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CHILDREN'S BOOKS:

One True Bear
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TEACHER'S NOTES ON ONE TRUE BEAR DOWNLOAD THE BOOK
Blood and Bedtime Stories by Sean Coughlan
See the original story on BBC News, Monday, 25 May 2009

There's rarely room in children's books for scenes of slaughter and pictures of people being impaled, so why does one author want to change this?

There have been many calls to protect the young from violent images, but it's not often the opposite case is argued, that there aren't enough aggressive pictures in children's books.

But award-winning children's author Ted Dewan is conscientiously putting scenes of mayhem and destruction into his latest book, not drawn by an adult but by the children themselves.

Children, particularly boys, often produce violent images in their drawings, he says. But when it comes to children's books, this becomes a taboo. They're often fluffy and fleecy, but there's rarely room in the children's section for the scenes of slaughter that many boys like to draw.

Mr Dewan wants children's literature to face up to this "hidden art" and to cast some light on the "type of pictures that don't get put up on the fridge". "I think that boys' exploration of violence is often confused with the commercial products that exploit their interest in violence and that makes parents nervous," he says.

In the anxious, risk-averse, cotton-wool culture of modern parenting, a picture of machine gun massacres isn't going to look good on the wall.

His book, One True Bear, is being claimed as the first picture book of its kind to include the "particular kind of drawing that boys do". Which he says parents of boys "know all about".

These primary school children's line drawings include battlefield scenes, planes dropping bombs, people shooting each other, tanks, someone impaled on a spike, buildings on fire and a clown with limbs pulled off.

It's not some kind of Tarantino for toddlers. It's a moral tale of how a self-sacrificing teddy bear wins the affections of a violent boy. The bear's gruff generosity redeems the angry youngster. And almost all the illustrations are soothingly traditional, with these grittier images kept in the background.

But should there be any place for these violent outpourings from children? Is it a bad influence? Should we be discouraging these pencil-drawn horror shows?

"These pictures are part of boyhood," says Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. When children watch Peter Pan we don't expect them to jump out of the window. His own son is one of the children whose drawings are used in the book. He says as the father of boys, when it comes to boys' artistic self-expression, it's "Armageddon on paper".

Among the children's drawings in Ted Dewan's book, he says his son particularly loved the picture of people being catapulted onto a giant cactus. But he says children themselves make a clear distinction between such imaginary violence and real conflict and adults exaggerate the susceptibility of the young to be influenced.

"When children watch Peter Pan we don't expect them to jump out of the window. We underestimate their ability to filter," he said. "We don't trust children to understand the difference between reality and play acting."

Mr Haddon is also scathing about how parents can have double standards about violent games. "We hate violence with a contemporary feel," he says. "There are Guardian-reading families who would hate to see their children with plastic machine guns, but they're quite happy to give them swords and shields. It's more heritage."

So where is the boundary between allowing children to express themselves and exposing them to unnecessary violence?

US-based psychologist Michael Thompson is the author of the best-selling book, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. It examines the contradictory pressures on boys and to help parents understand their behaviour. Dr Thompson's book hit a chord - and put him on the Oprah circuit - by expressing the anxieties parents felt around modern boyhood.

Why were boys doing so badly at school compared to girls? Is there anything wrong with boys being boisterous and physical? And if they keep drawing guns, does it mean they want to shoot someone?

"What makes boys violent is being treated with violence, seeing their fathers commit violent acts, watching bigger boys commit violent acts in gangs," he says.

But he concludes there is a major distinction between such exposure to real violence and the imaginary violence that is a natural part of growing up, either in play or in drawings or stories. "Children, boys in particular, have been play acting at hunting, chasing, killing and dying since the beginning of human history," says Dr Thompson. "There is no connection between writing violent stories and committing violence. If you write violent stories, you are not going to end up in jail, you are going to end up in Hollywood writing action movies."


Bear Essentials by Andrew Ffrench
Click to see original article in The Oxford Mail, Friday 24th April 2009

Pupils not only helped Oxford-based author Ted Dewan illustrate his latest book, they even chose the ending.

The blossom is out in Beechcroft Road, Summertown, where 20mph is definitely plenty. No driver in his right mind would go faster after the road’s best-known resident lobbied for a 20mph limit, streets ahead of other safety campaigners. Ted Dewan, below, artist and children’s illustrator, invites me in and starts talking about snow in Boston as he offers me a cup of tea and a bagel, a breakfast reflecting his Anglo-American identity after he switched from the United States to Oxford in the early noughties.

Ted is married to award-winning illustrator Helen Cooper and they live with their daughter Pandora, who is in her last year at St Philip and St James School (‘Phil and Jim’) in Navigation Way. Although Ted will never forget his US roots, his new book, One True Bear, has strong Oxford connections – with pupils from the primary school helping him to illustrate it. They even helped the author to choose the ending.

“The kids played a huge part in making this book and it was a real privilege to have their help,” says the illustrator. “I went into Pandora’s class last March and showed a bunch of nine-year-olds the rough sketches. Then I got some of them to do drawings which have been used for the endpapers, and in the story itself.

“There were two different endings – one with the boy Damian keeping his teddy bear, and the other in which he gives it to the girl in the flood. “The kids at Phil and Jim School said the girl should keep the bear, so that’s how the book ends.”

Darcy Brewster, the bear in the title, belongs to Damian, who treats him rather roughly before realising the error of his ways. The faithful bear, like a lot of loyal teds, gets dumped under the boy’s bed when he moves on to more grown-up toys, but years later proves useful during a flood which Damian attends in his job as a firefighter.

“That part of the story was inspired very much by the floods in Oxford in 2007 – it’s a tribute to firefighters and rescue workers everywhere,” says Ted. “I also went on a trip with the school to Didcot power station and that gave me a few ideas.

“At an age when children are supposed to be giving up picture books these kids have helped to create one and I’m delighted.” The illustrator is more used to drawing pigs and bunnies in his picture books, so sketching Damian proved a challenge, but once again pupils from ‘Phil and Jim’ helped out.

“One eight-year-old boy posed as Damian and I took some photos of him smashing up toys and cuddling a teddy bear.” The artist is well versed in the history of children’s literature, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Damian’s favourite bedtime story is Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, not Harry Potter. But he is reluctant to pontificate about any deep messages contained in the story, preferring young readers to work it out for themselves.

Ted has quite a few projects on the go and is hopeful that Bing Bunny, a children’s book character created a few years ago, will soon star in an animated film. A five-year-old from London has been cast as the voice of boisterous Bing and the film could go into production by the end of the year. While he waits for the wrap party, Ted will keep doing what he knows best – drawing stories for young children and inspiring them to have a go too.