The Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping HandBerenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand by Stan Berenstain

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Berenstain Bears. Not a fond memory on my part. The only ones I enjoyed as a young child were Bears on Wheels and The Berenstains’ B Book. Neither of these have any of the Bear family; they might have been pre-Bear family books, as a matter of fact.

And when it comes to the Bear family, there’s a lot to complain about. Papa Bear goes from being understandable and well-meaning, if a little bungling, to a raging maniac who has the tendency to cross over into psychologically abusive territory.

But then there’s Mama Bear. I cannot freakin’ stand this character. She is the most self-righteous, presumptuous, meddling woman in any children’s book I’ve ever read, and she is presented as some kind of saintly patron of motherhood who can never do anything wrong.

This time, after several panels of her children trying to claim they’ve beaten the other by having a large piece of cake, a better spot in front of the television, and more jelly beans, Mama decides to, and I quote, “mend their selfish ways”.

Is the life you’re leading different from the book I’m reading, Mama Bear? Because I saw your children having silly, not even angry “arguments” about whose piece of cake was bigger. Sure, that’s annoying, but the only thing remotely objectionable about their behavior is that they started pushing on the couch in front of the television. That needs to be your moral; don’t shove your freakin’ siblings, ’cause someone could actually get hurt that way if you’re careless enough. Instead, the moral you pulled out of your ass is “Selfishness is bad!” when their behavior had nothing to do with genuine selfishness!

But the idea she has to get them to “mend their selfish ways” isn’t horrible. She makes sure they spend some time with a very old neighbor of theirs. After a few minutes together, their neighbor asks if the Bear children would like to help her out by cleaning out her house for payment.

And then Mama Bear turns into a bitch again. Her children don’t want to do it, and I’d say that’s a bit rude, but what can you do? You can’t force them. Oh, wait! You can if you’re Mama Bear!

You see where this is going. She volunteers her children without their consent, then informs the elderly neighbor that they will not be accepting any payment. Who the hell does she think she is? When you do work without payment under your own consent, it’s volunteer work. It’s charity. It’s helping a friend. When you do it because someone else has taken away your choice and forced you to do it, it’s forced labor. You know, a distasteful and often condemned component of slavery, serfdom, and the penal system? Yeah… That’s cool.

On the other hand, the “helping people” moral of the final few pages is wonderful. The children help the old woman do something that would have been difficult or even impossible for her to manage on her own, they learn about her interesting past and old belongings, they each find a cool toy she lets them keep, and they even convince her to have a yard sale instead of throwing her old things away–they’ve helped an old, probably stressed for cash woman earn some money, and helped reduce landfill waste, meaning there’s also a pro-recycling moral to top it off.

But as always with Berenstain Bears books that teach morals that I don’t mind or even support, I’m just horribly disappointed that the intended moral had to be corrupted by the parents’ disrespectful behavior.

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Pinocchio: Nose for Trouble by Ronald Kidd

Pinocchio: Nose for Trouble (Disney's Storytime Treasures Library, #13)Pinocchio: Nose for Trouble by Ronald Kidd

My rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Pinocchio would not admit
The wrong thing he had done.
And he kept on telling fibs–
He didn’t stop with one.
To speak the truth is hard sometimes,
But in the end you’ll see
That honesty, without a doubt,
Is the best policy!

Except, of course, that’s complete bullshit. These “never lie” morals are always nonsensical; there are certain times to lie. Or at least, there is a multitude of people who feel that way.

See, that’s the thing about morality. A) Your ideals and your reality are two very separate things. B) Your morality is not the same as my morality, or my neighbor’s morality, or an Italian’s morality, or an astronaut’s morality, or whoever’s morality. Each person has their own moral code, and no one’s moral code is better than anyone else’s.

So while some people may try to adhere to “never lie”, there are immensely more people who would say that “honesty whenever possible” is the best possible compromise. Let’s look at some examples:

National Security: Every government keeps secrets, and these secrets can extend into cover-ups–that is, lies. Claiming a top-secret military aircraft is something else while the craft is classified? That’s a lie, but most people approve of it. Undercover cops pretending to be regular shoppers to catch a criminal? That’s a lie, but most people would say it’s for the greater good. Etcetera, etcetera.

