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Posts Tagged ‘berenstain bears’

The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food – Kindle Comparison

Posted by Tracy Poff on October 8, 2011

When I reviewed the first two Berenstain Bears books, The Big Honey Hunt and The Bike Lesson, I mentioned that although they were available for the Kindle, I wasn’t sure how good a colorful children’s picture book would look on the grayscale e-ink screen of the Kindle.

On account of the recently reduced prices for Kindles, I have just purchased a Kindle Keyboard, which I’m enjoying, so far. After I’d played around with it a bit, I remembered my previous concern for how picture books would look, and decided I’d find out. I looked around a little, and ultimately got a sample of The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food.

To begin the comparison, let’s first look at the beginning of the print version.

I’ve not bothered to scan the whole right page, but you can see enough for our purposes. Next, let’s look at the sample on Kindle for PC.

You can see (if you click the image to view it full-sized) that the illustration is quite small. However, it has had the top of the tree drawn in, which I suppose is nice. The next paragraph, which, in the print version, is on the same page, has been moved to a new page in the Kindle version.

What exactly has happened, here? These two pages are both showing parts of the original illustration, but in the second, the tree house has been removed, and the illustration from the right page has been joined up with the remaining illustration from the left page. The illustration is, again, quite small.

I suppose that the book looks okay on Kindle for PC, but it’s not the same as the print version. The illustrations are difficult to see and have been redrawn a bit, but not (as far as I can see from the sample) with much creativity–no fun revelations here.

How about on the actual Kindle, then?

I should note that on the actual Kindle, the contrast is much better–the background is significantly lighter than it appears in this picture.

Of course, it looks substantially similar to the pictures of Kindle for PC, which is natural since it’s the same book sample. However, two things are immediately apparent: first, the tiny, grainy images on the Kindle screen remind me of the web circa 1996; second, without the color, these images just aren’t that nice.

In my opinion, these books aren’t really worth purchasing for the Kindle. The artwork is really what carries these books, and it’s simply not reproduced well on the Kindle–neither the actual Kindle nor the Kindle for PC software. This isn’t entirely the fault of the Kindle itself–the artwork looks bad in the file the Kindle is displaying, so of course it can’t make it look any better. Still, if this book is representative of the quality of the Berenstain Bears books on the Kindle, I’d strongly recommend buying paper versions, instead.

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What’s Wrong with… The Berenstain Bears?

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 8, 2011

The Berenstain Bears series is a well-known and loved set of children’s picture books, some of which I, too, enjoyed immensely. But it’s hard to create hundreds of books without some bad stuff slipping though, so let’s have a look at some of the problems with the books I’ve reviewed, so far.

Ragin’ Mama and the Lying Covers

It sounds like a good name for a band, to me, and it pretty succinctly describes the problem with some of these books.

The Berenstain Bears and the Truth (1983), The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food (1985), The Berenstain Bears Forget their Manners (1985)

Notice any similarities in these? In these, and quite a few others, Mama is standing off to the left, looking at her family, furious. This is partly just laziness in composition of the image–the adults are often standing off to the left in Berenstain Bears covers, angry or not, but Mama is the usually the one raging over some slight–Papa is more likely to join in on whatever misbehavior has Mama so angry.

But, this isn’t even accurate. Although Mama is generally dispensing sage wisdom from on high (“Stop doing that! Don’t! Be more polite!” and on, and on, and on..), she doesn’t generally actually get very angry. The covers that depict her as some kind of inhuman (un-bear?) monster, raging at her family and the world, are generally just lying about what’s happening in the book. It’s like putting Wolverine on the covers of comics, even if he only gets a brief cameo–I guess an angry Mama Bear sells books.


A good name for a debut album? Ragin’ Mama and the Lying Covers present Hypocrisy, in their studio debut! Maybe not.

Some of the Berenstain Bears books are overly moralizing, and even the often-amusing artwork can’t always make up for that. But what’s especially bad about it is that Mama isn’t always the paragon of virtue she is portrayed as. I noted in my review of The Berenstain Bears Forget their Manners that I thought Mama’s approach to correcting her children’s manners–screaming at them–was worse than the ‘crimes’ that she was complaining about, like ‘playing with food.’ Let’s have a look at the pages that I’m talking about.

