Friday, June 15

Ginger Bear

by Mini Grey
Knopf 2007
(Random House UK 2004)

Horace's mum usually gives him some dough to play with when she's in the kitchen, a gooey mass that ends up filthy in no time. Today, however, she has Horace use a cookie cutter to piece out a single bear.

The fate of Ginger Bear is on hold as Horace is prevented from eating him for a trio of reasons: It hasn't cooled down, it will spoil his dinner, he's just brushed his teeth. Unwilling to let him go Horace takes the Ginger Bear with him to bed, nestled in a baking tin on his pillow.

The house asleep the Ginger Bear springs to life.

In the tradition of mischievous gingerbread creations Ginger Bear leaps right into the kitchen and deftly goes about mixing up a batch of ginger companions to keep him company. This army of baked bears, their miss-matched decor echoing the rule-free creations of children, become performers in Ginger Bear's private circus. There's a Fire-Breathing Ginger Bear, and a Strongman Ginger Bear, the Knife-Throwing Ginger Bear, and a Trapeze Ginger Bear and an Ursidae Cannonball shot from the mouth of a bottle of ketchup.

Suddenly Horace's dog arrives. He likes Ginger Bears probably as much as Horace but not for the same reason. While Ginger Bear takes cover the dog turns the kitchen into a scene of cookie carnage, crumbs everywhere. Among the crumbs you can make out part of a face here, a bit of frosting decor there, this little bear in three little pieces, bits of another spread across the page. Were it not cute little drawings of crumbs it would resemble nothing less than a war zone.

Morning comes. Horace wakes. The Ginger Bear is gone, in it's place on the pillow a card for a bakery in town. In the corner the dog sits, a guilty look across his face. In the doorway, mum, arms crossed, wondering how her kitchen got such a mess. And, in a little sliver of background, a bit of the kitchen floor strewn in crumbs.

What of the clever Ginger Bear? He lives in the display window of the previously featured bakery, an integral part of its fantastic display, skiing down a frosting hill toward a village of ginger trees and gingerbread houses. Horace stands at the window, gobsmacked. He's certain he knows that Ginger Bear...

Okay, first, I have to say that about half the time I see this title I read it in my head as
"Ginger BEER". Not that it makes any difference to how I feel about the book, but I also had to consciously keep myself from writing it that way as well.

What an odd little story. Horace starts off a bit of an ogreish little nob but once he's down for the night the story belongs to GB, and he's a fun little thing. Making ones own playmates has to appeal to the young, and imagining them as rowdy circus performers is the proverbial icing on the cookie. Not just any circus performers, but adult performers, and dangerous ones, too. A bear splayed out on a pie tin while another throws kitchen knives twice their height is alternately absurd, gruesome and funny. The strongman makes his move on the Trapeze Girl who seems slightly bored by his approach. This is the equivalent of adult jokes in modern animation, something for the lap and the lap-sitter both, if you will.

The only question I have at the end is whether Ginger Bear escaped to the sanctuary of the window display, one day to be discarded; or, in keeping with his spirit and those of the shoemaker's elves, he spends his nights creating these magical window displays, free of the dangers of dogs, of grubby little hands ready to eat him, king in a self-made paradise.

Yeah, it's good. It's weird, but it's good.
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