Welcome back, Vikki! The last time we chatted your mythical and funny If I Had a
Gryphon had just been released. Since then If I Had a Gryphon has been named as a Best Book for Children and won multiple other honors, has been released as a paperback and a board book, and has even been recorded as a rap by some creative students. You’ve also published a award-winning middle grade novel, The Winnowing. Can you catch readers up on these successes and what else you’ve been doing?
Isn’t it bananas how much can happen in four years? I’ve been very fortunate, as you kindly pointed out, to receive such accolades for my books. A highlight was certainly winning the Red Maple Award for The Winnowing at the 2018 Festival of Trees. There’s nothing like bursting into tears in front of your peers and a few hundred readers! I’ve also had a lot of smaller, personal moments with readers who have shared their own artwork or story ideas with me, which I consider a great privilege. In addition to writing and presenting to kids, I am the director of marketing and publicity for the young readers program at Penguin Random House Canada, which means I get to work on amazing kids’ books all day, every day.
Teddy Bear of the Year is super sweet and a great reminder that kind acts are recognized and appreciated. What inspired you to write this story?
Small acts of kindness has always been a big theme for me and it shows up in a lot of my work. In my first novel, Words That Start With B, I wanted to address the idea of bravery with a lower-case b—meaning actions that might not appear typically brave or even noteworthy but made all the difference in the world to someone. This idea has manifested in many ways in all of my work. I am less interested in narratives about saving the world at large, and more interested in what little things we can do every day to change the lives of people around us.
When you’re a kid, so many goals seem huge and out of reach to you. Especially in an increasingly loud and bombastic society it’s easy to feel small or helpless or insignificant. But every major feat consists of a series of smaller actions and decisions and it’s the smaller, everyday things that can change a person’s entire outlook.
Ollie and the other teddy bears in your book reminded me of my own childhood teddy bear, Brownie, who is still with me even after much fur loss and a long-ago surgery to remove the music box that made him a little less cuddly than I wanted. Is there an Ollie in your life? Can you tell readers a little about this special friend?
Vikki and her Teddy Bear Gang
I had a number of cherished stuffed animals that held major roles in my imaginary play and nighttime rituals. I was constantly worried that one would feel ignored or less loved, and therefore took great pains to treat them equally, including rotating which stuffed animal I slept with each night. But one toy did stand out above the rest, and that was a stuffed rabbit named Bunny. I’ve had Bunny as long as I can remember. He’s in pretty rough shape, but currently lives a quiet life of retirement in my closet.
Sydney Hanson’s soft illustrations are so dreamy and I love how all the different teddy bears mirror different kids and what they like. What was your reaction when you first saw her sweet interpretation of your story? Do you have a favorite spread?
I was so thrilled with Sydney’s sweet, fuzzy illustrations. A bedtime story is only as cozy as the art, and I think she really nailed it. I really enjoy the group scenes, especially the spread when Ollie arrives at the picnic for the first time and gets a glimpse of the snacks table. I love how all of the bears, even the unnamed ones, have their own personalities and storylines you can follow throughout the book.
Two of my favorite parts of your story are the Teddy Bear ABCs—which is inspirational for everyone, especially on National Hugging Day—and the idea of Teddy Bear Magic. What ideas about friendship would you like young readers to take away from your story?
I love that those things resonated with you! The working title of the book was Teddy Bear Magic, which Ollie and the reader first associate with the magic of the flying sailboat and the stoppage of time, but eventually come to realize that the bigger magic is how kindness, comfort, and support can transform someone’s experience. I hope readers recognize that by being kind you have the magical ability to transform someone’s day.
The ABCs of Teddy Care—aka “Always Be Cuddling”—is a reference to the phrase “Always Be Closing,” a business philosophy made famous by the movie (and play) Glengarry Glen Ross. I modeled the Teddy Bear’s Picnic depicted in the book on contemporary office parties, and I got a kick out of taking such a cold corporate mantra and turning it into something warm and fuzzy.
I always enjoy watching your appearances on Your Morning, the Canadian breakfast-time show. You’re such a natural on camera and a fantastic advocate for children’s books. Can you talk about the segments you do and how you became involved with them? Where can people see past segments and when is your next one?
Thanks so much! I’m very much enjoying it. I read a lot and curating lists is something I have always loved doing. It must be my bookselling roots! I had visited CTV Your Morning as an author and chatted with the book producer about themed segments for major book-buying moments, such as back to school, summer reading, and the holidays. The first few segments were popular and so we’ve continued to find other themes—such as building your baby’s library and kids’ books that address mental health and wellness, which aired on January 20th of this year—that would resonate with their audience outside those traditional moments. You can find past clips at theloop.ca, and I also post them on my own website at www.vikkivansickle.com.
From the long events and presentations list on your website, I can tell you love meeting your readers! Do you have an anecdote from any event that you’d like to share?
I really love meeting readers! It’s important for me to stay connected to the audience, especially since I no longer work in a bookstore and I have less “kid contact.” One of my favorite anecdotes happened at an IF I HAD A GRYPHON event with second grade students. I noticed one boy in the front frowning the whole time—which was unusual, not to mention disconcerting— and when it came time for questions his arm shot up and he asked, “Do you know how many species of dragon there are?” I told him that no, I did not know, and he broke into a smile and responded, “Nobody knows. That was a trick question.” I realized he had spent the whole presentation waiting to ask me that question, wondering if I would trip up or give him false information. You can never lie to kids—they smell it a mile away—and it’s important to treat every question seriously. If you don’t respect your audience, why should they respect you?
