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
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]

Five children and their dog go out to hunt a bear. They travel through grass, a river, mud, a forest and a snowstorm before coming face to face with a bear in its 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 the house and all hide under the 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 children facing a 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:

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

The children, the eldest of whom is sometimes mistaken for their father, are based on Oxenbury's own children. Likewise, the dog is based on her dog.[3] Each of the obstacles, apart from the river, are based on real life locations 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]


  1. ^ "We're going on a bear hunt". WorldCat. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  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.

External links[edit]