Lessons Learned from the Berenstain Bears

by: Shelly Phillips

On February 24, 2012, Jan Berenstain, the last remaining living member of the husband-and-wife writing team that penned the bestselling children’s series, the Berenstain Bears, passed away quietly at the age of 88.

When I first learned about this, I was faintly surprised to realize that I hadn’t read one of the Berenstain Bears books in 15 years.  In fact, I probably hadn’t even thought about the Berenstain Bears in 15 years.  Unlike the other book series I devoured as a child (Goosebumps, Sweet Valley High, The Babysitter’s Club), whose characters and plotlines inevitably find themselves brought up in tipsy conversations about childhood nostalgia on a semi-regular basis, the Berenstain Bears evidently hadn’t made much of an impact on my adult psyche.

But as I looked back at the many books in this popular children’s series (Jan and Stain, it turns out, were quite prolific), certain titles and covers began to stand out in my mind.  And slowly, I started to remember some of the books I’d read (or actually, probably had read to me) years and years ago.  And then I began to realize that some of the many lessons they teach are still applicable today.

For example:

Lesson One: Going to the dentist isn’t really all that scary

I think the book’s cover says it all.  To begin with, everyone is smiling.  At the dentist’s.  I have to admit that even as a teenager, the thought of going to the dentist was analogous to chewing on glass.  (I probably even had nightmares about it as a child.)  But here on the cover, Ma, Brother, and Sister Bear are beaming up at the very friendly and non-scary-looking dentist without any hesitation, thus showing that going to the dentist shouldn’t be dreaded…well, not that much, at least.

Lesson Two: Too much TV (or Facebook, or YouTube, or Twitter) really does rot your brain…and life is actually more fulfilling without it

After coming to the realization that her family spends way too much time in front of the TV, she bans it for a week.  The plot unfolds the way you would it expect it to, with Pa, Brother, and Sister Bear realizing that fun can exist outside of the boob tube and that their relationships improve all the more for the lack of it in their lives.  It’s very easy to dismiss this book (or any of the Berenstain Bear books, really) for being too formulaic in expressing its “moral of the story.”  But it’s a moral I still think rings true today.

Shelly Phillips is an Ohioan who doesn’t really care about the Buckeyes, but is just a little too obsessed with all things British.  She also enjoys traveling, reading, Chai tea lattes, and late-afternoon naps.

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