Born Again Bears

Right before Jasper was born I picked up a few old books at a consignment sale, books for older kids (i.e. non board books) like Paddington Bear. On a whim I dug them out of the closet recently and turns out Jasper is ready for these more wordy stories.. he now LOVES paddington and mommy is more entertained too because these books have more interesting story lines than the average baby book.

So the other night I was at Marshalls and decided to see what other “older” baby books I could find and grabbed a Berenstain Bears book called “The Berenstain Bears Do their Best.” It’s a non board book, has bears, what’s not to love right?

Imagine my surprise when I got to this stanza on the third page:

“A Kite for me and Sister Bear?
A kite for both of us to share?
Let’s thank the Lord from up above for Papa showing us his love.”

???????

It goes on from there:

But we believed in Papa’s skill.
And our faith in God’s help is stronger still”

I felt like I was in some strange alternate universe.. the Berenstain bears.. we used to read those to my little sister, they weren’t religious! And if they WERE religious, wouldn’t the Berenstain bears be JEWISH? (As it turns out, the series creator Stan was in fact Jewish. It was his evangelical son that  started this new “living lights” series of Faith based Berenstain books after his father’s death.)

Now, I don’t want to offend anyone with this post, I’m aware that I have plenty of readers of all faiths and I’m really happy about that.  But Jasper is somewhere between 50-75% Jewish and none of us are practicing anything.  So I’m not saying that there’s anything overtly wrong with faith, or even religious books for kids, but if you take a well known character and insert religion at a later date, it would be really nice to maybe notate that rather prominently to warn off non religious types like me that this is probably not a book you want to buy for your child!

Had I very carefully read the back cover, I would have noticed in fine print where it said “Living Lights Berenstain Bear books help children learn how God wants them to live every day.”

But, I did not because, well, I wasn’t aware that I needed to be on the look out for such things.

Again, if you are a person of faith you might actually prefer the faith based Bears to the old ones I remember from childhood. But I personally find it somewhat disturbing that any of us have to even worry about scrutinizing classic character books for faith insertions of any kind.

I wonder if perhaps the Living Lights Publishers got similar feedback because subsequent titles became much less ambiguous. For example:

and

For now, I think we’ll stick to Paddington, and I’ll be reading the back and front covers much more carefully before purchasing from now on…

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Jane says:

I found this in a “you may also like” tab under a recent post. That’s interesting that they do that. I am a Catholic, so that doesn’t really bother me, but I would rather books that are and have always been intended to be religious than ones that try to add in things later. I think it should be well advertised. I am curious (not judgmental at all!) about as to why you find the idea of God as something you shouldn’t expose to your child, or why you don’t think of religion as a necessarily good thing.

Grace says:

I see this was from a year ago, but I just found this blog because I read the same book that Stephanie from the above comment did (checked it out from the local library) and discovered the lantern on the back. I wondered, “what? were the Berenstains religious? I don’t remember any of the other books being religious!” Then I read Mike Berenstain and the bit about “Living Lights Berenstain Bear books help children learn how God wants them to live every day.”

I actually don’t have a problem with religion in the one I read, which was about “The Golden Rule.” I know that is a Christian concept, but it is one I agree with. They didn’t mention god at all, but I did think the style was so strange. It was SOOOO didactic, full of moralizing. There was no literary flow. They give her a locket with the golden rule inside, they show her that they’ve always had a plaque with the golden rule, then she goes to school and encounters a scenario that makes the necklace “weigh heavy” on her chest. It doesn’t even end well (a natural ending would be all the kids playing together because the dilemma was about including another child in play instead of having an “in-crowd” but instead it focuses on the locket gleaming in the sun). All the language was awkward.

Personally, I thought his father taught ethics and cooperation quite well, under the surface, with humor and creativity. Mike is rubbish as a writer and I have a feeling that he didn’t start this series because he loved his parents’ books, he just wanted to capitalize on them for the good of his message. If he wanted to write Christian stories and he likes writing/illustrating, why not start new characters? It just seems odd to warp his Dad’s work AFTER he died.

I wonder what Daddy Bernstein would say. I know Dr. Seuss (who was the editor that gave the Bear Country books their start in 62) wouldn’t be thrilled. Ugh.

Anyway, I obviously brought home the Golden Rule book. I’m not opposed to the Christian principles that make sense. But, I think, if he were going to add religious principles to his parents’ books, they should at least be well written, preserving the careful thought and charm that his parents employed. Also, like you, I thought that they should have prominently displayed on the cover that it was a new, religious series by Mike.

nora says:

Kinda off-topic and totally late to the party, but did the Berenstein Bears have another baby?

