I didn’t know that Dandlebear

One morning, when the sunlight poked its fingers through the curtains, Jack woke up in a grumpy mood. ‘Who told the sunshine it could come into my bedroom’ he said to himself under his breath as he climbed out of bed and went to brush his teeth. ‘Who put my toothbrush in the wrong place’ he mumbled as he reached around the toys to get it back from where he had thrown it the night before, ‘who said I wanted toast for my breakfast’ he groaned as he sat down at the table, where his mum had already finished eating.

‘What’s up’ said his mum as Jack took a big bite of his toast, ‘nothing’ said Jack in a miserable sort of a way. ‘Oh well’ said mum, as she got up to put the dishes in the sink, ‘I am sure things will get better.’  I don’t think they will thought Jack as he swung his feet backwards against the chair legs, frowning all the while.

Later that day Jack was back in his bedroom still feeling gloomy though he could not work out why.  He picked up his racing car and looked at the broken wheel, he put it back down again.  He picked up his tool box and tried to decide which of the tools he would need to use to mend the wheel, he couldn’t figure it out, finally he threw the car on the floor and flung himself on the bed, he didn’t know what was the matter with him, he just could not feel happy today.

After some biscuits at three o clock, Jack went down into the garden to see if he could find something there that would make him feel better.  He kicked his football around the grass for a while but that just made him feel worse so he stopped.  He could hear the children next door in their garden and the sound of their dad’s voice booming over the hedge. “kick it Fin,’ he heard Fin’s dad say, ‘go on, give it a whallop.’  Jack heard a thud as Fin gave it a kick and as he did so he felt a feeling inside him that he hadn’t felt for a while, a sort of pulling and aching, a nagging sort of a feeling that made him feel restless and a little bit like crying.  He sat down.  He tried to make the feeling go away.  He could hear the children next door laughing and shouting. He went indoors, he didn’t like this feeling that was growing inside him.

In his bedroom he pulled open the cupboard and rummaged around.  There, at the back, all pushed out of shape and a little bit battered was a familiar face, a round sort of face all furry with big eyes. Jack reached into the cupboard and found the arm of his Dandlebear and yanked him out, falling over slightly as he did so that the two of them sat down on the floor with a Pffff sort of sound.  Dandlebear looked at Jack in a squinty sort of a way. “what did you do to your eye?’ Jack asked Dandlebear.  ‘You squashed me up in the back of that cupboard’ Dandlebear replied, silently of course because Dandlebears do not speak they sort of send their thoughts in a magical way.  Jack looked at Dandlebear and took hold of his great big paw as he did so he remembered that Dandlebear’s paw is a big as one of daddy’s gloves.  As he remembered daddy’s glove, he began to think about Fin and his daddy and as he thought about Fin’s daddy, he began to feel that funny sort of feeling was growing again, he dropped Dandlebear’s hand quickly and looked out of the window.

Dandlebear quietly shifted up close to Jack and sat with him looking out of the window.  ‘You miss your daddy don’t you’ he said silently, Jack nodded slowly but kept on looking out of the window, the feeling was getting stronger and stronger, he was scared of it and wanted it to go away. ‘Do you know that your daddy misses you too?’ said Dandlebear, Jack shook his head and looked glumly at the floor.  ‘I don’t like my daddy’ said Jack out loud, as he watched Fin from next door kicking the football high into the air.  Dandlebear sent a sort of hurrumph noise to Jack in reply as if to say, I don’t think that is true, but Jack just kept on looking gloomily at the floor.

Dandlebear shifted as close to Jack as he possibly could and snuffled in a Dandlebear way. ‘There are things you don’t know Jack that you need to know and there are things that you don’t need to know that you do know’ Dandlebear sent this message silently to Jack in a kind sort of a way because its a big thing to understand and Dandlebear wanted Jack to know that he was being kind.  ‘What do you mean’ said Jack, starting to feel a bit curious but a bit irritated all at the same time.  ‘Well’ said Dandlebear, its a bit like this.  You see Fin out there with his daddy.  Well in the world that Fin lives in, his daddy is good and his mummy is good and his sister is good (though not all the time of course because sisters can be naughty) and that makes Fin happy.  But in your world Jack, your daddy is bad and your mummy is good and you haven’t got a sister so that’s not a problem but the truth is Jack that your daddy is not bad, you just have to believe he is and that makes you very unhappy. Dandlebear sat back for a rest after that big message and Jack stared silently at the floor thinking about what this all meant.  Was his daddy bad or was his daddy good.  Dandlebear certainly had a point, Fin seemed to be having a lot of fun with his daddy, that must make him good, but Jack could remember when he used to play with daddy like that too, did that mean that daddy was good, Jack felt confused, he tried to squash the thoughts back down and think about something else but Dandlebear was sitting there watching him with his big wise eyes.  Jack remembered when Dandlebear and he used to go over the bridge to his daddy’s house, Dandlebear had always been there, daddy had always been there, but then daddy wasn’t there and mummy seemed to be crying all of the time and things felt scary and Jack had decided that he didn’t want to go over the bridge anymore, even with Dandlebear.  He got up to put Dandlebear away in the cupboard again, he picked up his big paw and started to swing him back into the pile of toys when he stopped, he looked at Dandlebear’s big paws and he thought about daddy’s big gloves.  Outside he could hear Fin and his sister laughing and playing, he wondered where daddy was and whether he missed him. Dandlebear looked at him with his great big eyes and sent him a message, ‘Jack’ he said  ‘your daddy still loves you and he misses you every day.’  Jack stopped and sat down on the bed again with Dandlebear on his knee, ‘does he’ he asked, ‘does he still know where I live?’  Dandlebear smiled, ‘of course he does’ he said, ‘of course he does’.  Jack thought about it  for a while and then picked up his racing car, daddy would know how to mend the wheel, he would know which tool to use.  The feeling inside Jack that was heavy and grumpy and not very nice began to change into something different, something lighter, something softer, something all together better.  ‘I didn’t know that Dandlebear’ said Jack.


