Ernest is a poor bear down on his luck (and money. And food) and Celestine is a dentist-apprentice/page mouse who doesn’t really like her job all that much and doesn’t care that Bears are supposed to eat Mice and that Mice should be scared of Bears. Once caught by Ernest the hungry bear, she lays out her case for why he shouldn’t be eating her, and – wouldn’t you know it? Ernest puts her down. They become friends. Then they get into trouble rummaging for food and bear teeth (baby bear teeth are used by dentist mice to give rodents a new set of teeth when their own pair gets worn down). Which gets them into trouble with their respective societies, who behave in startlingly similar ways: vociferous rejection of even the consideration of the possibility that a Mouse (because they weren’t really considering Celestine, per se) and a Bear (because they weren’t really considering Ernest personally either, really) could be friends.
So I was actually hoping to find music by Oren Lavie, but stumbled upon The Bear Who Wasn’t There instead, which I found kind of poetic: the Bear certainly wasn’t there in my mind as an option when I went on my virtual walk through the Fabulous Forest that is our Clean new Catalogue that has not relied on Cards for a very long time*.
Growing from an Itch (that I suppose materialized out of… Nowhere? Or There?), this Bear – a very happy, nice and handsome bear, if the note in the pocket that the Bear himself only just discovers he has is anything to go by – is on a mission to find himself. Is he a happy bear? a nice bear? a handsome bear? At least we know from the start that he is a Bear with a Pocket (and a Mission).
Along the way, we meet the curious and – as Alice might say – curiouser inhabitants of the Fabulous Forest (all delightfully alliterated with matching personalities to boot!): the Lazy Lizard lazes about on top of the Convenient Cow, couched in the grass; the Penultimate Penguin polices what the Bear is and is not allowed to think (because the Penguin himself has already taken Everything, not leaving even Nothing for the Bear); and the Turtle Taxi who taxes himself out going to and fro, thinking someone has called for a Taxi (and so the Bear, who we discover is nice, decides to call the Turtle Taxi in order to go somewhere that is apparently quite a popular destination: Forward).
Curiously, the Bear who wasn’t There is more There throughout the entire book than the Bird atop his head, only visible as an outline: is the Bird, who is never quite addressed or given a name, a figment of the Bear’s imagination, or is the Bird every bit as There as the Bear, who wasn’t, before he was?** The illustrations by Wolf Erlbruch are an absolute joy: the clumsy – shall I say, burly? – figure of the Bear chimes perfectly with the narration and his character, and the lush Forest is every bit as Fabulous as advertised. This meander through the Wonderful Woods that are the Fabulous Forest with the Bear who wasn’t There (although he is, now!) is a charming adventure in the Slippery beast that is Semantics, which I now heartily and wholeheartedly recommend to adults and children alike!
It’s amazing what tiny little creatures such as the blue-ringed octopus or a little caterpillar in the rainforest can do to you (paralyze you completely and induce hemorrhaging, respectively), without even your realization that you’ve been bitten or pricked! Where Wilcox really shines in Venomous, though, is when she goes beyond show-and-tell and explains what goes on when you graze the back of that caterpillar with its bristly spine: contrary to what might be expected, this little caterpillar actually causes all the coagulants in your blood to become otherwise engaged so that they’re nowhere to be found while the rest of your blood is running rampant. Hence the hemorrhaging.
Venomous is engaging and serves as a great introduction into the world of venom and the creatures that produce them. Wilcox takes you through a variety of different types of venom, organized more or less by chapter, telling you what they do to their (unfortunate/maybe-brought-it-upon-themselves) victims, connecting their incredible abilities to theories as to why certain creatures should have developed the venoms that they did. In fact, Wilcox goes further and delves – relatively lightly, nothing to be afraid of even if you’re not scientifically minded – into the science of what different venoms do. What you get, in effect, is something along the lines of this: what creature generates what sort of venom, which does what to which animal by targeting which areas, likely influenced by which evolutionary pressures. Wilcox breaks it down so that you understand what’s going on – which neurotransmitters are involved? what areas of the body does it affect and why? why might these creatures have evolved as they did? – as you make your way through the rest of the book, keeping all the information intact by making connections throughout.