Bear Among the Books: Telling Stories with T.J. Masters

September 7, 2016

Telling Stories


In the Story of Bear Among the Books, librarian Ben uses a story telling technique to teach Jason to read.

Of course storytelling existed long before the printed word. We tend to think of the oral tradition of storytelling as the oldest form but many experts now think that cave paintings or ‘rock art’ may have been an even earlier tradition of remembering and telling stories. This tradition transcends all cultures and peoples both ancient and modern and appears in a variety of forms. Without the written word, storytelling was the primary means of preserving history and culture, teaching a moral code and instilling its values, educating people of all ages and of course as entertainment.

In this story, Ben believes very much in the engagement of the reader with the story in order to fire the imagination. It may appear strange that Ben chooses text free graphic novels to start the process of teaching Jason to read. Although there are no words on the page but the images feed Jason with enough clues to complete the story in his mind. Starting with Raymond Briggs’ Snowman and later with Shaun Tan, Jason proves to be adept at interpreting the images and therefore at ‘reading’ the books.

Check out Bear Among the Books today!

Bear Among the Books


Forty-eight-year-old Ben Thompson is a librarian, a passionate book lover, and a man who embodies the definition of a bear. He’s also lonely after the loss of his long-term partner. Young ex-gymnast Jason Barnes piques his interest, but Ben quickly realizes there’s more to Jason than his good looks. While Jason visits the library almost every day, he never checks out a book.

With gentle persistence, Ben befriends Jason and learns the nineteen-year-old’s tragic secrets. After years of abuse at his father’s hands, Jason was kicked out of his family home for being gay. And despite his apparent love of books, Jason never learned to read. Ben offers to teach him, and the two men bond over their lessons. Ben can’t deny his attraction to Jason, but he wonders if Jason is too young and too handsome to return his interest. With the help of the close-knit library team and Jason’s growing self-confidence, they move beyond the books and into the bedroom, where their own story is just beginning.



When I returned Jason had pulled his sexy legs up to sit cross-legged on the window seat. Somehow this made him look even younger, but his reaction to the book had the opposite effect. I handed him a hardback copy of The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. “Do you know this one?”

“Yeah, but it’s a kid’s book.” There was an angry edge to his reply. “Will I have to learn with kids’ stuff?”

“No, not at all. This is just an introductory test for both of us. Just humor me and read it.” Jason reluctantly opened the book and then started turning the pages. He looked up.

“But there’s no words. How can I read it? Are you making fun of me?” He slammed the book shut, but I reached out a calming hand.

“You said you want to read stories. Long, long before books, people were telling stories, and that’s what I want you to do. When I ask children to read that, they don’t question it, they just sit down and follow the story as they look at the illustrations. Just look at the pictures and tell me the story in your own words.”

Jason reluctantly opened the book and glanced over the first two or three pages. He glanced up at me with a look something akin to fear in his eyes. I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like whenever anyone asked or expected him to read something. Turning his attention back to the book as if considering whether to try or to find some excuse, Jason returned to the first page and started to narrate the story. He was hesitant at first, but as soon as the first lines were spoken, his confidence grew.

“One morning, Tom woke up and he knew that something was different. He was in his own room and his own warm comfy bed, but something had changed. Tom always liked to sleep with the curtains open, so it was normal to wake up to daylight coming in the window. This morning the light was different. It was unusually bright, but it wasn’t sunny because there were no shadows. Tom threw the covers back and rushed to the window. The usual view across the fields had completely changed. In fact, the world Tom saw outside his window every morning was gone. It was replaced by a thick blanket of pure white snow.”

Jason looked up at me. “Is that okay?”

“Jason, that’s more than okay, it’s fantastic. You’re telling me a story based on what you see in the pictures, but already it’s way more than the pictures show. By the way, who said the little boy was called Tom?”

“I don’t know.” Jason laughed. “He just looks like a Tom.”

“That’s perfect. You really are reading the book. Have you ever experienced a morning like that yourself?”

“Not really, no.” Jason looked puzzled.

“So you’ve taken the images in the book and added that information to other things you’ve experienced, and all that is helping you to imagine the story. That’s what we do when we read. That’s really all we do. The best authors give us an outline to the story, but they leave us to fill in our own details. We start to experience the story that they want to tell us, but we make it our own.”

Jason looked down at the book again and nodded thoughtfully.



Author T.J. Masters recently and somewhat reluctantly passed his 60th birthday. After a long and happy teaching career T.J. wanted to follow a new path before senility set in. Books and stories have been a lifelong passion and there are many tales waiting to be told.

As a happily partnered gay man T.J. chooses to write what he knows best. His overactive and ever exploring mind is probably best described by the Oscar Wilde quote that “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.


Twitter: @TJMasters

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