  1. Karen, I am unable to write coherently having just read this. It is ironic that you have chosen Fin as the little boy who is playing with his Daddy as Fin is the name of one of our twin grandsons, the little ones who don’t even know their cousin as she is the alienated one.
    So so sad.


    1. yes, they are all part of a collection of stories which we will publish later this year. For now though they can be shared with other people providing they are credited to me and I would absolutely love feedback from everyone, kids especially but also observations from mums dads grandparents, teachers etc onhow the stories impact on children. i am thinking also about a training and awareness programme for schools and nurseries for next year, and of course Jane, I HAVE to make that phone call to you and get our dates fixed for this years workshops with parents where I hope the collection of stories and illustrations will be ready to share x


  2. Hi Karen

    As promised, my daughter (a 10 yr old teenager) read the first Dandlebear story and I asked her to tell me what she thought of it. She paused and said,
    “I think little children that worry about leaving their mums, to see their Dads, would like Dandlebears. Can i read it again please Dad? Perhaps i can have a small one to keep in my school bag?” (I normally pick her up and drop her off at school.)

    After reading it through a few times i took her to bed. I tucked her in and kissed her goodnight.
    As i turned to leave she said,
    “Dad, you’ve forgotten to kiss my dandle bear”.
    I replied,
    “you don’t have one yet”.
    She responded, smiling,
    “Oh yes i do. He’s an extra special one. Only i can see him.”
    So, we all had one last cuddle.

    This new story is also packed with insight and communicates feelings that most will empathise with easily. Fin’s demeanour and body language mirror that of my daughter on the relatively few number of times i saw her, always from a distance, whilst separated. She cut an unhappy and forlorn figure as she slowly kicked the pavement and stared at the ground on her trudge to school. To anyone that really knew her, her dejection was palpable.

    Whilst her school would admit that she had been “a bit withdrawn” or “a bit upset” i think that they never appreciated the magnitude of her anguish. Provided her progress continued to be “exceptional” then everything must have been “fine”.

    In this new story, whilst the alienator says very little, her preoccupation and lack of empathy stand out.

    The sentence “there are things you do know……”, struck a chord. Parental boundaries got blurred and my daughter has inappropriately become a confidant and best friend. She was and continues to be preoccupied about how mum feels, “I wonder how mum….. etc”. I am doing my best to ensure she has the opportunity to be a safe and carefree kid again

    Like the others i sobbed.

    The alienated will “get it” completely. I wonder whether the alienators would? If only some do, these stories have the potential to be even more valuable and precious.

    Thank you again for your amazing work.


  3. The review from bedtime story reading is: “I like that story, but it sort of made me want to cry” “that was a scary story” “can we read the other dandlebear story again?” “we want a new dandlebear story tomorrow night” “I think dandlebears know your feelings inside” We had a long discussion about what they look like, how big they are, whether some of them are invisible and some of them visible etc. It definitely stimulates their imagination.


  4. The dandlebear stories are a brilliant idea, Karen! I can see how the dandlebear acts a conduit for the child’s thoughts and feelings to flow freely, so that the child can think independently and question what he/she thinks about the alienated parent.

    I have no doubt that my children see me as “all bad” and my ex-wife as “all good”. Their happy memories of me have been buried because they have had to make a terrible choice to reject me. That much I do understand. If your stories can help my children to remember that I am their loving father and that I will always be there for them, then I eagerly look forward to the publication of your book and to more dandlebear stories.

    I am afraid to send this story with my letters to my children as I am worried that my ex-wife will read it and will realise what is going on and will just not pass the story on to my children. However, as an illustrated storybook that children could access in schools or receive as a gift, then this would be amazing. Thank you!


  5. Karen, please persevere with the Dandlebears; they have so much to offer children and parents negotiating separation and contact. I sense that you may be struggling a bit to establish the right tone. Partly I think this is because of the wide age range you are writing for, partly it’s the painful and controversial subject matter. I agree with other comments on this and the previous post that the Dandlebear idea is just right. Children do find transitional objects helpful, and teddy bears and other cute and cuddly toys appeal to a wide age range (including adults!). Fantasy writing is also a good way of exploring a subject like parental alienation that may be too painful for the child if it’s presented in the full-on realist style of, say, Jacqueline Wilson.

    The Dandlebears living under bridges reminded me of the troll in The Three Billy-Goats Gruff, except of course that they help rather than hinder. Which in turn reminded me of a film my daughter really enjoyed, the Japanese animated movie My Neighbour Totoro (‘Totoro’ is a Japanese child’s pronunciation of ‘Troll’). The two children in the film are separated from their mother by illness (she is isolated in a TB sanatorium) and are living with their father in the country. The girls are befriended by Totoro, a large furry creature who is a tree spirit, and who teaches them to appreciate the beauty of nature, and rescues one of them when she gets lost while trying to walk to the hospital to see her mother.


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