My rating: ★★★☆☆
What’s hilarious about this book is that, at certain moments, it seems to misunderstand its own moral. And that’s a shame, because it is a great lesson for children–that is, to appreciate what you have and to give to those less fortunate when you can–and there’s certainly an abundance of adults who could stand to learn it, too. All in all, this book might help children to grasp the concept and function of charity, but there’s a few details that an observant reader will notice detract from the intended lesson.
When Mama Bear starts to feel that there’s too much clutter in the Bear family’s home, she connects that thought with her latent middle-class guilt. The solution is simple–donate the clutter. Recycle toys the children don’t play with anymore, furniture they don’t want, clothes that don’t fit, and other such unnecessary items by giving them to those individuals who actually will use them. And that’s a great idea; everyone should aim to do that as much as they can, especially if they’re well-off financially.
But there’s some weirdness mixed in. Papa Bear wants go get rid of toys the children still enjoy and play with; the children fight back by pointing out Papa Bear’s collection of effectively “useless” fishing rods and magazines; Papa protests Mama’s collection of cookbooks and sewing scraps.
That’s just getting silly. A) The worst thing a parent can do when trying to instill a pro-charity sentiment in their children is try to pressure the child into giving up things they don’t want to. This one has personally affected me in the past; my Dad thinks of his stuff as priceless collectibles to be eternally cherished. My library of books and VHS tapes from my childhood, on the other hand, are worthless, silly, and immature. And where I will stand up for myself when he acts that way, my younger brother often won’t, and even I sometimes didn’t when I was younger. And that cost me a lot of childhood memories; my Dad gave a way a lot of stuff I wish I still had because I didn’t use to have the confidence to stand up to him. It’s only a relief that I didn’t lose my charitable nature.
B) Mamas things–old cookbooks and scraps of cloth–are not immediately useful, I’ll admit. If she really does not ever plan to use the recipes in the cookbooks, sure, donate those. But the scraps? The book never mentions what becomes of them, so they are presumably either still lying around the house or in the trashcan. One of these is significantly more irresponsible than the other, but neither optimizes the items’ worth. My suggestions? Mama Bear loves to sow/knit/etcetera, and she’s on a charity kick. So why not make something out of the scraps? Blankets, maybe. Scrunchies. Napkins. Whatever. Keep what you like, donate the rest. Alternately, sell what you make and donate the proceeds. It gets rid of the clutter and accomplishes a good deed in one hit. And if Mama Bear doesn’t want to do it herself, there’s always the hope of finding someone else who is interested in doing that themselves.
But it makes up for those shortcomings in other ways; instead of simply dumping their old board games and whatnot at the “Old Bears Home”, they actually donate their time, too, endeavoring to help brighten up the residents’ day.
So it aims for a good moral–one of the best morals I’ve seen in a Berenstain Bears book, as a matter of fact. It gets a bit muddled now and then, but overall, it’s a nice little story with a positive intent and hopefully a positive effect in most cases.