story of the year winner: Spare Bear

From the 2,000 entries for our fifth Children's Story of the Year, the judges chose Andy Blackford's morality tale of a cuddly toy's adventures in England and America. Illustration by Michael Sheehy
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Henry and Susie Dawkins were very careful parents.

When Molly was born, they bought two dummies - an everyday dummy and a spare dummy.

When they lost the everyday dummy, or left it behind, Susie would smile and say, "Don't panic! There's always the spare dummy."

And Henry would sigh and say, "Thank heavens for that. So long as we don't lose the spare dummy."

When Molly was older, they bought her a bottle for her milk. They bought her a spare bottle, too, in case they lost the everyday bottle or left it behind.

Once, when they were half way up the motorway, Susie cried, "We've forgotten Molly's bottle!"

He smiled. "Don't panic. There's always the spare bottle."

But Susie groaned, "I left the spare bottle at Granny's."

"Aha!" said Henry. "Don't panic! I bought a spare spare bottle."

"My hero!" laughed Susie.

When Molly was older still, Henry and Susie decided to buy her a new toy.

Said Susie, "She's never had a real teddy bear. Not a big furry one, anyway."

There were lots of bears to choose from at the toy shop. But Henry and Susie only liked two. They were exactly the same, and they sat together on the shelf like twins.

One bear whispered to the other, "They're going to buy me. I can tell."

"I hope so," said the other bear sadly. "Good luck!"

"Let's have one of those," said Henry.

"No," said Susie, "Let's have two."

"Why do we want two teddy bears?" asked Henry.

"One for everyday," replied Susie, "One for spare."

The everyday bear was called Bear. Wherever Molly went, Bear went too. When Molly went to bed, so did Bear. When Molly had her bath, Bear sat on the stool beside her. When Molly went out in the car, she sat in her special seat and Bear sat on her lap.

Molly loved Bear so much, she never let him out of her sight. He was never lost or left behind.

So there wasn't any need for a spare bear. Henry and Susie soon forgot about him. He just sat in a cupboard in the dark, day after day, with nothing to do and no one to talk to.

He didn't even have a name. He was just the spare bear.

One day, Susie opened the cupboard door. Spare Bear was excited. He thought, "At last, Molly needs me!"

But Susie was only looking for Molly's hot water bottle. When she found it, she shut the cupboard door again. But not quite. She left a little gap. And for the first time, Spare Bear could see into Molly's room.

Molly was getting ready for bed. She had her dummy in one hand and her bottle in the other. And she was holding Bear tightly under her arm.

Spare Bear was jealous. He thought, "What's Bear got that I haven't got? We're exactly the same. In fact, I'm nicer than Bear because I'm still brand new. I've never even been cuddled."

It was the middle of the night. Spare Bear woke with a start. What was that noise? He looked through the crack in the cupboard door. It was Oscar the dog. He was padding around Molly's room.

Then Molly turned over in her sleep. She was having a bad dream. She gave a little cry and then she threw something over the side of the cot onto the floor.

What could it be? Spare Bear could hardly see in the dark. Then he realised. "Oh dear," he thought, "It's Bear!"

Oscar the dog dashed across the room, grabbed Bear and ran off with him.

When Spare Bear woke up, it was still dark outside. But Susie switched on the light in Molly's room and started putting her clothes into a suitcase.

Molly was still fast asleep. "Come on, Madam!" said Susie. "Time to get up. We're going to America!"

"The cab's outside," said Henry.

"Final check," said Susie. "Everyday dummy?"

"Here," said Henry.

"Spare dummy?" asked Susie.

"Here," said Henry.

"Everyday bottle?" asked Susie.

"Here," said Henry.

"Spare bottle?" asked Susie.

"Here," said Henry.

"Bear?" asked Susie.

"Uh-ho!" sighed Henry. "No Bear."

Spare Bear watched through the crack in the cupboard door as Henry and Susie pulled the mattress out of Molly's cot. They looked under the bed, under the chair, everywhere. But Bear was nowhere to be found.

In the end, Henry said, "The cab's outside. We'll just have to go."

But Molly cried, "Bear? BEAR? BEAR?"

"Oh, no!" said Susie, "This is a nightmare! We can't go to America without Bear!"

Then Henry remembered. "Don't panic! There's always the spare bear!"

Together they shouted, "THE SPARE BEAR!" and they threw open the cupboard door.

The light was so bright, it made Spare Bear blink. Susie grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out of the cupboard. "Come on, Spare Bear!" she said. "You've got a plane to catch!"

"What's a plane?" Spare Bear wondered.

As they ran from the house to the taxi, Molly cried, "Oscar?"

"Oscar can't come with us, darling," said Susie. "Granny will look after him while we're away."

Spare Bear had a wonderful holiday in America.

He went to the top of the Empire State Building.

He floated down the Grand Canyon in a rubber boat.

And every night, he went to sleep in Molly's arms. He had never been so happy in all his life.

The only time he felt sad was when Molly called him Bear. Then he would think, "I shouldn't be here at all. If Molly found out I wasn't Bear, she wouldn't love me anymore."

Something else worried Spare Bear. Soon it would be time to go home. Then what would happen? Would he have to go back in the cupboard? How he'd miss Molly, he thought. He'd be so lonely without her.

It was time to say goodbye to America. As their plane rose into the sky over New York, Molly and Spare Bear waved to the Statue of Liberty.

Granny and Oscar were waiting at the airport to meet them. Spare Bear's heart was pounding in case Bear was there, too. But he wasn't.

