured Fortnum she would be successful as long as she never turned her talents towards "talking animals wearing clothes." Fortnum initially found Paddington a challenge, despite being told by an agent that "anyone can draw bears."
Fortnum once wrote: "At the beginning, I wasn’t sure of the anatomy... I wasn’t sure what to do with his paws… It takes an age to get it right.” She wanted Paddington to be as authentic as possible so studied the Malayan bears in London Zoo, sketching them and taking photographs. It's hard to imagine that Fortnum ever struggled to create what later became iconic images, but her efforts to make Paddington convincing and lifelike certainly worked.
Unfortunately, we can't all have our own built-in personal Paddingtons but this beautiful book is the next best thing! How to Be More Paddington would make a wonderful gift for anyone who grew up with Paddington Bear. It would also be a brilliant present for new babies and a book that could treasured for years. It's ideal for sitting down with on Christmas Day with a mince pie - so if you can't think of anyone to buy it for, get it for yourself!
Title: How to Be More Paddington
Author: Michael Bond
Illustrator: Peggy Fortnum
Publication Date: 29th October 2020