Wordless Books

The Bear & The Fly

Paula Winter

Picture a family – Dad, Mum, little girl and a dog – all gathered around the dinner table, when a fly buzzes noisily into the room through an open window. Now turn that family into chunky bears, and the fly into one of those tiny annoying creatures you simply can’t ignore, and the stage is set for a drama of progressive chaos that mirrors the ‘comedy of escalation’ seen in many silent films and comic sequences, where a joke starts out small and gradually grows to ridiculous proportions. Think Laurel and Hardy movies, or H.M. Bateman cartoons.

The Bear & The Fly spread

At first, reasonably calmly, Dad sets out to eliminate the irritating fly. But he misses the insect, hits the table instead, and sends the food and drink crashing to the floor. Next his swat lands accidentally on Mum’s head and knocks her out. Then it’s the girl bear’s turn to be laid low… and finally the dog’s. When Dad is the last person standing, he strengthens his resolve and renews his efforts to destroy the creature. Balancing a chair precariously on the table, he climbs onto it and prepares himself for one last swish. But, surprise, surprise, the chair wobbles and Father Bear lands on the floor, knocking himself out as well. The fly, naturally, escapes unharmed.

The penultimate image shows all four family members lying prostrate on the floor, surrounded by the detritus of tumbled crockery and glassware, broken plant pots and a cracked TV screen. Meanwhile the fly is still happily buzzing around. Then, on the final page, the creature decides to swoop back out of the open window through which he first entered, and peace returns. But the damage is done…

The Bear & The Fly spread

This is a classic take on the story of the small guy outwitting the big guy, as in the biblical tale of David and Goliath, but taken to absurd extremes. The fly is no a hero, and Father Bear is only trying to make life easier for his family. But mayhem results nevertheless. Many of us will be familiar with this scenario (especially if you substitute ‘wasp’ for ‘fly’) and recognise Father Bear’s frustration at his inability to swat the dratted creature. Paula Winter cleverly captures the family’s distinctly human emotions on the bears’ faces.

The Bear & The Fly spread

This wordless picturebook depicts an anarchic and actually quite violent story that may not appeal to everyone. But for those readers who enjoy a bit of kookie craziness – as in Alastair Graham’s Full Moon Soup for slightly older children – the witty descent from order into chaos should soon have them giggling. And any reader of a more tender disposition, worried the family is harmed for good, should be reassured by the image of Mum dozily opening one eye to watch the action. Never fear, order will eventually be restored.

See also Paula Winter’s wordless story Sir Andrew (1981), about a donkey whose vain ways soon land him in trouble.