By the time they got home, it was dark and Molly was nearly asleep. Susie carried her up to bed and tucked her up with Spare Bear.

Still no sign of Bear. As he dozed off, Spare Bear didn't feel quite so worried.

Next morning, he was woken by a snuffling and a muffling. Molly was awake, too. She was sitting up in bed, pointing with both hands at something. "Bear!" she shouted. "Oscar! Bear!"

Poor Spare Bear hardly dared look.

But there was Oscar, holding a very wet, muddy bear in his mouth.

Then in came Henry, still half asleep. When he saw Oscar, he froze. "Susie! Come and see this!"

Susie couldn't believe her eyes. "It's Bear! Oscar must have buried him in the garden!"

"Woof!" said Oscar. He was very pleased with himself.

Susie rescued Bear from the dog's mouth. "Nothing wrong with him that a good old wash won't cure."

"Bear!" gurgled Molly. "Bear!"

Spare Bear thought his heart would break. They would put him back in the cupboard, now. No more cuddles. No more holidays.

But Henry said, "I think we should clean up the old bear and keep him as a spare."

"This can't be true!" thought Spare Bear. "I must be dreaming!"

"Good idea," said Susie. "Molly loves the new bear. She might as well hang on to him."

Spare Bear was so happy, he could have danced. But later, when Molly was downstairs having her breakfast, he began to feel guilty.

"This isn't fair on poor Bear," he thought. "It wasn't his fault the dog got him. And while I was having fun on holiday, he was buried in the garden. And now they're going to put him away in the cupboard.

"No. It's just not fair."

Spare Bear knew what he had to do. He crept out of Molly's cot and crawled under the wardrobe. He found the darkest, dustiest corner and curled up in a ball. "Oh, well," he sighed. "Alone again." Two big tears rolled down his furry cheeks. "Oh, well."

He wasn't sure how long he'd been hiding when he heard Molly cry "Bear!" She was upset. "BEAR!"

Susie was trying to calm her. "It's alright, darling! Look, here's Bear. He was very dirty. Mummy had to wash him. But now he's lovely and clean for you."

"BEAR!" yelled Molly.

"Henry! Have you seen the new bear? I've looked everywhere.

"I'm afraid not. Last time I saw him, he was in the cot."

"Strange," said Susie. "Listen, Molly, this is the real Bear. He's come back!"

"BEAR, BEAR, BEAR!" screamed Molly.

"It's no good, Henry, she's in a state. She wants the new bear. I don't know what to do with her."

Under the wardrobe, there was a snuffling and a wuffling. It was too dark to see anything, but Spare Bear felt a cold, wet nose rubbing his face.

"Woof!" Oscar's bark nearly deafened Spare Bear. "Woof! Woof!"

"Look!" he heard Henry say. "Oscar's found something!"

Oscar grabbed Spare Bear around the middle and dragged him out into the light.

"It's the new bear! Clever boy, Oscar!"

"Woof!" replied Oscar, very pleased with himself.

Now Molly was laughing through her tears. "Two Bear, Mummy! Two Bear!"

"That's it!" cried Henry, "She wants both bears!"

And so began a long and happy life together for Molly, Bear and Two Bear (not Spare Bear, because he wasn't spare anymore).

The bears became the best of friends and Molly took them everywhere.

One day, Henry put down his paper and took off his glasses. "Susie, have you ever wondered what we'd do if one of the bears got lost, or accidentally left behind?"

"I know," she said, "It worries me, too."

"Maybe," said Henry, "Maybe we should buy a spare bear..."

"Maybe we should buy two," said Susie.

Story of the Year Winner

Spare Bear, written by Andy Blackford, above, wins our pounds 2,000 first prize.

Before "downshifting" last year from a career in advertising to pursue his writing, Andy Blackford, 47, had already secured a place in the minds of children with his ditty, "Um Bongo, Um Bongo, they drink it in the Congo..." Though he has always enjoyed writing for children, it was the arrival of his third child two years ago that prompted Blackford to consider the needs of the parent, too: "Hopefully, parents as well as children will relate to syndromes and realities that Spare Bear looks at," he says. A former professional skate boarder and keen scuba diver, Blackford has published books on both those subjects, but Spare Bear is his first published work for children. Andy Blackford lives in North London (and plans to run across the Himalayas in November).

The Runners-up

Two runners-up, ML Greenall and Nadya Smith, each win pounds 500. Having run amok in a smart cake shop, the eponymous hero of ML Greenall's Harry the Street Pigeon decides to stand up to the shop owner, Mrs Goodbody. Only with her publication in the anthology does ML (as she likes to be known) believe she can think herself a writer. Aged 67, she divides her time between London and Cornwall, has painted and drawn all her life. Nadya Smith's Joe and the Lion tells the story of Joe, bullied for being black and wearing glasses, who undergoes a transformation upon seeing a brave lion at the zoo. As in her two previous published collections of short stories, Will You Come on Wednesday and Imran's Secret, the 70-year-old former Birmingham teacher draws on her experience in mainly Asian schools to explore the very particular growing pains that children of ethnic minorities suffer.

The following stories will also be included in the Story of the Year 5 anthology to be published by Scholastic Children's Books in the autumn The Big Eat by Malcolm Yorke; The Folding Boy by Kate Scarratt; The Joke by Sara Carroll; A Long Way to Cherry Time by Dan Jones; Millie, Man of the Match by Jane Bates; Trick or Treat by Evelyn Goldsmith and Tulshi and the Banyan Tree by Judith Wavell.

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