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Book Review | Can Bears Ski?

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Can Bears Ski? By Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar (Published by Walker Books)

Little Bear doesn’t always answer when his friends talk to him. He doesn’t understand why his Dad keeps asking him, ‘can bears ski?’ either. But as the story unfolds, Little Bear and the reader gradually understand that what his Dad is actually asking is, ‘Can you hear me?’ Can Bears Ski? is an Amnesty International endorsed children’s book. It’s a really powerful tale about deafness written and illustrated by an author and illustrator who both wear hearing aids themselves.

You can buy Can Bears Ski? here:

https://uk.bookshop.org/books/can-bears-ski/9781406382624?aid=5045

Can Bears Ski? is such a poignant story and one that I think it’s really important to tell. As a child I needed grommets and I still remember being told I was shouting all the time! In the last two years I’ve lost part of my hearing in one ear. I didn’t realise how much I’d lost until I had the same test by the audiologist as Bear does in the book where you have to wear headphones and show them which sounds you can hear. Being hard of hearing isn’t always visible, or obvious but it can have a huge impact on your life.

Can Bears Ski? is written by Raymond Antrobus whose deafness was first discovered at the age of 6. He is now an award-winning poet and teacher. He drew on his on his childhood experiences when writing this, his very first picture book. Polly Dunbar is a bestselling, award winning illustrator who is partially deaf and wears hearing aids. As such, this is a deeply personal picture book for them both and one which I think will resonate with children who experience deafness themselves.

I asked Raymond some questions about Can Bears Ski?

Naomi. I wondered what your main aim was when writing this story? Was it to explore Bear’s journey, normalise his experience or is it simply a book you wish had been around when you were small?

Raymond. All of the above. Ultimately it’s a story for deaf and hard of hearing young people to recognise themselves in. Especially if they have to navigate their learning lives in the hearing world.

Naomi. I think it’s so important to raise awareness of, and normalise, hearing loss. Did you draw on your own experiences of deafness as a child when writing this book?

Raymond. “Hearing Loss” is a contentious term. We prefer to say “hard of hearing” or small d deaf or if talking about someone culturally Deaf, then it’s capital D deaf.  Can Bears Ski? is a story that looks at something gained with deafness, as well as a way to manage it if you choose to be in the hearing world. Yes, the book is very similar to my own story of being diagnosed as deaf when I was around 6.

Naomi. I read this story with my 4 and 6 year old sons. They both really enjoyed it and it was interesting to see how they took different things from the story. You are an acclaimed poet – do you think that picture books, like poems, lend themselves well to having a range of meanings for both their adult and child readers?

Raymond. I think so, writing this book was an accident as I had no aspirations to be a children’s author but after visiting D/deaf schools around the country and the world as an English language poet I kept coming into contact with the challenges that young deaf learners have around literacy, so I felt it necessary to write Can Bears Ski? a story that is founded in the idea of where language begins for me.

Naomi. Did you approach writing a picture book in the same way as writing a poem?

Raymond. Not really. The story came out of an attempt to write a poem about some of the themes in the book. I was still writing ‘The Perseverance’ (my debut poetry collection) while writing this as well, so I was in a similar headspace but with this story I had to consider young readers in a slightly different way.

Naomi. Finally, Mini Travellers is all about travelling abroad or at home with your family. I wondered what your favourite holiday has been and if there’s anywhere you’d like to go to next (assuming we can all travel more freely one day soon!)

Raymond. I was lucky that my mother would take me with her as a kid when she travelled around Europe, Jamaica and parts of West Africa. I think that gave me a perspective on the world that was different to my peers that had never left their block, let alone the country. I have fond memories of being in Jamaica with my family there, as well as camping holidays in Scotland and Wales.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I loved reading Can Bears Ski? and wish you all the very best with publication!

A mum of two, Naomi Jones spent eight years working for Children’s Publishers in London and is now a children’s author and freelance editor. Her debut picture book, The Perfect Fit, will publish in March 2021.


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