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(Thomas) Michael Bond Biography (1926-) - Sidelights

paddington bear review children

English author Michael Bond has delighted children all over the world with his stories of Paddington the Bear. He began his series with A Bear Called Paddington in 1958, and has continued writing for decades about the bear from Peru who lives with the Brown family. Bond's "Paddington" projects have ranged from picture and pop-up books for younger children to activity books, and Paddington has been featured in plays as well as television series and specials. The bear's appeal, according to critics, is his ability to get into trouble and then manage to come out of it without any major harm being done. Bond has also created such memorable children's characters as the lovable guinea pig Olga da Polga, Thursday the mouse, Parsley the lion, and J. D. Polson the armadillo. In the early 1980s Bond also began publishing works for adults, most notably the "Monsieur Pamplemousse" mysteries. Bond was born January 13, 1926, in Newbury, Berkshire, England. He grew up in a home where he was surrounded by books, and he began to read at an early age. His mother enjoyed English mystery writers, but young Bond's favorite books were Bulldog Drummond and The Swiss Family Robinson.


Unfortunately, Bond enjoyed reading at home more than he liked attending school. Though his family was Anglican, he went to a Catholic school, and feeling like an outsider, he often faked illnesses to avoid attending class.

Completing his schooling at the age of fourteen, Bond went to work in a lawyer's office. Soon afterward, he responded to a newspaper job advertisement for radio work, won the position because he had handled radio sets as a hobby, and began his career at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). One of his colleagues at the BBC supplemented his income by writing short stories. This coworker inspired Bond to attempt something creative, and he submitted a cartoon to Punch. It was rejected, but the editor had written favorable comments on it, so Bond was not discouraged.

Bond took time out during the 1940s to serve in the British Armed Forces, beginning with the Royal Air Force until airsickness forced him to transfer to the British Army. While serving in Egypt, Bond wrote an adult short story and submitted it to London Opinion. To his delight, it was accepted. From that time on, he continued to write and submit stories and plays, making occasional sales.

On Christmas Eve in 1957, Bond stopped in a London store to find a present for his wife. "On one of the shelves I came across a small bear looking, I thought, very sorry for himself as he was the only one who hadn't been sold," Bond recalled in Something about the Author Autobiography Series. "I bought him and because we were living near Paddington station at the time, we christened him Paddington. He sat on a shelf of our one-roomed apartment for a while, and then one day when I was sitting in front of my typewriter staring at a blank sheet of paper wondering what to write, I idly tapped out the words 'Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform. In fact, that was how he came to have such an unusual name for a bear, for Paddington was the name of the station.' It was a simple act, and in terms of deathless prose, not exactly earth shattering, but it was to change my life considerably. . . . Without intending it, I had become a children's author." A Bear Called Paddington was published in 1958.

Since his first appearance on the literary scene, Paddington has "become part of the folklore of childhood," wrote Marcus Crouch in The Nesbit Tradition: The Children's Novel in England 1945-70. The now-world-famous bear is recognized, despite his diverse representation at the hand of a variety of illustrators, by his unkempt appearance, Wellington boots, and duffel coat. A foreigner from Peru, Paddington exhibits both innocence and a knack for trouble. "The humour of Paddington is largely visual; it is not what he is but what he does and how he does it that is funny," observed Crouch. In the New York Times Book Review, Ellen Lewis Buell cited the bear's "endearing combination of bearishness and boyishness" as one reason for his popularity. According to Pico Iyer in the Village Voice, "Paddington is a resolute little fellow of strong principles and few prejudices, full of resourcefulness and free of rancor: both the bear next door and something of a role model."

With sequels such as Paddington Helps Out, Paddington Abroad, and Paddington at Work, Bond has continued to add to his creation's popularity. Eric Hudson wrote in Children's Book Review that "one is immensely impressed by the way each collection of stories comes up so fresh and full of humorous and highly original situations." Bond has also adapted his Paddington stories for even younger readers in a series of picture books that include Paddington Bear and Paddington at the Circus, and he has written several Paddington activity books, some with the assistance of his daughter, Karen Bond.

In the late 1960s Bond began experimenting with other children's characters, such as Thursday the mouse and Parsley the lion. The latter was a feature of a stop-action animation show on the BBC television network in addition to being the subject of children's books. Bond's most successful children's character, after Paddington, is perhaps Olga da Polga, the guinea pig he began writing about in the early 1970s. Though Olga is restricted to the hutch her owners keep her in, she entertains herself and her animal friends by telling imaginative stories. Horn Book contributor Virginia Haviland asserted that in Olga, Bond "has drawn another beguiling creature with a distinct personality—a guinea pig whose cleverness equals that of Paddington." Olga is featured in books such as Tales of Olga da Polga, Olga Meets Her Match, and Olga Moves House.


