When Dave Shelton named A Boy and A Bear In A Boat, he pretty much gave away the whole premise in the title. The book follows the adventures of a boy and a bear in a (you guessed it) boat as they take a journey of indeterminate origin and purpose.
As the boy and bear venture to who-knows-where in the bear’s small rowboat – the Harriet – Shelton is able to provide an inspection of how children interact with themselves and the world around them that is all at once comedic, sincere, and charming. Challenged by sea monsters, ghost ships, and the Very Last Sandwich, the titular boy and bear are simply named but complexly envisioned and their unfolding relationship becomes the central pillar around which the story is built.
Ostensibly meant for children, the book should be enjoyable for just about any reader. And looking past the immediate narrative (and Shelton’s entertaining illustrations), the book’s sparse language is such that it can be read in any number of ways, exploring metaphor and symbolism as deeply and personally as the reader cares to go. Shelton’s brevity of language is liberating and I’d argue that the book’s greatest and most profound moments are often its simplest.
A Boy and A Bear In A Boat may tell you what it’s about right in the title but as the boy and bear learn for themselves, it’s not the premise but the journey that matters.