In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In appreciation of Mother Bear

Dear Aunt Debbie,

And Happy Mother's Day to you! I'm looking forward to the years when "sleeping in" will mean later than, say, 7 AM, but enjoying it nonetheless. I got an awesome 3-D sparkly Princess card.

I adore Little Bear. I was thinking about Mother Bear this weekend, planning my own mother-related post. There are so many treacly mothers out there in the children's book world that I appreciate coming across a mother with a little zing to her. (I really like the imaginative play in Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms, but I find the mom a little annoying. Come on, lady, play a part in your kids' story instead of just showing up in every scene to beg for affection! And what's up with the 80's suit and power earrings she's wearing to hang out at home?)

In the four stories in Little Bear, I agree that Mother Bear is warm and loving, but you also feel her patience being tried, and the combination of Minarik's spare text and Sendak's expressive drawings is sharp and funny. In "What Will Little Bear Wear?", Little Bear goes out to play in the snow, but keeps coming back in because he's cold, interrupting Mother Bear as she sweeps the floor, hems a skirt, and finally sits down to read a book (her activities aren't mentioned in the text -- they're all Sendak). Each time, Mother Bear asks what he needs and then makes him something new to wear. You can read her dialogue aloud in a completely patient voice, but look at her expression and tweak it a little bit, and it becomes quite dry: "Here is Little Bear again. 'Oh,' said Mother Bear, 'what can you want now?'"

In "Little Bear Goes to the Moon," the dialogue goes a step farther. Little Bear, wearing a cardboard space helmet, is planning to fly to the moon. I really have to quote the whole thing:

"I'm going to fly to the moon,"
said Little Bear.
"Fly!" said Mother Bear.
"You can't fly."

"Birds fly," said Little Bear.
"Oh, yes," said Mother Bear.
"Birds fly, but they don't fly to the moon.
And you are not a bird."

"Maybe some birds do fly to the moon,
I don't know.
And maybe I can fly like a bird,"
said Little Bear.

"And maybe," said Mother Bear,
"you are a little fat bear cub
with no wings and no feathers.
"Maybe if you jump up
you will come down very fast,
with a big plop."

"Maybe," said Little Bear.
"But I'm going now.
Just look for me up in the sky."
"Be back for lunch," said Mother.

There are four more Little Bear books: Father Bear Comes Home, Little Bear's Visit (about a trip to his grandparents' house), Little Bear's Friend, and A Kiss for Little Bear. All of them have wonderful moments in them; I'm a particular fan of A Kiss for Little Bear, which has lots more of the illustrations adding extra depth and humor to the text.

Eleanor adores these books. Of course, she also adores the Little Bear TV show, which is treacly in the ways the books are decidedly not, and contains a little too much canned laughter for my taste, but is otherwise harmless. Except, perhaps, for the fact that all anyone seems to ingest on these kids' shows is cake and lemonade.

While I'm on the subject of Else Holmelund Minarik, I can't fail to mention her other great book, also a collaboration with Sendak: No Fighting, No Biting!

No Fighting, No Biting!

This is one I grew up with, but I don't think I've ever seen it at anyone else's house, and it's wonderful. It's a story within a story: Cousin Joan is trying to read, but keeps getting interrupted by the bickering of Rosa and Willie, so she tells them a story about two little alligators who almost get eaten by a big hungry alligator because they fight too much. The bickering is pitch-perfect, and the mother alligator brooks no argument. There's also a side story about Rosa losing her tooth which is quite sweet.

I have so much love for Maurice Sendak. More on him, of course, later.

Love, Annie


  1. Annie, I've been loving this blog! We ADORE Little Bear (which I grew up with) but I had no idea there were more books in the series. Thanks for the tip!
    I have to say that we DO have No Fighting, No Biting (an old copy of Erick's) and I HATE it. I just find it awful to read - far too wordy and repetitive (I'm more a fan of the spare Little Bear style). In fact, I was almost ready for it to "accidentally" slip into our recycling bin (as did all of Crosby Bonsall's Homer books -- those are pretty dreadful!). But you've convinced me to give it another chance!

  2. Faith, I'm so glad! Thanks for reading. Eleanor's (and my) favorite parts of No Fighting, No Biting are actually the Rosa and Willie parts rather than the alligator story. I think it's also aimed a little older. I'd love to hear what your girls are loving these days, too.