The Berenstain Bears Forget their Manners (1985)

Maybe it makes me a liberal hippy something-or-other, but I just don’t think that screaming at your children and beating your fists on the table while they’re trying to eat is the best parenting method. It certainly doesn’t seem polite. Intimidating, yes. Polite, no.

I mentioned in my review that The Berenstain Bears in the Freaky Funhouse contains a spectacular example of hypocrisy: Mama repeatedly scolds her children for gossiping about grownups, but feels no compunction against gossiping, herself. The lesson, of course, is that some people are more equal than others, and adults are above children on the ladder of ‘more equal.’ Pure hypocrisy.

This isn’t one of the most common problems with Berenstain Bears books–Mama is usually portrayed as the perfect embodiment of whatever virtue the book is pushing, which can be pretty irritating–but it is one of the worst. If you want to try to teach kids good morals, you’d better examine your own, first. Moralist, chastise thyself.

Form Follows Function

Good for design, not so much for writing children’s books. Some Berenstain Bears books have a story that’s just an excuse to teach a lesson. I presume that the idea was that parents would think “Gee, my kids are ungrateful brats, how can I get them to shut up and stop asking for new toys?” Said parents would then see The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings in the store, and know that it was the right tool for the job. Ditto for The Berenstain Bears Forget their Manners, obviously a prop for parents hoping to introduce a system of harsh punishments for minor transgressions, The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food, for parents with children who (through no fault of the parents!) eat too much candy, and The Berenstain Bears and the Truth, for parents whose children are dirty liars.

Maybe I’m being unfair to these books. The scene with the ever-more-exotic imaginary bird in The Berenstain Bears and the Truth is amusing, and… well, the artwork is pretty competent in the others. The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings teaches some science. Incorrect science, but, hey, at least they tried!

What have we learned?

There’s one common theme here–the books are overly moralizing, and the flaws all stem from that problem, either through incompetence or zeal. The moral should reveal itself naturally through the story. If you start by thinking “How can I teach those brats to be civil?” and write the story from there, you’ve made one mistake (and a big one) already.

In short, your story needs to be sincere. If you’ve got an ulterior motive, it’ll show.

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The Berenstain Bears and the Attic Treasure

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 30, 2011

When Mama reads an article about converting an attic into a family room in Tree Housekeeping magazine, the family decides to have a yard sale to clear out their attic. However, each item in the attic is important to them, from Mama’s old trumpet, to the cracked honey pot that was a wedding gift, to Papa’s baseball card collection. It turns out that the attic was already a great family room–it just needed a little cleaning.

The Berenstain Bears and the Attic Treasure by Stan & Jan Berenstain portrays the Bear family reminiscing about some of their forgotten possessions. The moral, if there is one, is that our old things, and particularly the memories they evoke, are important to us.

The art is nice, even if the bears occasionally have very odd expressions–that’s par for the course in the modern Berenstain Bears books, though. It fun to see Mama and Papa’s wedding photos, and it’s amusing to see Sister “twirl-a-hooping up a storm” after Brother fails to twirl at all. Incidentally, I guess that, like Game Bear this is an attempt to avoid trademarks. Unlike Game Bear, though, which was amusing, twirl-a-hoop is just weird-sounding. Berenstains, think of more creative names, if you’re not going to say hula hoop.

My copy of this book was published as part of a promotion with McDonald’s, along with three others: The Berenstain Bears’ Life with Papa, The Berenstain Bears and the Substitute Teacher, and The Berenstain Bears and the Eager Beavers. I don’t have any of those three, as far as I can remember, so I can’t say whether there’s any common theme. However, The Berenstain Bears’ Life with Papa definitely sounds amusing to me. I’ll have to try to pick up a copy, some time.

The Berenstain Bears and the Attic Treasure is a pretty good Berenstain Bears book. Not much story nor much of a lesson, but it’s still fun, with amusing art, and it isn’t hampered by the sort of mean-spiritedness I noted in some of the others. Unfortunately, this one seems to be out of print, so you’ll have to pick up a used copy, if you want to read it for yourself.

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