I wrote Something About a Bear in a small house in a beautiful garden in Worcestershire, having thought about each page and the words and the bears for some time. But it began a long time before then. Years ago, when even though I had been one myself I had forgotten what children and had little or no interest in what they might or might not read.
At the time I worked as an illustrator, in a small flat in Bath, mostly designing cards and other things. One of the things I designed, in 1992, was a calendar for Greenpeace. It had bears on it.
In November in 1992 I rediscovered children. My son Tom was born, and the week after I began to work on my first book for children. With my first book contract came an agent, and she took my work to Piccadilly Press, who saw the painting of the bears and came up with the idea to do a book about bears, called Bears, Bears and More Bears.
By now I was pregnant with my second child, and I remember things getting very amusing as I tried to balance a drawing board on a round pregnant stomach as I continued trying to paint bears. Published in 1995, the book did well, but then went out of print, and the rights reverted to me.
In the meantime I illustrated many a books, including How the Whale Became by Ted Hughes and Lord of the Forest by Caroline Pitcher. I had written a book. It didn’t have many words in it. I didn’t think of myself as an author, but despite that, and I am not sure how, I began to write.
I am Cat took on a similar form to Bears, Bears and More Bears. I talked with Frances Lincoln about my first author/illustrator books. It was out of print, rights reverted, had done well, and we talked a little of re illustrating the book, but then I looked at it and thought about it and decided that really it all needed to go back to the beginning and start again. There are 20 years in between the one bear book and the next. 20 years of learning, about writing, about painting, about looking. I read so many books to my poor children that they would often fall asleep as I read them yet another picture book. All the while I was learning, which books were favourites, which held attention, watching what was pulled from the bookcase, snuggled up in bed, stored beneath a pillow. Bed time reading to my children was work of the very best kind. ( I asked my accountant if my children could be tax deductable expenses as I used them so much during work time. He said no. Given MP’s expenses for work, ie duck houses, second homes, moat clearance, ’employing’ family members to work in their business etc I feel I should have pushed my case at the time.)
The sketch book pages pictured below show how my ways of working have changed in the 20 years.
It is rare to get two bites of the same cherry, but that is what Something About a Bear is. A second bite.
Something About a Bear was published in Autumn 2014.
Always difficult working on covers. Above was the first attempt of 3. Below is art for finished cover. They type will be foiled.
Pages below show sketches developing composition for image of spectacled bear.
Small images of bear species rest and wait in a plan chest draw.
Endpaper, showing the size of a bear. Here a child can put their hand over the bear’s paw and see just how big it is.
So, let me tell you something, Something About a Bear.
Kirkus Review for Something About a Bear:
With huge, richly detailed pictures (who knew watercolors could make so many different kinds of brown?) and a lucid and near-poetic text, Morris describes the lives and habitats of eight kinds of bear.
Baby pandas are “soft and small as peaches” when they are born. Spectacled bear mothers nurse their cubs in the cloud forest canopy. Polar bears are not white! (Their fur is hollow, and their skin is black.) She packs an amazing amount of information about bears into the text, and that is supplemented by notes on each animal and a handful of websites listed in the backmatter. Even the names of the bears make for evocative reading within the lyrical prose: brown bear, giant panda, sloth bear, spectacled bear, moon bear, polar bear, sun bear, American black bear (and yes, the American black bear comes in many colors, including white). Water, architecture, other plant and animal life, and various indicators of habitat are painted with energy and intensity. Even as she dazzles with the splendid, up-close images and information, Morris does not lose sight of the most important bear of all. Every child will recognize that one.
It is lovely to see natural history and a sense of eco-awareness combined with many children’s most beloved plaything. (Informational picture book. 4-9)
And now there are jigsaws from Wentworth’s jigsaws to go with the book.
Jigsaws and signed copies of the book are available from Solva Woollen Mill.
If you spend any time on the internet looking at bears you soon discover that life isn’t easy for these magnificent wild creatures. From poaching to encroaching on bear space, to trophy hunting, to use of bears in Chinese medicine and bear bating and dancing bears, bears are facing some difficult problems. To find out more and see what you can do to help look at some of these charities, working with bears: