Picture Book Snob
Why you should never ignore care instructions
Do Not Wash This Bear written by Sam Hay, illustrated by Nick East
A boy's beloved bear has gotten a bit worse for wear after all their adventures together. Dad is responsible for doing the laundry, but his history of shrinking and dying items suggests he doesn’t often heed care instructions. When Dad notices how dirty the soft toy has become, he insists on washing it despite the boy's protests and the label clearly warning against this.
A transformed bear emerges from the washing machine, not only clean but alive! The mischievous bear runs riot while the boy tries to control him, meanwhile dad is oblivious, still preoccupied with laundry.
We only discovered this wonderful book recently but it has quickly become one of our favourites. My kids always insist I read this several times in a row whenever it's their bedtime story, but as it's so entertaining, I don't mind. The premise is really clever and original, and the story is hilarious and brilliantly brought to life by the equally amusing illustrations.
There is lots of action on every page, even the items in the dad's laundry basket seem in a constant state of flux. There are broken and twirling lines everywhere to indicate movement.
The backstory in the endpapers is brilliant; a path of muddy footprints directs us through a series of images detailing how the bear acquired his stains. We always enjoy spending time looking at these and discussing the various activities before moving on to the rest of the book.
Although the bear never speaks, his personality is powerfully expressed through his gestures and actions. He is extremely cheeky; winking, brazenly blowing raspberries, and bouncing around leaving puddles everywhere, with a blatant disregard for decorum. He looks so funny when he is dry again - angelic and inanimate. His eyes grow large and roguish when he comes to life, but shrink to the size of buttons when he is back to normal.
The cat is another character who doesn't talk but whose thoughts are communicated clearly every time they appear. I love the lines that radiate from protagonists to indicate surprise and the circles around Mum demonstrating her double take when she arrives home to chaos. It's great to see the division of labour within the home reflect a more modern family dynamic too. The father is in charge of housework while the mother is absent (either working or enjoying herself); a refreshing reversal of the gender roles in more traditional stories.
Like David McKee's classic, Not Now Bernard, a lot of the humour and drama arises from a parent not listening or properly paying attention. Similarly, the bear doesn't listen to the boy either. The distracted dad fails to learn from his mistakes and announces his intention to wash a stuffed rabbit as the story ends, much to the boy's dismay. The book concludes on this delightful cliffhanger, whose consequences are hinted at in the endpapers. We see a sprightly rabbit emerge from a laundry basket under a cascade of socks, observed by the boy and a smirking and apparently revived bear.
Author Sam Hay is a former journalist who has written more than 40 books for children of all ages. Look out for the fabulously festive A Cat's Christmas Carol by Sam Hay and Helen Shoesmith, which we'll be reviewing soon. Nick East designed museums before becoming a children's book illustrator. He has worked on several picture books, including the hilarious Simon Sock reviewed here recently.
Do Not Wash This Bear is a fantastic, fun-filled adventure for those aged six and under. My own children are captivated by this story no matter how often we read it. Bright and cheerful, energetic and engaging, with fabulous illustrations, Do Not Wash This Bear is a must for every bookshelf.
Title: Do Not Wash This Bear
Author: Sam Hay
Illustrator: Nick East