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.


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.



Children’s books I do not enjoy reading

“Can you read this to me, Mommy?”
“Sure, honey.” (But inside, I am filled with dread and would derive more pleasure reading the instructions that come with Tampax.)


1. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

When I was a kid, I thought this book was the stuff of genius. It taps into some kind of primal foodie fantasy in the kiddie subconscious. As an adult, I still find the art to be amazing, but reading it feels so tedious now, for some reason.

2. Any Little Miss or Mr. Men books


What kid doesn’t love these? The art is so bold and colorful and likeable. But the writing? Good golly. If Roger Hargreaves was one of his characters, he might’ve been Mr. First Draft.


3. “More More More,” Said the Baby


Actually, I don’t dislike this book, but Archie’s hatred for it is so immense, I had to include it on the list. He can’t really explain why he detests it so much. It just makes him very angry. He says the exact same thing about yoga.


4. Madeline in London

The first Madeline book is darling. Why does this one suck so much?


5. Someday

I was given this book twice, by two of my closest friends. It opens with a woman who has just given birth to her baby girl. The book takes us through the mother’s visions of her daughter’s future: her infancy, the ups and downs of childhood, adolescence, adulthood. She imagines her daughter growing up, moving out of the house, finding her own way in the world, becoming a mother herself. And she knows that someday her daughter will grow old too, and that she will remember her mother. To both of my sweet friends who gave this to me to commemorate my having my daughter I say, WHAT THE HELL MAN, ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME WITH SADNESS AND CRYING? WHY YOU JACK ME UP LIKE THAT? LOOK AT MY EYES, THEY ARE SWOLLEN FROM BAWLING. I THOUGHT YOU WERE MY FRIEND, WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO HURT ME?