July 16, 2014

Bear on the Homefront

by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat
Illustrated by Brian Deines
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5+
September 1, 2014
For sale August 19, 2014

Anyone who minimizes the value of a toy during stressful times needs to read Bear on the Homefront, as well as its prequel A Bear in War (Stephanie Innes et al., 2009), not to mention the recently reviewed Soldier Doll.  In fact, any object that can lend emotional support to both children and adults during times of war is more than a toy–it's a treasure. 

Teddy Bear, CWM 20040015-001
Image from http://www.warmuseum.ca/
This little teddy bear had its simple beginnings as a good luck charm and keepsake that Aileen Rogers sent her father Lt. Lawrence Browning Rogers in 1916 when he was fighting in France.  Though her father did not return home, Teddy did, having been found in her father's jacket when he died at Passchendaele.

Now Aileen Rogers is grown up and a nurse, contributing to efforts in World War II to keep British children safe by evacuating them to Canada. The story is told by Teddy who is Aileen's keepsake now, speaking to her from the pocket of her uniform, as she accompanies children across the ocean and then to find their way to their transport and chaperones.  

Upon their arrival at Halifax, Aileen introduces herself to two of the smallest children, Grace and her five-year-old brother William, who look lost and afraid. To reassure small William, Aileen lets Teddy keep him company as they begin their train journey to Winnipeg.  Unlike many children who seem to enjoy the freedom and adventure of their travels, Grace and William quietly endure the experience, worrying about their future home.  Not surprisingly, upon their arrival and introduction to Mr. and Mrs. Dent, whose farm they would stay at, William is reluctant to leave.  But Aileen compassionately bestows Teddy on the little boy, instructing him to take good care of the children.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending for all, though five years of war keeps them separated from those they love.  Inspired by events recounted in Aileen Rogers' diary, Bear on the Homefront takes Teddy out of the war zone but still working to comfort those impacted by war. And by giving Teddy a voice, Stephanie Innes (the great niece of Aileen Rogers) and Harry Endrulat have endeared the little bear with even more heart than his simple form may suggest.  His longing for Aileen and his honest reflections are not dissimilar to the children's own, though they all recognize the value in perseverance, even if it is difficult.  

The text and atmospheric oil on canvas illustrations of Brian Deines lend an authenticity to the memories held within Bear on the Homefront.  Teddy has an important story to tell, and his voice and demeanour are appropriately not the cutesy, anthropomorphized bear of so many upbeat picture books, though the book's message is heartening. For his heroic efforts in comforting and giving voice to others when their own words and thoughts probably failed them, Teddy is now safe and treasured at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.  So, Bear at the Homefront gives us one more happy ending from a time when there weren't many.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely want to read this and the prequel. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Bear on the Homefront