We're Going on a Bear Hunt

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We're Going on a Bear Hunt
We're Going on a Bear Hunt.jpg
AuthorMichael Rosen
IllustratorHelen Oxenbury
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreChildren's literature
PublisherWalker Books (UK)
Margaret K. McElderry Books (US)
Publication date
25 December 1989
Media typePrint (Hardcover)

We're Going on a Bear Hunt is a 1989 children's picture book written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. It has won numerous awards and was the subject of a Guinness World Record for "Largest Reading Lesson" with a book-reading attended by 1,500 children, and an additional 30,000 listeners online, in 2014.

Plot and design[edit]

Four children plus a baby sister and their dog, go out to hunt a bear. They travel through grass (Long wavy grass), a river (Deep, cold river), mud (Thick oozy mud), a forest (A big dark forest) and a snowstorm (A swirling whirling snowstorm) before coming face to face with a bear in its cave (A narrow gloomy cave). This meeting causes panic and the family run home, across all the obstacles, followed by the bear. Finally, the children lock the bear out of their house. The bear retreats, leaving the children safe. The children hide under a duvet saying "We're not going on a bear hunt again!". At the end of the book, the bear is pictured trudging disconsolately on a beach at night, the same beach that is shown on a sunny day as the frontispiece. Most of the illustrations were painted in watercolour.[2] However, the six pictures of the family facing each new hazard are black and white drawings.

At each obstacle is an onomatopoeic description. Before each obstacle the children chant the refrain:

We're going on a bear hunt.
We're going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We're not scared.

followed by (while crossing the obstacles):

We can't go over it.
We can't go under it.
Oh no!
We've got to go through it!

Characters and location[edit]

  • The eldest of the children is sometimes mistaken by readers as being their father but is in fact the older brother. They are based on Oxenbury's own children. Likewise, the dog is modelled on an actual family pet.[3]
  • In the TV adaptation, though not in the book, the mother and father of the family make an appearance. Also, the four older children (unnamed in the book) are identified as Stan, Katie, Rosie, and Max. The baby sister remains nameless. The dog (also anonymous in the book) is called Rufus.
  • Each of the obstacles, apart from the river, is based on a real life location in England and Wales that Oxenbury knew.[2]


The story was adapted from an American folk song. Rosen, who heard the song, incorporated it in his poetry shows and subsequently wrote the book based upon it.[3] Since publication, the book has never been out of print and each year has been in the 5,000 best selling books.[4] The publisher has stated that the book has attained worldwide sales of more than 9 million copies.[5]


The book won the overall Nestlé Smarties Book Prize in 1989 and also won the 0–5 years category.[6] In 1989 it was an 'Honor Book' in the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards.[7] The book also won the 'School Library Journal Best Book of the Year' and the 'Mainichi Newspapers Japanese Picture Book Award, Outstanding Picture Book from Abroad' award.[8] It was highly commended for the 1989 Kate Greenaway Medal.[9]

The publisher, Walker Books, celebrated the work's 25th anniversary in 2014 by breaking a Guinness World Record for the "Largest Reading Lesson", with a book-reading by author Rosen that was attended by 1,500 children, with an additional 30,000 online.[4]


Theatre adaptation[edit]

The book has been adapted as a stage play by director Sally Cookson with musical score by Benji Bower and design by Katie Sykes. The play has run in the West End and in provincial theatres. The ending of the performance has been changed so that there is a reconciliation between the family and the bear.[10][11] Time Out magazine, who awarded four stars out of five, whilst describing the performers as "wonderfully entertaining" also said "those in the later primary years might find it a little boring – not an awful lot happens, after all."[12]

Television adaptation[edit]

Channel 4 first aired a half hour animated television adaptation on 24 December 2016. It was voiced by Olivia Colman, Mark Williams, and Michael Rosen, in the US dub, the characters are voiced by Anna Faris and Jimmy Kimmel, and Michael Rosen keeps his UK dub.[13] The Daily Telegraph, giving the programme three stars out of five, commented that "The whole thing was skilfully made, but ... did it need to take such a carefree story and cast a pall of gloom?".[14] However, The Guardian said that adaptation was "sumptuous", "prestigious" but that "The animation adds a dose of festive sadness."[13]

Mobile app[edit]

A mobile app, based on the book, was launched in December 2016. It is available on Amazon, Android, and Apple platforms.[5]

Cultural impact[edit]

In 2013, the novelists Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees wrote a bestselling parody of the book, called We're Going On A Bar Hunt, which was illustrated by Gillian Johnson in the style of the original and was published by Constable books and then republished by Little, Brown & Company.[15]

"Bear hunts"[edit]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, "bear hunts" became popular with houses across the United States,[16] Belgium[17] and the Netherlands[18] placing stuffed bears in windows, in front yards, or on mailboxes for children to look for and find during walks or drives.[19][20][21]


  1. ^ We're going on a bear hunt. WorldCat. OCLC 18259147.
  2. ^ a b "Interview with Helen Oxenbury for We're Going on a Bear Hunt". Channel 4. 16 November 2016. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  3. ^ a b Tims, Anna (5 November 2012). "How we made: Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen on We're Going on a Bear Hunt". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Walker Books & The RNIB". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 25 December 2016.
  5. ^ a b Eyre, Charlotte (7 December 2016). "Walker and partners launch Bear Hunt app". The Bookseller. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  6. ^ Sprenger, Richard (10 April 2014). "We're Going on a Bear Hunt: 'The editors were so excited they were nearly weeping' – video". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 December 2016.
  7. ^ "Past Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Winners". The Horn Book Magazine. 30 May 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  8. ^ "Michael Rosen". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
  9. ^ "We're Going on a Bear Hunt". Walker Books Australia. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  10. ^ "WE'RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT". www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  11. ^ Vickery, Lucy (20 July 2013). "Bear hunting on Shaftesbury Avenue". The Spectator. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  12. ^ Bowie-Sell, Daisy (10 July 2013). "We're Going on a Bear Hunt". Time Out. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  13. ^ a b Heritage, Stuart (19 December 2016). "Move over, Snowman! Let's have a cuddly Christmas with Bear Hunt instead". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  14. ^ Auld, Tim (24 December 2016). "We're Going on a Bear Hunt: casting a pall of gloom on a classic children's story, review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  15. ^ Crace, John (17 October 2013). "'We're going on a bar hunt … we're not old!'". The Guardian.
  16. ^ Wynne, Sharon Kennedy (March 28, 2020). "Bored kids are going on a bear hunt and it's adorable". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  17. ^ "Privacy settings". myprivacy.dpgmedia.be. Retrieved Aug 2, 2020.
  18. ^ "'Berenjacht' voor kinderen, door coronacrisis, populair in Nederland". Hart van Nederland. Retrieved Aug 2, 2020.
  19. ^ Leonard, Robert (March 29, 2020). "The Coronavirus Is Upending Life in Rural America, Too". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  20. ^ Keeler, Sean (March 29, 2020). "Coronavirus teddy bear hunts make social distancing fun — yes, fun — for Front Range families". Denver Post. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  21. ^ ""Bear hunts" get kids outdoors while still distancing". Fox Carolina. March 28, 2020. Retrieved 29 March 2020.

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