These advent pieces have grown into a year round obsession, and I’ve got into the habit of searching out Christmas books wherever I go. So it was on a March morning in Howarth, home of the Brontës and a place cast in perpetual winter, that I happened upon this sunniest of festive stories.
Benjamin Chaud’s oversized book ticked two boxes as it converged with another of my obsessions, illustrated cross sections, the elaborate novelty genre that cuts a building, vehicle or landscape down the middle and shows the goings on inside in immense detail.
The pleasure of the cross section is not simply in seeing ‘how do things work’ as the Dorling Kindersley books do so brilliantly; a good one also can tell multiple narratives within the main story.
So as father bear chases baby bear across the rooftops of Paris, through a grand department store, on board a cruise ship and finally away to a jungle island, we also get to follow the stories of the many characterful men and women who are rushing alongside them: Destination Christmas.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a Christmas book with quite so much movement and speed as this one. A European take on the work of Richard Scarry, Chaud’s style captures perfectly the mania of the days leading up to the 25th. The loose lines suit this perfectly as does the colour palette, shifting from muted tones to saturated block colours in the island scenes.
As I walked around the moors, lurid green book wedged under my arm, I admit I struggled to connect with the brooding atmosphere of the landscape that inspired Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. But who needs that when you’ve got a massive book about a bear living it up in a tropical paradise. At Christmas.
The Bear’s Sea Escape is published by Chronicle Books