May 11, 2014

[Book Review] The Berenstain Bears and the Mama's Day Surprise by Stan & Jan Berenstain


Based on the first half of this book, I expected to hate it; I foresaw a very negative review bemoaning its misguided message about motherhood... and I'm so pleased to say that the final few pages completely turned that around. The Berenstain Bears and the Mama's Day Surprise is a fine book to read children around Mother's Day; it's a great way to help them start thinking about the concept of generosity from a less selfish, more mature point of view.

So what was wrong with the first half? Well, Mama Bear knows Mother's Day is coming up, and she's observant enough to see the signs of her husband and children's "surprise" from a mile away. She's seen it all before, and she knows exactly how it's going to go down: they're going to make her breakfast in bed, give her a gift, and then take her out to dinner. But they're going to make an absolute mess of the house in the morning, and she's going to spend all day cleaning it by herself. But she doesn't mind, apparently, because, "It's the thought that counts."

To which I say, "No. No, it isn't." Brother Bear seems to be around ten to twelve years old. Sister Bear maybe six to nine. They are more than old enough to realize that generosity doesn't come down to "I had good intentions." A shitty gift that ruins your day is still shitty regardless of how heartfelt it is. While the thought definitely counts when it comes to a child who isn't old enough to start thinking from other's perspectives or about the broader consequences of their actions, a ten- to twelve-year-old does not need that kind of coddling.

And, astoundingly, the book managed--at the last possible minute--to subvert that terrible message. Not only do Papa, Brother, and Sister Bear give Mama the expected breakfast, but they also clean up after themselves and let Mama have the day of leisure she never got to experience. That's the surprise--that the kids are finally old enough to start giving gifts with both feeling and substance. As Mama Bear says, "It was the most wonderful surprise any mama ever had!"

Ultimately, it was a really cute story, and I think it's perfect for children who haven't yet progressed past the "it's the thought that counts" phase of gift giving and might need a little push to help them grasp to the concept.

Also, for those children who don't have a maternal figure in their lives for whatever reason, perhaps The Berenstain Bears and the Papa's Day Surprise will be a better choice. You can check out my review here.



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