Lying to Children: Do or did your children believe in Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny? Maybe Cupid(s) or the Tooth Fairy? Those are all lies, yet most Americans would say those are a culturally integral part of being a child. (And most cultures have their equivalents, too.)

Lying as a Cushion: Ever hear the one about an old dog being “sent to the farm”? Adults recognize that as a euphemism for dying or euthanization, but when spoken to children who will take it literally, it’s a lie. Many people believe it’s kinder than trying to teach a very young child to cope with death before they’re ready.

Lies of Omission: Ever tell someone you’re going somewhere, but you give a vague or half-truth answer because they might hassle about the truth? That’s a lie of omission–when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconceptionwhen an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception[, and] includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions. Most people would say that’s no big deal.

I could go on, as there are many different kinds of lies, and each can be justified by a certain mindset or situation. Some people would say some or all of these justifications are the result of a guilty conscience. Other people would say that such justifications are the result of conditional circumstances. That’s just it: everyone has a different opinion of lying, of what constitutes a “bad” lie, and of which circumstances warrant or allow “good” lies.

I have to admit that with this in mind, I can find fault in most morals that touch the subject of lying. I completely understand that young children might need their morals presented to them in the least complex way possible if they are to understand. But that bugs me, too: if the child isn’t mature enough to understand the complex issue, perhaps offering them a simplistic solution to hold them over until they’re ready for the complexity is doing more harm than good. For the most obvious example, think about the “no lying ever!” moral will look on the day that the Santa conversation goes down. The parent is confessing to a lie they told for the child’s benefit, and yet the child is suddenly faced not only with the realization that there’s no magical figure who gives them presents on Christmas–it’s just their parents–but also that their parents are lying… something these parents, if tried to teach the “no lying ever!”, claimed was reprehensible. That’s a tough situation to be in, and is going to create a lot more difficulty than if the parents had simply waited for the day the child can understand their parents’ beliefs about lying.

So books like this bug me. Why go out of your way to teach a moral that you’re just going to have to unteach later?

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The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Pets by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears' Trouble with PetsThe Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Pets by Stan Berenstain

My rating: ★★★★☆

The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Pets opens with the Bear family releasing a bird in their front yard. The bird, Tweetie, had been nursed back to health by the family after they discovered his/her broken leg a week before.

Tweetie wasn’t a pet, but s/he does get the Bear family thinking about pets! Before they know it, they’ve added an adorable puppy named Little Lady to the family. But she’s a bundle of trouble in addition to all the cute, and she doesn’t stay a Little Lady for long. The Bear family has to adapt to caring for a dog; and most of all, Brother and Sister Bear have to learn about taking responsibility for their new dependent.

The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Pets is a great story for any child whose family expects to adopt a pet. The Bear family sets a good example in their care for Lady. Though they get her for free from a farm, they don’t hesitate to get her licensed and vaccinated. (Spaying isn’t mentioned, first and foremost because the target audience wouldn’t be able to comprehend the concept without a basic knowledge of what it prevents. And goodness knows the Berenstains aren’t getting into that conversation.) And the cubs quickly learn, with the help of a schedule, to take care of Lady’s needs–the fun (playing with her) as well as the not-so-fun (cleaning up her messes).

For once, this is a Berenstain Bears story I can honestly say I recommend to children.

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Trapped by R.L. Stine

Trapped (Fear Street #51)Trapped by R.L. Stine

My rating: ★★★★☆

I read most of the Fear Street series when I was a preteen. I recently reread most of the Fear Street books as an adult. Trapped is the only installment that lived up to its memory.

When I was eleven or twelve, Trapped scared the shit out of me, to the point where I actually had to stop reading it. One scene in particular was downright disturbing, and it stuck in my mind for years afterwards.

As a matter of fact, it was that very scene that had me so excited to reread this. I read Trapped for the second time in November of 2011, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Trapped was the only Stine book I’ve yet to read that didn’t make me wince with flat characters, a storm of clichés, and/or a disinteresting plotline.

Pretty sure I need to buy this one.

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Bambi: A Noisy Neighbor by Ronald Kidd

Bambi: A Noisy Neighbor (Disney's Storytime Treasures Library, #12)Bambi: A Noisy Neighbor by Ronald Kidd

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Good neighbors are friendly,
Good neighbors are sweet.
They try to make friends
With the people they meet.
So if you’re out playing
And see someone new,
Be sure to say welcome
And how do you do!

