Bearly believable bother over book - Refugee Council
June 9, 2008

Bearly believable bother over book

By Jane – Campaigns and Public Affairs Team

Asylum and immigration policies are controversial and can evoke highly-charged responses from different sections of the media and the general public.  So maybe it should be no surprise that the controversies have spilled over into children’s fiction this month with the launch of the first new Paddington novel for thirty years.  The first Paddington book, written 50 years ago, described Paddington arriving at Paddington Station from Darkest Peru with a suitcase, a jar of marmalade and a ‘please look after this bear’ label round his neck.

I guess most readers, like me, enjoyed Paddington’s tales and mishaps and never really thought of his background or his immigration status.  Well, according to the author, Michael Bond, in the new book there is ‘a bit of a kerfuffle’, that gets the Brown family to get worried about Paddington’s immigration status after he visits a police station to report a missing trolley.  Bond explains, ‘there is this side of Paddington the Browns don’t really understand at all – what it’s like to be a refugee, not to be in your own country’.

Incredibly some people have complained about the storyline – the Daily Express’s article ‘fur flies over refugee bear’ quotes a spokesperson from a pressure group called Family Focus saying that the book “seems to be complete nonsense as a literary excursion.”  To be honest, I’m not quite sure what their criticism is.  Should children not read about character’s backgrounds and feel empathy for them?  Should there be some kind of age watershed for discussing migration? 

Bond says that there is ‘no message’ in the book – he simply thinks that authors should be “aware that life isn’t easy for someone who’s left their country and can’t go back”.   Absolutely.  In fact, surely everyone – adults and children – should share this awareness and feel compassion for people who have been forced to leave their country and who can’t go back.