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Posted on June 23, 2016

Ross Collins on the importance of libraries and the accidental message behind There’s a Bear on My Chair

Today’s guest post is by Ross Collins, author-illustrator of There’s a Bear on My Chair – the recent recipient of the inaugural Amnesty CILIP Greenaway Honour.

A lot of of children’s books tend to have ‘messages’.

Most of the time I doubt decent authors go out of their way to put messages into books – they just naturally end up in there. I try to avoid it if I can. I never liked stories where you thought you were reading a fun adventure and then suddenly realised that you were being preached to. But, often as not, a little lesson will appear in your story whether or not you intended it to.

There’s a Bear on My Chair began life as a fun little story about a smug polar bear and an angry little mouse who really, really wanted his chair back. It was about gags, visual humour, word play and maybe a little about a child trying to get their parent’s attention in this era of smart phone mums and dads.

As the book developed I realised that there actually was a ‘message’ hidden in there. The message seemed to be – you take away the power of a bully by showing them that you don’t care about how they are treating you. It seemed like a nice little message and one that I could certainly have used at an early point in my childhood.

I found that when I visited schools and libraries to talk to children about the book that they really latched onto this little ‘message’. At the age of 4-6 most had already experienced dealing with a sibling or classmate who had taken something of theirs for ‘fun’ and they all had something to say about how to deal with that scenario.

The clever kids talked about their version of ‘peaceful protest’. The worrying kids that you secretly adore talked about flame throwers.

Most importantly to me, most of the kids wanted to talk more about the scene where the mouse is wearing underpants..

When I heard that There’s a Bear on My Chair was on the longlist for this year’s CILIP Greenaway and Amnesty Honours my heart soared and then quickly sank like a stone. What a huge list – and packed with the names of all my heroes of the literary world. ‘It’s nice to be listed,’ I thought ‘but I won’t be getting any further than this..’

Therefore I couldn’t believe it when I found that the book had not only been shortlisted for the CILIP Greenaway but had won the inaugural CILIP Amnesty Honour.

Like all authors in this country I have strong feelings about our precious libraries and for the amazing librarians who guide our children into the world of reading.

My family used to go to Glasgow’s Govan library every Thursday evening and we would all split up to our own areas of interest. Mum to her Thrillers, Dad to his Fantasy, my sister to (I never cared where my sister went) and me to my adventure stories, horror stories, science fiction, fantasy, detective…anything I could lay my hands on. Libraries were a safe, wonderful part of my childhood – and it was all there for free. FREE! Fancy that!

When I started my career in illustration, libraries were my internet. I would ride around from library to library on my battered Honda scooter looking for reference material for each new illustration job. And while I was in there I might just happen to take 2 or 3 novels home too.

I couldn’t have got started in my career without libraries and I know that a huge number of children have found my books in their local library – guided by wonderful librarians with excellent taste.

So, for all those reasons, the CILIP Greenaway is a very special award for me. To be shortlisted again was a huge honour and I don’t take it lightly. The cherry on top is my beautiful CILIP Amnesty Honour. It’s something I never expected to come out of a book about a grumpy mouse and a smug polar bear. But there it is. A lovely honour from clever people who spotted my little ‘message’.

I just hope that the judges don’t realise that it’s really just a book about a mouse in his underpants.

Thank you, Ross! If you’ve not discovered it yet, here’s a look inside There’s a Bear on My Chair:

Buy the book.

You can also buy beautiful, limited edition, signed and numbered giclee prints featuring artwork from There’s a Bear on My Chair exclusively from the Nosy Crow shop – here’s a look at the prints on offer:

There's a Bear on my Chair | Ross Collins

Buy this print.

There's a Bear on my Chair | Ross Collins

Buy this print.

There's a Bear on my Chair | Ross Collins

Buy this print.

There's a Bear on my Chair | Ross Collins

Buy this print.