In the early 1980s, Bond branched out into the field of adult mystery books with the "Monsieur Pamplemousse" books. The hero of these, Monsieur Pamplemousse, is a French food inspector who solves mysteries with the aid of his dog, Pommes Frites. For the works, Bond draws on his knowledge of France, a country he enjoys visiting frequently. Sybil Steinberg, writing in Publishers Weekly, noted, "Pamplemousse and his faithful hound are an appealing pair and offer an evening of civilized entertainment."

Despite Bond's varied literary output, he will always be remembered for the character of Paddington. "Most critics agree . . . that to think of Michael Bond is to think of Paddington Bear," observed Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Charles E. Matthews. And Bond enjoys his role as a children's author. In Something about the Author Autobiography Series, he remarked: "One of the nice things about writing for children is their total acceptance of the fantastic. Give a child a stick and a patch of wet sand and it will draw the outline of a boat and accept it as such. I did learn though, that to make fantasy work you have to believe in it yourself. If an author doesn't believe in his inventions and his characters nobody else will. Paddington to me is, and always has been, very much alive."


Over the years, Paddington has become something of a cottage industry. Bond's creation has been reproduced as a stuffed animal and as a float balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and his image has appeared on a British postage stamp. In 2000 a life-sized bronze statue of the bear was unveiled in Paddington Station in London, and the official Paddington Bear Web site debuted in 2003.


Reflecting on his characters and life as a writer, Bond mused in the Something about the Author Autobiography Series, "Writing is a lonely occupation, but it's also a selfish one. When things get bad, as they do for everyone from time to time, writers are able to shut themselves away from it, peopling the world with their characters, making them behave the way they want them to behave, saying the things they want to hear. Sometimes they take over and stubbornly refuse to do what you tell them to do, but usually they are very good. Sometimes I am Paddington walking down Windsor Gardens en route to the Portobello Road to buy his morning supply of buns, but if I don't fancy that I can always be Monsieur Pamplemousse, sitting outside a cafe enjoying the sunshine over a baguette split down the middle and filled with ham, and a glass of red wine. I wouldn't wish for anything nicer."


Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Blount, Margaret, Animal Land, Hutchinson (London, England), 1974.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1976.

Crouch, Marcus, The Nesbit Tradition: The Children's Novel in England, 1945-70, Benn (London, England), 1972.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 161: British Children's Writers since 1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 3, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.


PERIODICALS

Armchair Detective, summer, 1991.

Booklist, December 1, 1990; September 15, 1991; December 15, 1991; September 15, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of Paddington Bear and the Christmas Surprise, p. 239; April, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Paddington Bear All Day and Paddington Bear Goes to Market, p. 1329; May 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Paddington Bear and the Busy Bee Carnival, pp. 1629-1630; August, 1998, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Paddington at Large, p. 2002; January 1, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of Paddington Bear, p. 886; April 15, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Paddington Bear in the Garden, p. 1405.

Books and Bookmen, February, 1985.

Books for Keeps, March, 1991; January, 1992.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1973, p. 38; February, 1974, p. 90.

Children's Book Review, February, 1971.

Christian Science Monitor, November 3, 1960; May 6, 1965; May 2, 1973.

Contemporary Review, November, 1971; January, 1984.

Horn Book, February, 1961, p. 53; October, 1961, p. 443; December, 1967, p. 748; April, 1973; June, 1973; June, 1980, p. 335.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2001, review of Paddington Bear in the Garden, p. 1681.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 9, 1985.

New Yorker, December 4, 1971; December 1, 1975.

New York Times Book Review, August 27, 1961, p. 22; May 9, 1965, p. 24; November 9, 1969; March 1, 1987.

Observer (London, England), March 10, 1985.

Publishers Weekly, July 29, 1988; June 23, 1989; July 28, 1989; October 12, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Monsieur Pamplemousse Investigates, p. 48; September 6, 1991, review of Monsieur Pamplemousse Rests His Case, p. 97; November 8, 1999, "Together for the First Time," p. 70.

Saturday Review, November 9, 1968; April 17, 1971.

School Librarian, August, 1992.

School Library Journal, March, 1968, p. 127; December, 1973, p. 41; September, 1989; February, 1992; December, 1992.

Times Literary Supplement, November 24, 1966, p. 1087; November 12, 1970; October 22, 1971, p. 1333; November 3, 1972; December 6, 1974; October 1, 1976; September 30, 1983.

Village Voice, July 16, 1985.

Washington Post Book World, December 15, 1991.

Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1974, p. 381.


ONLINE

Offıcial Paddington Bear Web Site, http://www.paddingtonbear.co.uk (January 11, 2005).*

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