Before you go, I’m sure readers would love to know if you have any events coming up and what’s up next for you.
I am hosting a whole bunch of Teddy Bear’s Picnics, which you can see posted below. Attendees are invited to bring their own teddy and together we will read the story, have some snacks, and hold our own Teddy Bear Service Awards complete with diplomas for the teddies and stickers and colouring sheets for the kids. I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone’s beloved toys! Tundra also created an amazing downloadable Teddy Bear of the Year event kit so anyone can hold a similar event. You can find that kit on the Tundra website.
National Hugging Day Review
About the Holiday
Hugs are good medicine! Giving and receiving hugs releases oxytocin, a hormone that provides a wide-range of health benefits. Getting a hug can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and lower one’s risk of heart disease. Established to encourage people to show more emotion in public, National Hugging Day gives people the opportunity to give—or ask for—a nice, big hug!
I received a copy of Teddy Bear of the Year from Tundra Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m delighted to be partnering with Tundra Books in a giveaway of the book. See details below.
Teddy Bear of the Year
Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson
Ollie loved his job as Amena’s teddy bear. During the week his shift ran from three in the afternoon to after breakfast the next day. “On weekends and in the summer he was on call twenty-four hours a day.” Every day, Ollie looked forward to the moment when Amena came home and told him all about her adventures. “At night, when he snuggled in next to Amena, he would think about her stories and smile.”
One night as Amena slept, Ollie saw a “shining silver sailboat” outside her window. The captain (Snuggles, aka The Snug) called to him and told him he was there to bring Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The picnic, Snuggles explained, was put on each summer by the Teddy Bears’ Association “to celebrate the year in teddy-care.” Ollie was excited but wondered about how Amena might feel if she woke up and he wasn’t there.
The Snug told him that for her time would stand still until Ollie returned. With one more cuddle for Amena, Ollie stepped aboard the sailboat. The Snug was impressed by Ollie’s knowledge of his “ABCs: Always Be Cuddling.” Soon, they arrived in the woods, where strings of lights glowed and a stage was set up. When they got closer, “Ollie saw teddies of all shapes and sizes.”
Ollie met some of Snuggles’ friends, ate delicious sweets, played games, and even sang “bearaoke.” At last, Pinkie, the president of the Teddy Bears’ Association, took to the stage to begin the awards ceremony. Boo Bear won a star for comforting her boy through a long hospital stay. Fang received a star for accompanying “his girl, Tina, on her first sleepover party.” And Snuggles was given a star for his years of service to a family of six children and his many adventures.
As Pinkie pinned stars on each of the teddy bears, Ollie “tried to think of a single thing that he had done that deserved a star, but nothing came to mind.” He felt that “he was just an ordinary bear.” But then he hear Pinkie announcing the Teddy Bear of the Year Award and…his name! Ollie couldn’t believe it. “‘I haven’t done anything special at all!’” he said.
But then Pinkie showed him how he’d helped Amena when she fell off her bike and “turned a bad day into a good day” by using the ABCs of teddy-care. The ability to do this is very special Pinkie told him. “‘Even the smallest actions—a cuddle, a kind word, a hug—have great impact’” and help their children feel strong. Pinkie pinned the star on Ollie’s chest and then all the teddy bears celebrated. When the picnic ended, The Snug sailed Ollie home. As Ollie snuggled in next to Amena, he whispered to her all about his adventures, and Amena smiled.
Vikki VanSickle’s well-conceived teddy bear world will captivate readers with its sweet combination of magic and reality. Details such as Ollie’s shift schedule and his excitement to hear Amena’s stories when she got home hit just the right note, mirroring both a young child’s imagination and their experience, especially if they have siblings. VanSickle’s message about the importance of kindness and providing comfort is woven naturally into the storyline, increasing its impact and allowing readers to see that simple acts of friendship are just as valuable, and often more so, than large, dramatic acts. Her Teddy Bear Picnic is sprinkled with humor and the kind of fun that makes it a party any child would love to attend.
Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are as soft and fuzzy as Ollie and as warmly glowing as a comforting nightlight. As Amena and Ollie snuggle side by side, the wispy bedroom curtains sway gently then frame the magical sailboat that arrives to take Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Association picnic. From afar, the get-together in the woods twinkles with shimmering light. As Ollie and readers get closer, they meet a wide variety of teddy bears, from a pirate bear to a lavender koala riding a lavender-and-brown horse to teeny-tiny bears in a rainbow of colors. Kids will recognize the picnic activities from birthday parties and school events, and as all of the teddies gather around the stage, their anticipation for the awards will grow just as Ollie’s do. As readers watch scenes from Amena’s bad day along with Ollie, they see a specific example of how friendship can make anyone feel better.
Cuddly and endearing, Teddy Bear of the Year will be a favorite for snuggly bedtimes with little ones (and their teddies, of course). The book would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.
Ages 3 – 7
Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735263925
Discover more about Vikki VanSickle and her books on her website.
National Hugging Day Activity
Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit
You can hold your own Teddy Bear Picnic with this fun activity kit that includes a puzzle, a coloring sheet, a headband, and even a Teddy Bear of the Year certificate for your special friend. You’ll also find ideas for hosting your own Teddy Bear Service Awards!
You can find Teddy Bear of the Year at these booksellers
Picture Book Review