The Berenstain Bears

I’m a fan. The most challenging thing for me about this series is spelling the name correctly– it seems like it has too many syllables– nor am I sure how to pronounce it. We call them the “Bernstein” Bears (which is kind of funny because I suspect they are Christian bears. More on that later.)

I like these books because they take on big issues that kids think about including death, lying, dangerous strangers, stealing, and racism. One of the my favorite books is New Neighbors, when a panda family moves in next door to the Berenstain’s tree house. Father Bear incorrectly interprets all of the Panda family’s actions (such as building a fence) as aggressive. I think the story gives kids good  insight into the psychology of racism (making all kinds of generalizations based on ignorance) without demonizing Father as a bad person/ bear.  That’s a subtle lesson, not easy to pull of in a kid’s story whch often tend to go more for black and white (ha ha). All the characters in these books show flaws– mamma will yell, Brother will tease, Sister will lie, but there aren’t “bad” characters.

Some of my  favorites in the series include include: Too Much Vacation, Too Much Car Trip, The Truth, the Blame Game, Get the Gimmes, Chores, and Messy Room. The stories can be repetitive (as you can probably tell) but I don’t mind, because I am blue in the face repeating these same messages to my kids every day (clean your room! tell the truth! don’t fight!) I’m open to another mouthpiece and any creativity in my delivery. The books can also be preachy– I think there is an underlying family values/ Jesus thing going on in some of the them, the Christmas story and Easter story and hints in the dead goldfish story etc, but they don’t beat you over the head with Jesus messages or anything. Part of being parent is being preachy, so if I can entertain the kids while doing so, that works for me.

Mamma Bear is a strong character though I feel sorry for her because she never gets to change her outfit. Maybe that’s sexist of me, because no one in the family seems to have a change of clothes. My sympathy remains with Mamma though, because her outfit is particularly awful: she wears an ankle length blue dress with big, white polka dots and a matching puffy hat (reminsicent of the one Laura Ingalls used to sleep in on TV)  When I complained to Lucy about the clothing, she told me Mamma does occasionally change her hat when she goes out. I can’t verify that right now, but I’ll let you know if I do.

Sister Bear is always in her gender defining pink bow and pink overalls, but at least they are overalls.  She and Brother are true co-stars in the books (though sometimes one book will focus on one, and one book on the other) Sister is just as mischevious and wise; there doesn’t seem to be a characteristic split along gender lines, except minor– sometimes Sister will jump rope while Brother plays baseball.

There is one book called No Girls Allowed which teaches about sexism. It’s good,  but Lucy was read this book before she knew even what sexism was. At the time she thought boys and girls just hung out. So I would be a somewhat cautious, just waiting till the issues come up in the kid’s life if you can, not to confuse them prematurely. (I love the brief period– very brief, debatable if it exists at all– in a kid’s life before everyone starts saying to her: “I bet I know what your favorite color is!” and “Here’s a sticker just for you, Princess!”)

The Berenstain Bears gets a **GG** rating for good messages delivered in effective ways, for the most part, without stereotyping.

2 thoughts on “The Berenstain Bears

  1. My mom gave my daughter a Berenstain Bears book for Valentine’s Day that was Valentine’s Day themed. The entire story revolves around a boy bear who is picking on Sister bear, and how she wants another, cuter boy bear to actually ride in on a white horse to save her. Then Momma bear starts telling Sister bear a story about a boy who picked on her when she was young, and how she just put up with it, and it was Papa bear and how he ended up being a wonderful provider and father.

    As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather not have my daughter waiting for anyone to ride in on a white horse to save her from anything, nor do I want her thinking every boy who teases her secretly likes her. That perpetuates gender norms for everyone, and I don’t want any part of it. We got rid of the book, and I’ve stayed away from the Berenstain Bears ever since. Maybe we made a hasty decision, but with all the children’s books to choose from, we’re not missing them around here.

    • Ha! That sounds like the plot line of “He’s Just Not That Into You” (not a fan, even though I like Drew Barrymore.) That story sucks, thanks for letting me know, and I will make sure not to add it to our collection. That said, I think you have to steer clear of anything Valentine’s Day related (unless someone knows of a feminist story) It’s more like Let’s Celebrate Sterotype Day and Make Single People Feel Like Freaks. The Berenstain Bears are very mainstream, within that worls, I think they usually do a pretty good job– though like I wrote about they do co-opt holidays and the Christmas and Easter stories are kind of creepy.

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