KidLitCripCrit – Can Bears Ski?

Both author & illustrator of Can Bears Ski? use hearing aids. And double #OwnVoices picture books are an extremely rare thing, especially when it comes to disability.

We rep Polly Dunbar – the illustrator.

Raymond Antrobus’s debut The Perseverance was arguably the most acclaimed poetry collection of the last few years – its very singular angle on race and disability, as well as the sheer power and breadth of its vision, won him just about every prize going.

We don’t rep Raymond, and indeed he’d never written a children’s book – never really considered writing one, by his own account – until clever Maria Tunney of Walker Books collared him after a reading, and suggested it. But I believe it was a visit to his old school, and realising how vanishingly few good picture books there were on disability – on deafness, in this case – that really supplied the motivation. (The BBC filmed a very memorable Zoom visit back to his old school with Polly after the publication of Can Bears Ski? – which you can watch here.)

And here’s to doubly clever Maria, for sending the text Raymond wrote to our Polly Dunbar – herself partially deaf. 

A text by Raymond. About deafness. For Polly. I don’t recall her having to deliberate for long… 

Raymond and Polly’s bear is deaf, but no one has noticed yet, not his father, not his friends – perhaps not himself. He struggles to understand what people are saying in crowded rooms, or when they turn their faces away, and when he can make out their words, they all seem to be asking him CAN BEARS SKI? But is that really what they’re saying..?

This must be such a familiar & formative scene for so many D/deaf children – will it ever have been written and drawn so beautifully, and with so much understanding? Cece Bell conjured it very powerfully in El Deafo, for older kids. I would hope this will do the same for little ones.

BTW swipe, swipe and KEEP SWIPING to see my visionary but sadly Insta-unfriendly (and overruled!) book photo, which strongly suggests that no, bears can’t ski. Sorry. 

James Catchpole

Can Bears Ski? is available here through our Blackwell’s affiliate link, or wherever you usually buy books!

[Image description: Viola sits in the garden holding a copy of Can Bears Ski? She’s a 2 year old white child with light brown hair, she’s sitting in front of a plant stand in our garden and looks contemplative.


  1. A book portrait of Can Bears Ski? It’s a yellow picture book with a brown bear’s face in close-up on the front. The bear wears hearing aids.
  2. Inside pages – a double page spread – the small joyful anthropomorphised bear is bouncing out of bed. “I’m up!” “I like my colours LOUD!”
  3. Another double page spread – we can see a snowy exterior, with small bear looking out: “It’s been snowing! Everything feels still…” And on the other page bear is partway down the stairs. Daddy bear is shouting “one, two, three!”
  4. A close-up of a page in which the bear sits surrounded by other child-bears: “David Bear sits next to me at lunch. He is talking a lot. Suddenly laughter bursts out everywhere. I don’t know what everyone is laughing at.”
  5. . A close-up of a page. Small bear is alone and looking down, perhaps reading. “Shhhhh”. It’s a very evocative page.
  6. OK this is an image of Viola dressed as a bear pretending to ski in the garden. She’s standing at the top of some sort of contrived ski slope covered in cream faux fur. She looks slightly grumpy and holds the book . This was entirely arranged by James, who between us thinks this should be the main image of this post. I won 😉 Lucy]

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