A kid’s favorite thing is no laughing matter. It’s worn with everything, goes everywhere, until it’s been loved beyond recognition. And woe betide whomever abandons it in the laundry… or has the audacity to steal it. Especially a teddy from a sleeping bear.
Bear Despair by Gaétan Dorémus is a wordless cousin to Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. The titular bear’s titular despair arises from the theft(s) of his purple teddy bear. He knows exactly who the culprits are, and will do anything to get it (and them) back.
The plot is a combination of Keep Away and King of the Mountain, spanning from forest to sea as the bear goes to the ends of the Earth. (A map on the endpapers shows which animal is king of which place, but the end reveals the real king. )Every time his bear is within reach, another bully tosses it away, from wolf to elephant. And every time, the bear’s stomach swells bigger and bigger, and he trudges farther and farther…
Dorémus evokes a lot of feelings with scritchy line drawings, and facial expressions drive the story. Teddy’s big button eyes make him adorable enough to steal, and the bullies’ smirks are obnoxiously well done. (That lion, man…) When you see the bear bawling in the rain or openmouthed in dismay, it’s hard not to root for him. The idea isn’t as subtle as in I Want My Hat Back, though. There is mild violence, the kind found in cartoons. The bear literally sees red, and the bullies are visibly frightened. By the same token, the bear is distraught when the bullies taunt him with his dear teddy just out of reach. It’s okay, though; upon the return of his bear, he likewise returns the bullies á la Bark, George.
As well as a cousin to I Want My Hat Back, Bear Despair is an opportunity to talk about bullying, feelings, and appropriate responses to those feelings.