Mary Plain played a huge part in my childhood reading and I have memories of borrowing the books from the library more than once! I was so excited to hear that the Mary Plain stories were being reprinted with illustrations by one of our favourite illustrators, Clara Vulliamy, and it’s been fabulous to share the stories with my daughter who loves them as much as I do.
Mary Plain is ‘an unusual first-class bear’ and she certainly has some very original views on the world. There’s never a dull moment when Mary is around and she can’t always be relied on to behave herself! Familiar situations are portrayed through Mary’s eyes, often with humorous or disastrous consequences, but she really is a most endearing character and we couldn’t put the books down once we started reading.
Each book starts with an illustration of Mary Plain’s family tree and introduces her friends. There is also a map of The Bear Pits in Berne Zoo which shows the nursery where Mary and her cousins live in relation to the rest of her family. My daughter often referred to the map as we were reading so that she could better imagine where particular events were taking place.
Mostly Mary: We are introduced to Mary and the other bears in The Bear Pit including her cousins Marionetta and Little Wool, her aunt, Friska, her uncle, Bunch and her grandmother, Big Wool who also gives birth to Mary’s aunts in one chapter. We join lessons with Mary, Marionetta and Little Wool, we meet The Owl Man, the cubs discover what snow is, Mary causes a flood, she goes out to tea and the bears celebrate St. Bruin’s Day.
It’s very hard to choose a favourite story but we love the story about the snow and the ‘book’ that Mary writes on the ice (although we felt very sorry for Mary when she had toothache!). We also found it funny when Mary made a slide from an old plank which led to an entertaining conversation with The Owl Man when she got stuck at the top!
All Mary: Mary goes to stay at The-Fancy-Coat-Lady’s house where she makes a new friend, Sandy. Mary throws a party for the bears before she makes an eventful journey to England with The Owl Man. In England Mary takes part in an animal show and sees some of the London sights as well as waving to The Queen. On her return to Berne she’s given a hero’s welcome, a gold medal and returns to The Bear Pits in style!
‘God Save the Queen’ has become an oft repeated phrase in our house since we read All Mary. Mary speaks very little English but it’s the first thing she says when she arrives in England (in a rather eventful way!). There are so many amusing incidents in this book but, for us, one of the funniest was when Mary confused the magician and we enjoyed the magic trick that she did when she held her party at The Bear Pits.
Each page has a black and white illustration, even the pages full of text have little cameos of Mary in the corners. Picking favourite illustrations is difficult but my daughter and I both love the pictures of Mary in her swimming costume, especially when she has her party. Clara has captured a range of different expressions on Mary’s face which convey her emotions wonderfully in each situation but it is The Owl Man’s facial expressions as he travels wth Mary that make us laugh the most, his frustrations are brilliantly portrayed!
We love Mary Plain’s ‘writing’ and the ‘alphabet’ that she uses when she writes, it’s a mix of pictures and text. It took us a while to find the ‘secret’ letters from Mary Plain under the book jackets, it was such a lovely surprise when we found them! Recently my daughter and I spent a long journey writing ‘Mary Plain’ letters to each other, it was a fun way to make the journey pass more quickly!
It’s been wonderful to read Mary’s adventures again, she really is a most entertaining and endearing bear! We’re really looking forward to reading more of Mary’s stories.
Age Range: 5 +
Author: Gwynedd Rae / Illustrator: Clara Vulliamy
I would like to say a huge thank you to Egmont for republishing some of my favourite stories and for sending us copies of Mostly Mary and All Mary. Also a big thank you to Clara for bringing the stories to life for another generation of readers, young and old!