Bears, doctors, dentists and strangers

Jan and Stan Berenstain created 300 or so Berenstain Bears books. We’ve only read a tiny fraction of them. Among these, there are three that I’ve found useful as tools to discuss certain prickly topics with my kids:


The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor


The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist


The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers


I’ll admit right now that I’m not generally a big fan of The Berenstain Bears, mainly because I don’t enjoy the writing that much. But these three are not a bad read (unlike the odd and stultifying The Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand and The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear). And I really do believe that the Dentist and Doctor ones helped Nica feel more comfortable about going to the real dentist and doctor.

More recently, I’ve been reading the Strangers one from time to time. Nica will soon be a kindergartener, and she is pretty self-reliant and independent, qualities I encourage. But the world is what it is, and as a parent I can’t help but worry that she will be too friendly and open with the wrong person. On one hand, you want your kid to be confident and unafraid of people, but on the other, you want her to be cautious and, well, safe. It’s a tough balance to teach, and this book has helped me start a discussion about how to deal with strangers.

What I’m most impressed with is that the book encompasses many aspects of this topic; it doesn’t just say “Don’t talk to strangers” and leave it at that. I also appreciate its emphasizing that chances are, a “cub” will not meet any dangerous people at all but that she needs to learn to be cautious nonetheless. The lessons are exemplified by Sister and Brother Bear. Sister is the overly friendly one who ends up becoming paranoid after a too-scary lesson from Papa Bear; and Brother Bear is the more reserved cub who ends up in a situation where he lets down his guard too much. By having the two cubs go through opposite experiences, the authors were able to address that whole gray area in between the extremes. And then Mama Bear brings it home with a lesson using, yep, a barrel of apples, to show that a misshapen one is not always a “bad apple”; a perfectly normal-looking apple can contain a worm.

Personally, I think the book does the job thoroughly without being horribly pedantic or frightening. They do include a list of “Rules for Cubs” at the end of the book, which I found to be very well thought out as well.


Thomas mania has hit our house.


Thomas love


It happened all of a sudden, without any warning whatsoever. One day, Ham wasn’t interested in anything on tracks; the next, he was downright obsessed with trains, especially with Thomas. It’s a mystery as to how this came to be, as we never watched the show. Ham had only seen part of a Thomas compilation DVD months before. At the time, he expressed no special interest. Did the Thomas virus just take this long to incubate? When Ham turned 2, was some sort of rails-loving, boy-child hardwiring activated?

No doubt about it, the wheel was invented by a male caveperson. I am astounded at how little boys can spend so much time rolling a toy car or train back and forth. And, of course, sooner or later that car or train must suddenly be seized with a suicidal or murderous urge and crash dramatically. Did the caveman who invented the wheel have his stone prototype roll into something? Did he, too, make that pkhow crashing sound?

Anyway, back to Thomas. I, for one, have always found Thomas and his crew totally creepy-looking. Those plaster-hued, pliable faces with the cheekbones and chins and haunted eyes…. I didn’t understand why kids loved them so much. When I tried watching that DVD with Ham, I was bored to tears. I was thankful back then that Ham wasn’t into the whole Thomas thing.

But now that he is and I’ve been forced to watch the show, read the books and familiarize myself with the characters, I am beginning to get it. And, after reading some of the books, I am even starting to appreciate their educational value. I like that the stories all teach ethical lessons that are not spelled out. Every character is flawed in some way, but what all the trains of Sodor (that’s where Thomas and his ilk live and work, for those who have not been Thomas-initiated) want most is to feel Really Useful, as the books say, and to please the jowly Sir Topham Hatt, their human boss. I can see how the premise strikes a primal chord in small children.

I am amazed at how quickly Ham mastered all the names and faces of the trains as well as their corresponding numbers. Nica, too, in an act of sibling solidarity, has memorized all the trains’ names and numbers, as well as the song. I have been slower to learn; the song especially confounds me.

So, I am surprised to have become somewhat of a Thomas fan myself. Even though I still find him a little creepy-lookin’.

I Stink!: the manliest children’s book ever

Ham (22 months) is so into this book right now.

The story is basically a New York City garbage truck telling you about all his (yes, definitely HIS) features and how he picks up trash every morning. There is also an A-is-for-Apple section that is like Oscar the Grouch’s version.

When Ham got this as a gift and I read it for the first time, I was quite turned off by it. To me, it was like the literary equivalent of a big, hairy dude wearing tighty-whities and holding a machine gun. And most women I know don’t relish exclaiming “I stink!” and having to name a bunch of car parts and gross, smelly items. But in time, I started getting into it. I got in touch with my inner garbage truck. There is no way to read this book in a girlie way. You gotta get guttural and snarl out the sentences. While reading this book, I mostly have this face on:


And the more I look like that, the more Ham looks at me like this:


So, how can I refuse to read it to him. But then, at certain parts, he gets all Bravehearty and “Argh! Yeah!” and I think, Geez, take it easy, dude.