This weekend, poet and storyteller Michael Rosen is leading an audience full of children (little and big) in The Big Proms Bear Hunt. We caught up with him – before he strapped on his galoshes – to talk about a book which has become a firm favourite with children around the world.
Tell us a bit about this weekend’s BBC Prom.
The plan is that The Bear Hunt will offer a series of cues for different pieces of music. So when I’m going through the grass, the river, the mud, the forest, the snowstorm – each one of these offers a kind of cue-point. And I’ll provide the narrative in between, just as it is in the story.
The text in the book is actually adapted from an American folksong, isn’t it?
Well there are various origins, actually, and some people say it was an America summer camp song devised by the people who run the camps, other people say that the Brownies or Cubs had a version of it. I picked it up as a performance piece in the 1950s and then a publisher asked me to adapt it so it would work in a book. Then illustrator Helen Oxenbury created this rather extraordinary set of paintings which tell another story altogether. The way Helen did it, it isn’t a bear hunt at all, it’s a family adventure.
Were you surprised by how successful the book became?
I was utterly amazed. Helen did such an incredible thing with it. I mean, the story’s got passion, adventure and fear and it’s got that folkloric rhythm. But she transformed it into this family drama and something beyond that. It’s one of those visions that illustrators can come up with which are quite remarkable.
For the Prom, illustrator Tony Ross will be taking part. Do you know what his role will be?
I dread to think what he’s going to get up to! I know Tony very well and he could make a laughing stock of us all – at least, I hope he will. He’ll do wonderful, funny things with whatever I’m doing – he’ll start drawing the musicians, people in the audience – goodness knows what he’ll do.
How do you feel about performing in the huge Royal Albert Hall?
It’s very exciting! I’ve played to 2,000 before, but never 8,000, or whatever the Albert Hall holds. And there’s going to be the full Liverpool Philharmonic, choirs and children standing up going ‘swishy swishy’ and all the rest of it – I think it’ll be amazing.
Michael Rosen is also touring with his show ‘Centrally Heated Knickers’ throughout October, November and December. For dates and venues, go to the show’s website.