Jan Berenstain, RIP

Jan Berenstain, co-creator of the Berenstain Bears with her husband Stan, has died at the age of 88.

When she was 3 and 4 my daughter couldn’t get enough of the retro-Berenstain collection at Grandma and Grandpa’s, the books I read long ago in the 60s and 70s. Even though she asked for them a gazillion times, even at my weariest I appreciated how zippy these books are – not too many words on a page, and lots of action. At nearly-six the boss is still quite entertained by them, though these old titles are a lot more alarming than the newer ones. (Papa Bear gets banged up pretty good, thanks to his own boneheadedness!)

    Actually, Homer Simpson, the quintessential dufus dad, has a definite predecessor in Papa Bear, and his habit of carelessly endangering everyone around him. (Check out The Bike Lesson, wherein Papa rides down the wrong side of the road and causes a hilarious multi-car pileup.)

The later books and cartoon series, which added a girl cleverly named “Sister”, dialled down Papa’s recklessness and amped up the educational content. (Previously the main lessons to be learned were things like “don’t stick your hand into a beehive” and “don’t ride your bike off a cliff”.)

    When Stan died in 2005, the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote a rather negative article about the legacy of the Berenstain Bears:

The Berenstains’ rigid problem-solution plots, and problem-solving prescriptions, are straightforward and without nuance, cut and dried, spinach with a dash of sugar. … Where is the warmth, the spirit of discovery and imagination in Bear Country? Stan Berenstain taught a million lessons to children, but subtlety and plain old joy weren’t among them.

Pretty harsh, with some truth to it, but this same criticism can also be levelled at many (all?) of the major children’s book/cartoon franchises around today. As he thoughtfully puts it, shows and books of this nature are more successful at reassuring anxious parents than kids.

Another point he makes is the undermining of parental authority with the old dad-as-dummy plots, which I don’t quite buy. When the first books came out, in the early 1960s, dufus dad wasn’t quite the cliché that he is in today’s sitcom culture. He was probably even a bit of a new thing back then. And besides, children have been entertained for decades by stories about adult authority figures who are dumber than the kids. In these early books little cub manages just fine despite his dad’s ineptitude, even rescuing the old man from time to time, and that only heightens the delight of young readers.

Whether or not you agree with Farhi, his article is aimed squarely at the latter books and tv series. My recommendation is this: for sheer Roadrunneresque anarchy, dig out the old books! Whether stealing a boat, getting struck by lightning, or breaking nearly every bone in his body at scout camp, Papa Bear is always good for a laugh.

As a parent I’m not a huge fan of the Berenstain Bears, though I do remember finding those old books pretty funny. These days my favourite title doesn’t have much to do with the iconic bear family at all. Bears in the Night features a family of numerous small bears who sneak out of bed to investigate a mysterious noise and get a good (harmless) scare. A great ‘first reader’ with a repetitive pattern that kids will enjoy (“out the window, down the tree, over the fence, around the lake, through the woods…”, that kind of thing).


Okay, this sounds like a real nightmare…

Before a screening of “Puss in Boots” in the UK, the trailers for two horror films were shown by accident. (from the Huffington Post)

Another reason to save the big movie theatre experience until they’re older! (Other reasons include cost, loudness and tiny bladders.)

Happy Birthday, RKOB!

One year ago I wrote my first post, a review of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), and today, on the blog’s first birthday, here is my 300th post!

Yesterday’s review, A Ball for Daisy, finishes up my Caldecott blitz. I have reviewed all the Caldecott Medal Winners (75 of them!) from 1938 to 2012.

Many thanks to the marvellous Toronto Public Library, without which I could not  have accomplished this feat of fiendishly obsessive behaviour.

The full list of Caldecott Medal winning titles, with links to the reviews, is here. You will find the list, 1. alphabetical by author, 2. chronological by date, and finally (NEW!) 3. grouped by age appropriateness.

This year will see a lot of changes for me, and no small amount of upheaval and chaos, as we pack up and move across the country to Saltspring Island and whatever new adventures await us there.

Posts may be sporadic at times, but I’ve still got so many areas I’d like to explore:  reviewing the Greenaway Medal Winners (I think I’m about halfway through), and going on to chapter books (Newbery and Carnegie titles)… doing more movie reviews, particularly great old movies kids would love… writing more about introducing children to classical music, art, dance, theatre… including more parenting info, research, books, links… and more historical lit commentaries… featuring book recommendations from guest reviewers (kids!) … more and more and more reading and research…

But today … I eat cake.

Cheers, and thanks to all who visit this site!


someone cue the singing fish…

p.p.s. If you would like to help support this site, please subscribe (see sidebar) and comment freely on anything you read! For more tangible support, please link from my site to amazon whenever you wish to shop there. Future avenues of monetization are still to be explored, but I promise to keep ads and the like from being too annoying or intrusive!

A Ball for Daisy


A Ball for Daisy

by Chris Raschka

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011

32 pp.

Age: infant+

Interests: dogs, pets, wordless books

Also by this illustrator: The Hello, Goodbye Window


Another BBC Radio Essay – Michael Rosen

This is a really good one! Former British children’s poet laureate Michael Rosen talks about what children’s literature tells us about parenting through the years. From The Essay series “Happily Ever After”, looking at the changing portrayal of the family in children’s literature.



A Sick Day for Amos McGee


A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Philip C. Stead, text

Erin E. Stead, illustrations

Roaring Brook Press, 2010

32 pp.

Age: 3+

Interests: animals, zoo, zookeepers, being sick, friends

Also by this illustrator: And Then It’s Spring


The Lion and the Mouse


The Lion and the Mouse

by Jerry Pinkney

Little, Brown and Company, 2009

34 pp.

Age: 2+

Interests: mice, lions, animals, Africa, fables, wordless books

Also by this author: Little Red Hen, John Henry, Aesop’s Fables, Noah’s Ark

Next: a full collection of Aesop’s Fables


The House in the Night


The House in the Night

Susan Marie Swanson, text

Beth Krommes, illustrations

Houghton Mifflin, 2008

36 pp.

Age: 3+

Interests: night, bedtime, night sky, sun and moon

Other books by this illustrator: The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish; Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, The Hidden Folk


Radio essay on Dahl’s Matilda

Thanks bundleofbooks for this one, via Twitter – a BBC Radio series called Happily Ever After, all about the portrayal of family in children’s literature. I just listened to Anthony Horowitz talking about the horrible Wormwoods in Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Very interesting and with a thought-provoking finish: should Matilda have chosen to go with her parents at the end?

To listen online, click here. (The audio file is 24 min long, but Horowitz’s essay is just the first 15 minutes.)

To read my review of Matilda, click here.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat


Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

by Simms Taback

Viking, 1999

34 pp.

Age: 3+

Interests: folksongs, Jewish folktales/folksongs, sewing, recycling/repurposing

Also by this author: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, This is the House that Jack Built


Previous Older Entries

All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.