Don't Mess with Brown Bear

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
by Bill Martin Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle

This is one of those perfect "first books" for baby. The repetition, rhyme, rhythm, and short text are ideal for reading aloud to a baby. The art is wonderfully vibrant and simple--bold colors and big shapes on plain white backgrounds. When you put this art and text together, you have something that pleases baby's eyes AND ears-- and really holds her attention.

Each page goes like this:

Red bird, red bird,
What do you see?

I see a yellow duck
looking at me!

This text became so familiar to my daughter that when we hand her a yellow rubber ducky in the bath, we say, "Yellow duck, yellow duck, what do you see? I see Eliza looking at me!" She loves it! We also do "I see mama looking at me" and "I see dada looking at me" when we look in the mirror. Endless fun to be had with "what do you see" and "looking at me"!

So, of course, given Miss E's excitement with this text, I went out to get a sequel. I have looked at all three (Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? and Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You Hear?). And the winner is . . .

Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?
by Bill Martin Jr, illustrated by Eric Carle

This is actually the most recent of the sequels, published in 2007, forty years after Brown Bear was published (in 1967). Brown Bear was actually Eric Carle's first book (though the art on the current board book cover, shown at the top of this post, is revised art he did for the 25th anniversary edition).

What I love about Baby Bear is that it holds true to the two things I love about Brown Bear: 1) The wonderful rhythm of the text and 2) The simplicity of the art. I think both Polar Bear and Panda Bear mess with the formula too much.

Panda Bear is particularly atrocious when it comes to the rhythm. Because it is trying to feature endangered animals, the text becomes encumbered, as many of the animals have names that are too long to work in the rhythm (which is meant for a two-syllable animal name -- or maybe three syllables if one can be swallowed a bit!). Here is an example of the terrible rhythm:

from Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?

Come on! Green sea turtle? Macaroni penguin? Talk about awkward mouthfuls! As the notion of "endangered species" is completely lost on my baby (and on most of the readership, really), I take the liberty of editing the text as I read it. So, Eliza just hears: "Turtle, turtle, what do you see?" And "I see a penguin strutting by me." I recommend that to anyone who wants to salvage Panda Bear. This book could have been great if the names had been done in short form. The full names of the endangered species could have been featured on an explanatory spread in the back (for the upper end of the readership, and for adults!).

Anyway, back to Baby Bear-- the art is also more like Brown Bear in that the backgrounds are kept pure white, so there's plenty of stark contrast. Panda Bear has some painted backgrounds (and squiggly line backgrounds like the one above) that can cause the animals to get a bit lost.

One small critique of Baby Bear-- they could have chosen a few more non-brown animals! Even in keeping with the North America theme, there's room for a yellow or green animal... And I also have to forgive the author for this stumbler: "I see a striped skunk strutting by me." ("Striped skunk, striped skunk what do you see" then follows... not so easy on the read-alouder!)

So, anyway, if you love Brown Bear and want another one, I'd say try Baby Bear next, as it's the closest sibling. Then try Panda Bear with edits. As for Polar Bear, well, that's up to you. I left that one in the store myself, as it departed a lot from the formula ("what do you hear" instead of "what do you see", and I didn't love the text). It's more of a cousin than a sibling...

Anyway, those are my musings on bears for this morning!