Making the Grades
The Berenstain Bears have a spot on nearly every family's bookshelf, mine included. Creators Stan and Jan Berenstain created their family of four bears (with the original names of Mama, Papa, Sister, and Brother) based upon experiences with their own two children in the hopes of creating children's books that would be fun to read. Now the elderly couple continues to create stories by mining the experiences of their grandchildren for ideas.
Usually the family of bears living in a tree house have an obvious moral attached to their tales involving manners, treating others kindly, or working together. While the children are often part of the instigating problem, most often it's Papa who is ignorant of social customs and morals. Between Mama's firm corrections and the children's examples, he always falls into line.
Ironically, while Stan and Jan originally wanted their works to help children learn how to read, these popular stories have found their way to Saturday morning television, and recently home video versions have been released, the latest being Making Friends Everywhere (Volume 7) and Bears to the Rescue (Volume 8). Each tape has three stories running about 12 minutes each.
Stan and Jan are credited for both the story and teleplay on each of these episodes, which, after watching some of them, was a little surprising. For the most part, the cartoon versions stay close to the spirit of the stories--although I hadn't read any of the books upon which these six titles were based.
In The Berenstain Bears and The Trouble With Friends, (found on Vol. 7) Sister learns that having good friends doesn't always mean getting your own way. Another episode on that same tape, The Berenstain Bears and the Neighborly Skunk, has Sister learning about prejudice from her teacher about how it takes all types of creatures to make up a forest. When a seemingly undesirable skunk moves next door, Sister is asked to put her newfound principles to the test. The skunk proves his worth in the neighborhood after saving Sister and Brother from Too-Tall, a big bear bully.
But bullies seem far more frequent in these videos than what I ever recalled in the books, and one episode becomes nothing more than Saturday morning fodder. The Berenstain Bears Save the Farm (found on Vol. 8) has local Farmer Ben concerned after his crops take a sudden turn for the worse, thanks to an evil weasel gang who wants to take over Bear Country. I know these authors are capable of offering far more realistic problems and creative solutions than what appears in this title.
Certainly, there's nothing in any of these episodes that most parents wouldn't want their children watching, yet when I think about the benefits and good experiences of reading these stories to my children, you may want to follow-up your TV time with some cookies and a bear-y good book.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Berenstain Bears Vol 7 & 8.
Why do you think Papa is often the comic relief character? Could Mama be seen in this same role?
An interesting family activity would be to watch the video and then read the story upon which it was based. Look for differences. Young viewers may find the story easier to read after watching the video.
Stan and Jan Berenstain met decades ago in art school, fell in love, married, had two boys, and started writing children’s books. Read all about them and their books at www.berenstainbears.com
See if anyone in your family is interested in writing a children’s story. You can use the Berenstain Bears characters, or create your own family. Who knows… you could have a popular line of books in a few years!