…Disney, you’re giving me mixed messages there. First it’s “never talk to strangers”, and now it’s “be sure to say ‘welcome’ and ‘how do you do’ to every stranger in my neighborhood”? CONFUSION.

Alright, *serious*. In Bambi: A Noisy Neighbor, a beaver named Edgar moves into the forest, and Thumper is not happy about it. As a matter of fact, he sulks. And sulks. And sulks some more.

Thumper sulks right up until the forest starts to flood, at which point Edgar becomes a surprise hero. Thumper, grateful, reconsiders his attitude toward Edgar, and the both critters have themselves a new friend.

Typical Disney morals here: Be polite to strangers/acquaintances. Don’t judge others. Be respectful towards others. You know the drill. Ignoring the rather counter-productive poem at the end of the book (see above), it’s not a bad story. On the other hand, the Bambi characters felt tacked onto it in the sense that they could have been replaced with literally anyone and the storyline wouldn’t have been affected in the least.

*shrugs* It’s an alright story for young children, though I certainly wouldn’t recommend reading it right after attempting a “don’t talk to strangers” lesson. Young fans of the Bambi movie(s) might particularly enjoy it.

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Scooby-Doo! Readers

Scooby-Doo! Readers by Gail Herman, Karl Sturk, Sonia Sander, and Mariah Balaban

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Consider this a review of the entire series.

The back covers list the recommended age of this series as Kindergarten to Grade 2. That is absolute nonsense. An accurate reading level of these would be Preschool to Kindergarten.

I wouldn’t recommend these to anyone over five; these are very short books written in the most simplistic way possible with only the most basic vocabulary and grammar–not at all what I’d expect of a seven-year-old. This series is for children at the beginning of the learning to read process, not for children several years into schooling.

On the other hand, this is a very basic, very simple mystery that would hold the attention of a young child learning to read. Five-year-old and younger Scooby-Doo fans will likely adore the series, though parents will likely find it rather boring.

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Peter Pan: Friends Ahoy! by Ronald Kidd

Peter Pan: Friends Ahoy! (Disney's Storytime Treasures Library, #18)Peter Pan: Friends Ahoy! by Ronald Kidd

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

John went off to be a spy
On Hook’s pirate ship.
But then Michael fell into
The captain’s evil grip.
Luckily John’s trusted friends
Came up with a solution–
When friends work together,
Each one makes a contribution!

And that’s a lovely moral–teamwork–except that the entire plot is driven by the fact that Peter Pan isn’t being much of a team player. The very first page establishes that he is almost always the leader of their little group, even though John is very much annoyed by this and wants his turn.

John grumbled, “Why does Peter always have to be in charge? Just once I’d like to do things my way!”

And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. John wants a chance, and it’s only fair to give him a chance. So John sets out to prove “how brave and clever he [is]”, in the hope that he can impress Peter into giving him a turn. He and Michael separate from Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys, and off they go to do something daring.

They foolishly decide that their something daring will be spy work. They row to Captain Hook’s pirate ship, dressed as pirates, and sneak on board. It isn’t hard to fool First Mate Smee, but Captain Hook’s a little more observant. He feeds John and Michael a nonsense story about preparing to attack Peter Pan, and when John and Michael get a chance to escape, off they go to warn their friend. They think they’re going to be heroes!

As anyone can predict, Captain Hook shadows them, capturing Michael along the way. John runs back to his friends and sister, and Peter realizes that Hook tricked John and Michael. John despairs;

“Peter, I’ve made a terrible mess of things. What are we going to do?
“I’m not sure,” said Peter. “But whatever we do, let’s do it together.”

With Peter, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys, and the Darlings working together, getting Michael back is easy. Teamwork at its finest!

Except, no. In the end, John is the only one to learn a lesson. Peter’s behavior is never addressed, and that chance to be in charge that John’s been waiting isn’t mentioned again.

I guess the simple fact of it is that Disney tie-in materials have a tendency to be… sub-par, let’s say. Peter Pan: Friends Ahoy!‘s inadequacy manifests in the form of its broken aesops, and it reflects badly on the beloved classics being exploited. Disney, if you simply have to use beloved characters to write simplistic morality tales, could you at least make sure they make some sense?

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