Peter Panda Melts Down! is a picture book about a bear cub with a penchant for throwing tantrums and a mother who gets so wound up by the end of the day that she has one of her own. Amusingly enough, I’ve seen something very similar before: The Berenstain Bears Get the Screamies, in which Mama Bear throws a childlike tantrum in hopes of teaching Brother and Sister Bear a lesson. And I make no secret of the fact that, as with many of the Berenstain Bears stories, I quite dislike that book. Luckily, Peter Panda Melts Down! puts a different spin on the concept and, honestly, considering how much I couldn’t stand Get the Screamies, there was nowhere to go but up.
Before I get to the story itself, I want to say that the artwork is quite cute, and I can imagine a child having a ton of fun listening to their parent/guardian/teacher reading this aloud, especially if the adult in question is willing to play up the “melts dowwwwnnn!” moments, in which case I’m picturing plenty of giggles.
Onto the plot. Much of Peter Panda Melts Down! serves to establish that, yes, Peter Panda friggin’ melts down, and he does it a lot. He does in the car, he does it in the store, and he does it at home. He melts down again and again all day until finally, almost inevitably, Mama Panda melts down herself.
Now, I’m actually a little uncertain how I feel about the ending. Basically, I think I’m a little thrown that it’s open to some interpretation, which very few picture books for children are. (I’m not sure if it was intended to be open to more than one interpretation, but that’s beside my point.) The issue is that there are two ways to take Mama Panda’s meltdown: is she acting out a meltdown she doesn’t truly feel in order to show Peter Panda how annoying he’s been all day and hopefully teach him a lesson, as Mama Bear did to her kids in The Berenstain Bears Get the Screamies? Or is she finally letting go after being screamed at in public all day and having a genuine tantrum herself thanks to her frazzled nerves? I’d say that the text implies the later, as it refers to her meltdown as “let[ting] off some steam”, but that the accompanying artwork implies the former, as the actual image of the meltdown has a kind of purposefully over-dramatic, play-acting look about Mama Panda’s expression. I’m not super thrilled with either interpretation, personally, as I don’t exactly think of either solution as admirable parenting… but, of course, Peter Panda Melts Down! isn’t intended to be a parenting guide, so I suppose I’m probably over-thinking it.
Like I said, it’s quite cutely illustrated and a great read-aloud. It’s quick and short, and it rhymes (and what kid doesn’t love rhymes?), and if your child has a habit of throwing tantrums, it might be something to check out. Perhaps Mama Panda’s meltdown will be able to impart some wisdom to your kid(s) and save you from a few meltdowns of your own.
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