Amie says:

Glad to hear it! With all of the non-Christian messages our children are getting in this world, WHAT A RELIEF that someone is finding a way to bring God into the lives of children.

Melanie says:

Woah, that is totally whacky and I will not buy those books, for sure! Thank you for sharing… i had no idea!!!

Jennifer says:

Wow…I had no idea. I am also a little shocked to hear about Chic-fil-a! I have only eaten there once but now I am curious to see what Christian message they give out to children??? I am not religious at all and this would bother me. Thank you for sharing! I will be sure to pay closer attention to the books I purchase too.

Kath says:

Ariana,

You make an excellent point that many would be offended if a children’s book opened up to a page saying, “No one is up in the sky. There is no heaven, etc.” That would really piss off some parents for sure. :)

Stephanie says:

I had the EXACT same experience. I loved those books as a kid and when we received one recently (it’s about Sister Bear and a golden locket), I was excited to read it to Ginger. The book was nothing like the ones I remember and the overt religious message definitely took my by surprise. But my biggest gripe was simply how poorly written it was. The story was, quite frankly, pretty lame and boy did it DRAG! Blech! I just wanted it to be OVER so we could move onto something else!!!

jbhat says:

No wonder that book was at a consignment shop. : )
All kidding aside, it seems you have touched a nerve with this one. I personally would prefer Paddington too, but have you noticed how almost all of the Paddington stories have to do with money?? I didn’t notice it as a child, but as an adult, when I revisited the seried (before I had children, no less).

jbhat

Victoria says:

I just have a small blog, but I wanted to honor you as part of my celebratory mommy bloggers :)

http://ourlifewithjake.blogspot.com/2010/05/honoring-moms.html

Samm says:

Wow, weird! I’m glad you pointed that out. I would feel very unconfortable reading that to Mia, considering I don’t plan on teaching her what god is. And she’s at an age where she repeats everything and absorbs like a sponge. I wouldnt want her to absorb this message if its not something we plan on teaching.
Thanks!

Lisa E says:

This is very interesting and now we know! Thanks for educating us on the difference between the old Bernstein Bears books and the new Bernstein Bears books. I personally have no problem reading children’s books that teach Christian Values and about God. As a child, I read all sorts of books and there were some that taught me about God and his love. I am a believer. However I am not a real religous person, but I am thankful for my parents for raising me in a christian environment. We are all different and we all have different religious beliefs and it is great that we can speak freely about it!

michelle says:

That is strange! we are Catholic and go to church each week, but I still don’t know that I would buy these. They are so different from the ones I enjoyed when I was young. And, those had a great message without being religion based. If I want to read something religion based, I will go and seek out something that agrees with the faith we practice in our home. Personally, the rhyming disturbs me… no one quite does it like Seuess! We read lots of things, I will have no qualms with my son picking up a Harry Potter, because I enjoy Harry Potter. It is fiction and is more about Good vs. Evil rather than trying to push magic on people.

ariana says:

@Alex, I don’t know what “Chic-fil-ais” is!

But regarding magical and mystical, I’m all for it.. I guess the point is that it’s a very personal thing. Obviously you believe in God and so a few words thanking god is no big deal.. but imagine if it were a few words denying the existence of God, I don’t think that would sit right with you. That’s what it felt like to me (only the reverse!)

There is a big difference between this and subtle christian “themes” which I have no problem with at all. Jasper will go to a Waldorf school that has very subtle Christian underpinnings. I plan on reading Jasper the Lion the Witch and the wardrobe when the time comes.. and we celebrate christmas too, but thanking God or our faith for things that I feel have nothing whatsoever to do with faith (or God for that matter) will not happen.

ariana says:

Sarah, I kept reading, and it definitely went right over Jasper’s head!

Angela, to each his own! It’s just not a way of thinking that I espouse.. I think there is a great “morality” in the book that has absolutely NOTHING to do with god. Work hard and reap rewards is what I would want him to take from that story. It reminds me of when olympic atheletes or whomever thank God for their success.. I always feel bad for the other contestants who believe in God.. did they have LESS faith, did God love them less? If I did believe in God, I don’t think he would pick favorites!

