Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The comfort of Bear Country

As many of you have heard, Jan Berenstain, co-creator of the Berenstain Bears series, passed away this week. When we talk about what makes a good story for kids, we often emphasize that it shouldn't be written just to teach a lesson, and in many cases, that's true. But if there's one series that makes customer after customer say, "Oh, my gosh, these books were my childhood," it's The Berenstain Bears. And I think there are good reasons for that.

The Bears were real characters. They had Everybear sorts of names, but they also had personalities that could play off each other in funny ways. Once you'd read one or two, you knew that Papa Bear and the cubs were going to take something too far, Mama Bear was going to step in, and everything would go back to normal.  The lessons were fairly obvious, and were even hinted at in the little introductory poems so you knew exactly what would turn out to be "right." When you're three, four, or five, that's a powerful feeling.

The family dynamic in these books is pretty similar to that of a lot of sitcoms, and I think they've been popular for similar reasons. For one, it's fun to feel smarter than the dad. But also, sometimes, it's helpful to see what you sort of already know (honesty is the best policy, we should include each other in our games, a new sibling will change things but your parents will still love you) spelled out. It feels good to nod and say, "Silly Brother Bear, I knew that."

Thanks, Berenstains. Even if your eight-by-eight books barely fit in the spinner.


  1. Why did Mama Bear put up with her oaf of a husband?

    1. Because they don't have divorce in Bear Country? (Do they? I don't remember any divorced bears, but I haven't read most of the new ones.)

      I have some family members who are a little like Papa and Mama Bear. They've been married for a long time. I guess there's no telling what will be attractive to someone.

  2. I think the Messy Room is one of my favorites because it's a bit of a reversal -- Papa being logical and proactive about a solution. Also, I like the before-and-after pictures of the room.