The blinking telephone message light greeted me last night when I got home from work. The police reverse phone emergency system informed me that a "free-ranging" bear spotted near Summit Middle School was last reported heading in a "westerly" direction. Last time I got that message was the day I had inadvertantly left the door propped wide for my dog and wondered if a bear had found a "just right" sized bed or chair in my house or perhaps raided the cupboard looking for porridge. I wonder what they mean by a "free-ranging" bear though. Would that be something different from a bear with a plan or a GPS? While I was pondering that mystery, I started to think about how bears are portrayed in children's books, so cute and cuddly and, well, human. Some well-known literary bears spring to mind:
The many versions of the story of Goldilocks and her nemeses, the Three Bears, who I think of as Mr. and Mrs. Three and Little Three, Jr.
The Berenstain Bears, whose eponymous (always wanted to use that word in a sentence) series features moral lessons for young children about proper behavior in school, at the doctor, with the babysitter, on a boat, at night etc. There's no situation these books don't address. Every day has teachable moments for these poor bears. My son was addicted to this series; me not so much. I prefer:
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson as a read-a-loud for preschoolers, Michael Bond's Paddington series is fun to read to older children. My kids still refer to Paddington "having a tussle with a sticky bun" in the station cafe. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey is a classic; I love McCloskey's illustrations and the old-fashioned 3-tones pictures. And Daniel Pinkwater's stories about Larry the Polar Bear who floats on an ice flow and ends up in Bayonne, NJ is a must read.
If approached by a real bear, remain calm and report it to the bear hotline
For more information about real bears, read the NJ Department of Environmental Protection's
Bear Facts page.