The Browns find him in Paddington Station. He's a bit lost, having just arrived from Darkest Peru and not knowing a soul in London. The Browns take him in and call him Paddington (since they can't pronounce his Peruvian name), and pretty soon he becomes like one of the family. He is very polite and kind and grateful, but somehow he manages to get into the most interesting of scrapes (my favorite being when he accidentally gets into the store window and knocks down the entire display but ends up drawing such a crowd that the storekeeper is thrilled with the mess he made). It's easy to see why generations have loved Paddington.
I have to admit, my recurring thought through the entire book was this: Is there not a soul in all of England that thinks it's somewhat unusual for a small bear (one that can talk, no less) to be adopted by a human family? This line, which comes just after Mrs. Brown finally finds Paddington (who got lost in the subway station), cracked me up:
[The inspector] started after the retreating figures of Mrs. Brown and Judy with Paddington bringing up the rear and then he rubbed his eyes. "That's funny," he said, more to himself. "I must be seeing things. I could have sworn that bear had some bacon sticking out of his case!"
The inspector did not say, as I was expecting him to, "I must be seeing things. I could have sworn that was a bear holding onto that case." No, it's the bacon that surprises him.
I guess I wouldn't have wondered at everyone's acceptance of Paddington if there had been any other talking animals in the book. But from all appearances, he was the only one. No one else had a bear for a pet, and the only other animal that was ever mentioned was the dog who trailed after Paddington's bacon (and a dog trailing after bacon didn't seem the least bit unusual). For all its unbelievability though, I liked it. A bear like Paddington deserves to be the only one of his kind.
This was actually a really difficult book to read aloud. I try to differentiate between the different characters by giving them different voices. Naturally, since Paddington is from Darkest Peru, it seemed like he should get a Peruvian accent; and since the Browns reside in London, they all needed British accents. But I have a hard enough time managing one accent, and the interchange between the two just about did me in. Every time we sat down to read it, I felt like I was experimenting with it all over again, so I wasn't at all consistent. And it never sounded the least bit realistic. I have the audio version on hold at the library (Maxwell loves to re-listen to books (over and over and over again) after we've read them), and I'm looking forward to hearing someone else read it.
One of the best parts of the book for me was the postscript. I'm just like my mom in that I love a good back story, and it was interesting to learn that Paddington was created as a remedy for writer's block. Michael Bond was doing the writer's version of doodling--just trying to get something onto that blank sheet of paper--and he happened to choose the stuffed bear that was sitting on their mantle as his subject. He liked that first random paragraph so much that he continued to write, and ten days later, he had a book.
One evening while the boys and I were reading, Mike came into the living room and I asked him if he'd ever read Paddington. He said, no, he didn't think he had, but then asked, "Is he the one who likes marmalade?" I'll tell you what, that marmalade is memorable.