The Paddington stories have a vast appeal and can be used to discuss geography (where's Peru? where's Paddington Station?), history (how have places and objects described in the novels changed since the books were first written?), PSHE (What's it like to be a refugee?) and English (How does a writer create a popular character?). Here are some useful facts about the Paddington phenomenon.
* The first book, A Bear Called Paddington, was published in 1958. Author Michael Bond wrote the first draft in a WH Smith notebook.
* Bond was inspired to create Paddington by the pathos of the last toy bear on the Selfridges shelf one Christmas Eve. He drew on wartime images of child evacuees with address labels around their necks for the "Please Look After This Bear" notice. The duffel coat and the battered suitcase give Paddington the air of a nomad or refugee.
* The Paddington stories have the same basic plot - Paddington tries to make sense of a new situation, gets it wrong and has another go. He causes havoc as he eats a sticky bun, tackles an escalator and visits a large store. His wide fan base is perhaps due to the fact that everyone can identify with Paddington's bewilderment when he's faced with new discoveries or people who seem determined to make his life difficult.
* Paddington's age is open to debate. He combines the air of an enquiring six-year-old with some quite Victor Meldrew-ish behaviour, especially when dealing with pretentious or domineering opponents such as grouchy neighbour Mr Curry, or when he is giving tiresome bureaucratic types one of his hard stares.
* Paddington was rescued by the Brown family. Mr Brown is something vague but important in "the City", although he's not all that bright. Mrs Brown is depicted as a housewife and mother.
* A toy bear on a plinth can be found near the lost property office at London's Paddington Station, where the Brown family first encountered the lost, nameless bear from darkest Peru.
* More than 25 million copies of Bond's 14 Paddington books have been sold worldwide. There have also been Paddington records, soft toys and TV series.
Collins Children's Books has just reprinted A Bear Called Paddington (pound;9.99 hbk) and we have 20 copies to give away. For your chance to receive a copy, write to Paddington Book Offer, TES Teacher, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX by December 16 2002. The first 20 names chosen will each receive a copy