In elementary school, grade two to be exact, I began recording in a little notebook all of the titles of the books I had read. I also wrote a little review of each. Sort of like “This one, real good” or “This one, not so good.” And I would record how many pages the book contained!
At Christmas I would add up all the pages and then tell people.
Stuff like that. Of course, my mother saw this literary journal of mine. She knew I was reading all the time, while normal kids were playing outside.
Well, one day she brought the book to the parent-teacher interview, and she showed my Grade Two teacher, Mrs Okrainetz. [Doesn’t she just sound mean? Like a real cackling broomstick-rider?]
Mrs Okrainetz basically told my mom that I was lying to her, that there was no possible way that I could have read all of those books.
When my mom told me this, I cried. Because the thing is, I was not lying.
All of this preamble is just to establish the fact that when I was a kid, I read every book I could get my hands on. Literally. When I ran out of library books I would take down a volume of The World Book Encyclopedia, and look at it for hours.
I remember loving those books about Clifford, the big red dog. Curious George, too. Winnie-The-Pooh. Pippy Longstocking. Paddington Bear. [I loved Paddington Bear.] Then I read tons of the Enid Blyton books, The Fabulous Five series. And The Hardy Boys. And very early on, probably at what was then a real foundational level, I fell for the Babar elephants, and... The Berenstain Bears.
Surely everyone reading this has read the Berenstain Bears. Or has read the Berenstain Bears to a son or daughter perhaps. Their little meaningful adventures make the latter-day Care Bears and Smurfs look, well... asinine!
The Berenstain Bears were created by Stan and Jan Berenstain, who began drawing together when they met at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art in 1941. Along with Theodor Geisel (better known as Dr Suess) the couple developed the series with the goal of teaching children to read while entertaining them with great stories and wonderful artwork.
The first Bear book, entitled The Big Honey Hunt, was published in 1962. From that point onward, Stan and Jan never ceased writing and illustrating the series, publishing more than 250 books in the next four decades.
Sadly, Stan Berenstain passed away on Saturday, Nov.26th, in Pennsylvania. He was 82 years old. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his two sons. A private memorial service was scheduled for today.
And so it is that I sit here at Starbucks tonight, in the Chapters bookstore. I’m drinking a cup of coffee, and musing over the fact that I am almost exactly as old as their first book. [I was born in ’63.] And I am thinking that I am thankful for the contribution that the Berenstains made in that little segment of my own childhood history. The moments I spent with their books.
Tonight, half a lifetime later, I am sitting in a place that has a little shelf devoted to the Berenstains, over in the Kid’s section. I sauntered over there and retrieved a few, just now. As I leaf through them, I wonder which of these, if any, were an entry in my notebook journal of long ago....