Little Bear is the first in a series by Else Minarik which has sold over six million copies and has been adopted for television. It’s also one of my favorite picture books from childhood. Why the enduring popularity for these stories? For me, it’s because of the loving relationship which exists between Little Bear and Mother Bear, and the playful nature of the tales about them.
The blurb on the publisher’s site reads: “Meet Little Bear, a friend to millions of children. And meet Mother Bear, who is there whenever Little Bear needs her.” The latter statement is what I want to examine here. Little Bear contains four stories, all of which prove this statement.
- In the first, Little Bear sees the snow and decides he’s cold. He tells his mother that he wants to put something on. No matter how many times Little Bear returns from his play to make this statement, Mother Bear patiently makes something for him.
- In the second, Little Bear mistakenly thinks his mother has left him on his birthday. He decides to make birthday soup and invite over friends, all on his own. When Mother Bear returns from preparing a birthday surprise, she tenderly reassures Little Bear, “I never did forget your birthday and never will.”
- In the third, Little Bear decides to travel to the moon. Mother Bear wisely points out this is impossible but she also doesn’t deter him. When he sets off with his space helmet to fly like the birds, Mother Bear just calmly tells him, “Be back for lunch.”
- And finally the fourth is all about wishes. Little Bear has some extravagant ones such as finding a Viking boat or meeting a princess. Mother Bear never acts hurt over his desire to have more than she can offer. Instead she simply waits until he asks for one which she can grant.
While we all enjoy books like Cat in the Hat and Where the Wild Things Are where life is more topsy-turvy, we also all need those books which reassure us that in the end our parents will always be there and always give us love.
My other reason for enjoying Little Bear is the playful nature of its four tales. Sometimes this comes through in Minarik’s style. In “What Will Little Bear Wear?” Minarik relies on repetition of certain ideas: It’s cold; Little Bear wants something to put on; Mother Bear makes something for Little Bear to wear; Now he won’t be cold! Just as with memory games, where one keeps adding new things to the list, so Little Bears keeps piling on the clothes until he’s wearing a hat, a coat, snow pants…. Minarik also relies on whimsical twists. When Little Bear asks for a fur coat, Mother Bear removes all his outdoor clothes and points out, “There is the fur coat.”
Other times the playful nature of the four stories comes through in the imagination of Minarik’s characters. In “Little Bear goes to the Moon,” Little Bear thinks that maybe birds can fly to the moon and that maybe he can fly like a bird. Then he climbs to the top of tree at the top of a hill, shuts his eyes, and jumps. When he lands, instead of being disappointed, he decides that the moon looks a lot like earth. This story too has a whimsical twist, one which I’ll leave you to discover. Little Bear’s Wish makes for a perfect way to end the book. In it, Little Bear imagines all these elaborate wishes, including flying on a cloud and tunneling to China, none of which of course he can have. What Mother Bear can give him, what all children truly want, is a bedtime story. She fills his with reminisces about all the actual adventures Little Bear once had, before wishing him good night.
Little Bear is simply told enough that young readers will be able to independently read the stories. They’re also so beautiful and touching that even as an adult, I enjoy snuggling into bed and reading through them again. Long live Little Bear!
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?