Recently I had the pleasure of walking down memory lane when we added some new books to the Bookboard collection. I remember reading both the Berenstain Bear books and the Boxcar Children books as a child, but I always just accepted them as they appeared to be; stories about bears and children, respectively. Now, as a librarian, I look back on them and see more.
The Berenstain Bear books are vividly colored, anthropomorphized renderings of the realities of family life. Now that I’m a parent, it is plainly obvious to me that the author and illustrator, Jan and Stan Berenstain, were parents themselves, and wrote honesty and comically about the joys and struggles that inevitably arise at the intersection of parenthood and childhood. The characters have idiosyncrasies and faults; if they didn’t, we wouldn’t sympathise with them. They struggle with finding balance in all aspects of life, making sure their families are safe, and accepting and loving each other for who they are. These books are still in print, 50 years beyond their first incarnation because they speak to both parents and children, and often serve as a spring board for important conversations with children about values like social responsibility, kindness, patience and respect. Take a look at some of the Berenstain Bear books we have!
The charming protagonists of the Boxcar Children series are much less sympathetic characters (in the literary sense) in that they are consistently polite, studious and hard-working. One does not see oneself reflected in such idealized depictions of childhood and young adulthood, but the feeling that these books leave the reader with are of safety, resilience, and the indomitable spirit of children. The boxcar children are dealt a nasty hand of cards (they’re orphans, after all!) but they remain chipper and adaptable, and things always turn out well in the end.
Underlying both of these series of books is a single theme; the importance of family. Many modern families (like mine!) are separated from their relations, and we seek increasingly creative ways to connect with grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. My 3 .5 year old son regularly videoconferences with his grandparents, and while visits to the homeland aren’t as frequent as I’d like, I do know that the phone, computer and snail mail are there to keep our family ties strong. Reading books together in person when we can (and virtually when we can’t) is one way to solidify those bonds, and reading books that underscore the importance of love, respect and care for each other deepens the bonds we can have with our real-life families, regardless of how far away they might be.