Children’s publisher and author Barbara Ker Wilson, who discovered and published the manuscript of A Bear Called Paddington, the first of many children’s books featuring the beloved character, has died. She was 90, according to an obituary in the Guardian.
While Wilson had a prolific career writing novels and teen books on women’s history, as well as editing anthologies of folk tales and myths, she is best known for her discovery of the children’s classic by Michael Bond, which was published in 1958.
As documented in the archives of William Collins Sons (the publisher merged with Harper and Row in 1990 to create HarperCollins), “Wilson received a manuscript submission about a talking bear, which she opened with ‘initial suspicion,’” as she was generally of the opinion that books featuring anthropomorphized animals were “invariably either whimsy-whamsy, written down, or filled with adult innuendoes.”
The furry creature was the invention of television cameraman Bond, who later confessed to having written it in 10 days, inspired by the purchase of a stuffed bear near London’s Paddington Station. “Completely won over by the author’s simplicity of style,” according to the Williams Collins Sons archives, Wilson wrote a report recommending acceptance, predicting that “[i]f Paddington proved a great success, he could be made into a leading character, and have more books written about his adventures.”
Indeed he might. A Bear Called Paddington has been followed by at least 70 books thathave been translated into 30 languages and have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Known for his perfect manners, his floppy bucket hat, his love of marmalade, and his propensity for getting into scrapes, Paddington is still going strong at 62.
The bear’s most recent film appearances, Paddington (2014) and Paddington 2 (2017), were both nominated for BAFTA awards, the British equivalent of the Oscars.
Marion Winik is a regular Kirkus reviewer and author of The Bog Book of the Dead.