They might be gruff and tough (not to mention rather dangerous) in real life. But when it comes to children’s literature, the bear is arguably the most beloved of all animals.
Who doesn’t adore bumbling Winnie the Pooh or want to hang out with Jungle Book’s Baloo?
There’s an endless choice of tales about these furry friends making it hard to choose favourites. But here are 12 books that every child will love…
1. Paddington by Michael Bond. £6.99, HarperCollins Children’s
With his iconic blue coat and love of marmalade sandwiches, Paddington might well be the most British of literary bears – despite being a refugee from deepest, darkest Peru.
The late Michael Bond’s beloved character first appeared in 1958 but this bumbling bear with a heart of gold and his message of tolerance still feels relevant today.
This picture book version, with charming illustrations by R.W. Alley, was adapted from the first two chapters of the original and is the perfect introduction to these classic tales.
2. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. £6.99, Walker
Fed up of reading sugar-coated bedtime stories? Try this black-humoured book about a bear trying to track down his missing hat, which your delighted child will spot long before our hapless detective.
There’s loss, lies, vigilante justice and a sticky end for a sticky-pawed bunny. The deliciously deadpan dialogue and stylish muted colour palette will delight all ages, too.
3. Grrrrr! by Rob Biddulph. £6.99, HarperCollins Children’s
Fred is officially in best bear in the wood – but being the champ comes at a cost. When his prizewinning roar goes missing on the eve of a big competition, our hero learns that having good friends is more important than winning.
With its witty rhyming text, bold illustrations and heartwarming message, Grrrrr! is a book you’ll go back to again and again.
4. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. £6.99, Walker
Children are natural thrill-seekers and this classic rhyming tale about five siblings setting out to ‘hunt bears’ will appeal to your little one’s spirit of adventure.
It’s a perfect read-out-loud book too, thanks to the repetitive chants, delicious onomatopoeic descriptions of the terrains they traverse and frantic rush home at the end when their ‘prey’ turns ‘hunter’.
5. Big Brown Bear’s Cave by Yuval Zommer. £6.99, Templar
Whether it’s too many shoes or too many toys, we can all be guilty of hoarding stuff at the expense of our sanity.
So this lovely story with energetic illustrations about a bear who fills his new cave with possessions, leaving no room for his friends to visit, may ring true for you as much as your child.
6. The Bumblebear by Nadia Shireen. £6.99, Random House
Norman the bear loves honey more than anything so disguises himself as a bee to try and get a taste. But it turns out he makes a pretty good bee and the other pupils at bee school love him – until the discover his cunning plot.
Charming and funny, this is a truly sweet story about friendship that every reception age child in England recently received as part of the BookTrust #timetoread campaign. Praise indeed!
7. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle. £7.99, Puffin
A simple poem by Bill Martin Jr about different coloured animals is brought vividly to life by the legendary Eric Carle, whose full page collage-style illustrations make it sing. The book turned 50 earlier this year but there is a timeless quality to the text and images that means generations of children continue to enjoy it. A great read for really little ones, who will delight in the repetition and bold images.
8. Peace at Last by Jill Murphy. £6.99, Macmillan
Insomnia seems to be a running theme in children’s stories about bears but this book is the original. As the Faithless song goes, Mr Bear can’t get no sleep and to make matters worse, everyone else is snoring like drains. He ends up trailing from room to room to garden, avoiding ticking clocks and buzzing appliances, desperate to get peace at last.
This Jill Murphy classic is both funny and relatable, with lovely dialogue and the cuddliest family of bears that you’ll just want to snuggle up in bed with.
9. The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield. £6.99, Frances Lincoln Children’s
This was a first birthday gift for Baby Bookworm and I struggled to read it to him the first time, because it made me cry (in a good way!). The book tells the tale of a bear who finds a piano in the woods and thanks to both passion and dedication, he becomes a virtuoso.
His music brings him many friends and opportunities, but it also takes him away from his home and the thing he loved best of all – just sitting in the woods, tinkling the ivories for pure pleasure.
10. Where Bear? by Sophy Henn. £6.99, Penguin
A boy has a bear but the realisation dawns that his playmate is too big and bearish to live with him forever. So the pair set off to find him a new home, travelling to the zoo, jungle and toy shop until they finally find where the bear belongs.
With its stunning full page illustrations, each with their own colour theme and lovely refrain of ‘where bear?’, Sophy Henn’s debut picture book is just charming. We love the lesson in the grown-up ending too, with the bear settling down elsewhere but the friends still chatting on the phone.
11. Hibernation Hotel by John Kelly, illustrated by Laura Brenlla. £7.99, Little Tiger Press
They say a change is as good as a rest but when Bear checks into a hotel to try and get some much-craved sleep, he finds the opposite is true. He thinks the comfy bed, ample room service and change of scene will lull him to the land of nod, except he starts to miss the familiar comforts of his overcrowded cave in the forest.
With its stylised and witty artwork (we love the expressions of terror and disbelief on the faces of the other guests as Bear checks in), this is a good fun tale with a nice message about appreciating what you have.
12. Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton. £6.99, Walker
We just adore the sumptuous colour palettes of Chris Haughton’s books and this one is particularly gorgeous, awash with pink, purple and indigo. While the artwork is rich, the story is simple – it’s time for bed but while the mice, hares and deer are sleepy, a certain Little Bear is not (sound familiar, anyone?!). A really lovely bedtime book that is perfect to share with the smallest bookworms.