If Jasper chooses later in life to become religious that’s his choice. I’m sure there will be no shortage of opportunities to come into contact with religion (or republicans to use your example!) but it’s not something I really feel the need to expose him to when it goes against my own beliefs.

Plus, there’s a difference between explaining what a republican is (to use your example) vs. reading him something that espouses republican beliefs that I don’t agree with.. like what if it were a book about “family values” that went on that a marriage is only between a woman and a man or something? That way of thinking isn’t something I want to expose him too of my own accord because it is so fundamentally opposite my own beliefs.

Of course when he gets older we’ll have “intellectual” discussions about such matters I’m sure. But until then, I think we’ll skip the religion (of any kind!)

Angela says:

I am a regular reader but not a regular commenter.

I think of all the things parents have to worry about, this is at the bottom of the list. I get that you don’t want to influence Jasper to believe in a God you don’t. But really, I don’t think it’s enough to make someone need to “scrutinize” every children’s book he comes into contact with. Maybe you should read it to him as a way to expose him to different ways of thinking. I mean, just because you may be a democrat (or not, just using an example) doesn’t mean that your children shouldn’t know what a republican is, right? I am Christian, but have no problem reading Jewish themed books to my kids.

Anyway, your son is adorable and I enjoy seeing your photos.

Alex says:

I actually don’t see a problem with it. I am a Christian, but I’m not sitting down making my kid only watch Veggie Tales or only reading Christian books or anything like that.

But even if I wasn’t Christian I wouldn’t see a problem with this. Frankly, I think there are a lot of other books to have issues with. In fact I don’t like this new magical mystical thing going on with Hollywood. I have a problem with Harry Potter type movies & books (including that new Percy Jackson Olympian movie). Those ARE books I wouldn’t be allowing my kid to read.

But a few lines about thanking God don’t seem like they can do any harm.

Did you know Chic-fil-ais founded by a Christian and that the toys they give away come with positive Christian messages? They also play Christian music in the restaurants and are closed on Sundays. Would you not go eat there because of an underlying Christian theme?

sarah says:

Thanks for this post, it’s a great heads up. I know I’m in the minority but I actually love the fact they have taken this path with these books. They were my favorite and now seems even better. I can’t wait to share them with Alex. It’s always nice when you can share something you grew up with, with you own child and especially when they have improved upon them!
Now my question- did you finish the bearstein bear book or did you just stop right there and what did Jasper think?! :)

Susan says:

It’d be like if I picked up a dr. seuss book and discovered it was “Horton Hears Jesus” or “I am the Lorax, I speak for God!” I can just see the Lorax in pulpit regalia now.

I suppose it tells you that you really do have to screen everything you show your child, and not just for the “bad stuff.”

Lisa says:

Indeed – thanks for this observation! The subtle messages in the series never really stood out to me until recently, too. (When we started reading the books to my daughter.) We just came across “The Berenstain Bears’ New Neighbors” which portrays Papa Bear as an intolerable racist when two pandas move next door … though he gradually accepts his new neighbors.

Rebekah says:

this is off-putting for me as I am as non-faithful as they come. so i probably won’t be buying any new Berenstain items (and I loved them when I was younger). Fortunately though my mom doesn’t toss books and still has a complete children’s library full of books from my younger years including tons of BB books so I’ll just be borrowing them off her. =)

Fiona says:

Hate this kind of thing….something to look out for.

Grace says:

My husband and I are Christians, but I’m also a fan of the classic Berenstain Bears books. I think it’s a little sad that Stan’s son took a much loved classic and altered them in this way. I take issue with Christian paraphernalia that isn’t creative enough to not piggy-back on an existing item. I have quite a collection of the original books and see no problem reading them with my son. What’s next? Moby Dick and the Holy Spirit? Pride and Prejudice in the Church? Get real! (Or get creative and make something new!)

Sara B. says:

How strange! I would have never thought to check that either!
I loved Padington and the Bernstein Bears as a child.

Licia says:

Thank you for this post. I have been browsing books lately and would not have thought to check them for their religious content. I’m with you on the fact that I would rather stay “secular” on the reading since my household is not really religious at all.

ariana says:

Victoria, they definitely are still printing the non faith based ones.. just look for the ones without the little lantern in the upper right hand corner! :)

Victoria says:

oh wow, that really sucks! I was looking forward to reading Jake my childhood favorite Berenstain Bears but now this seems to be a no go :/ We don’t practice or believe in anything so I want non faith based books obviously. I hope the old classics can still be purchased from somewhere..