Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Original Berenstain Bears

Hard rain early Monday afternoon, after which I was expecting clear skies and cool air. But no, the air got warmer. Here we are practically at the equinox and summer tugs back. Today was positively summer, up to and including temps at nearly 90 F. and a summer-style thunderstorm around dusk, though not one with a lot of wind or lightning displays.

Ann has been reading a lot of Berenstain Bears books lately, which isn't a bad thing, but I have noticed how relentlessly didactic most of the titles are. Such as The Berenstain Bears [each title begins with those words, or the possessive Bears']... Go to the Doctor; Visit to the Dentist; Trouble With Friends; Trouble With Money; and the Messy Room; and Too Much TV; and Too Much Junk Food; Learn About Strangers; Forget Their Manners; Trouble at School; and the Bad Habit; and on and on.

Those aren't the books I remember reading as a kid. Before Stan and Jan Berenstain went all educational with their series sometime in the 1970s, they created more entertaining bear books, though of course the point was to encourage children to read. The early bear books also relied on that old trope, as old as Plautus and probably older, of the dimwitted father leading his family into trouble.

In The Bears' Picnic (1966), for instance, the father bear tries to find a picnic spot, only to be driven away each time by a smoky locomotive, a mass of other picnickers, an enormous swarm of mosquitoes, a dump truck that dumps garbage on them, a jet that flies right over them, and then a sudden thunderstorm while they are on the top of a hill. It's the one-damn-thing-after-another style of storytelling, with not a moral in sight, at least not explicitly. Each page is vividly drawn, as are the expressions of the bears: the father is befuddled in the later style of Chevy Chase, and the mother's expression grows angrier and angrier without saying anything. She has exactly four lines in the entire book, after she takes it upon herself to head home with her son and let the father bear be hit by lightning. Hit on the butt, a perfect detail for kids.

The older titles are constantly checked out of the library, so I finally reserved The Bears' Picnic and The Big Honey Hunt (1962) for Ann's amusement, and we got them today during our Tuesday run to the library. I'm glad to report that she was much amused by them.

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