Christopher Cheng (text) and Stephen Michael King (illustrator), Bear and Rat, Penguin Random House Australia, May 2021, 32 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781760896287
‘Bear,’ said Rat. ‘I’ve been wondering. Will we always hold hands like this, even when we are old and wrinkly…’
So begins this warm and comforting picture book which reveals a friendship so strong, it will overcome all the obstacles life throws in its way, and even beyond. It celebrates the timeless nature of love.
The tender relationship between these two friends brought to mind another children’s classic about friendship: Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet. And just as we cannot imagine them without E. H. Shephard’s illustrations, so too do Stephen Michael King’s whimsical drawings perfectly reflect the heart of this book.
On my first reading, I thought it would make a lovely wedding present, as it represents a relationship that nurtures and supports each party. I then discovered that Christopher Cheng wrote this book for his wife Bini while she was receiving cancer treatment. The characters are based on their favourite animals. Christopher had not intended to publish the book, but after his wife sadly passed away, he realised the book could be helpful for children who are facing loss. It reminds us that we always carry our loved ones in our hearts.
Bear and Rat is a CBCA Notable Book for 2022 and was shortlisted for the 2022 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Patricia Wrightson Prize.
Bear and Rat deserves to become a classic. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gaby Meares