We Recommend: Someone Help This Person Who Is About to Be Driven Out of Her Mind

Ah yes, it's time for another We Recommend, in which we use what we once thought was our own particular choosing-the-perfect-book-for-someone superpower to help select books for those in need. Need a recommendation? E-mail us, and we'll be happy to take a swing at it (and then let the commenters actually choose something excellent).

I got this e-mail recently, and somehow ended up writing back that we would get on it right away, so here we go. A mom who is reading a few too many Berenstain Bear Books has been pushed to the very brink of human reason. As we see here:

I have a 6 years-and-3-months old girl who is not
yet reading on her own. … She
loves – LOVES – the Berenstain Bears books, which I abhor with the fury
of a thousand suns. She also loves Clifford and Froggy and – blech to
all these canned character books with the exact same plot in each one
and gender stereotyping and bad writing! 

she also loves Oliver and Amanda Pig, who I don't hate, and she likes
Frog and Toad sometimes. She likes non-fiction books – polar bears,
penguins, dinosaurs, space travel – and she is still enjoying picture
books with a semi-evolved story. We had one out of the library this
week about the Library Mouse that she liked. She loves Ladybug
magazines, especially the cartoons…. She is
very sensitive. …She cannot handle sad or scary movies/tv, and while her tolerance for
those topics in books is a little higher, it's still not high. 

sick of what we've been reading for so long now…I can't wait to hear what you and your commenters come up with!

We have thought and thought. We have discussed the Cobble Street Cousins, Meg and Mog, Poppleton, and George and Martha—all supremely worthy options that we sort of can't recommend highly enough. But then Diana, who is seeming extremely elderly to me lately, with pop culture references and a general aura of teenager-hood, said "What was that nice series I really liked when I was little? I really loved it? Do you remember? Oh that's right, Little Bear!

Little Bear

Yes, before the television show, before the swirl of movie thrill, before a whole lot of things, there was this series. Such a sweet and excellent series of  books! They're so very old fashioned, so strange and slow and dear. I can't promise that they will banish those other bears, whose deep and mysterious pull is very, very real, but these books will be loved. I am all but sure about this.

But we all know who she really wants to hear from: the rest of you. Someone, help this woman!

20 thoughts on “We Recommend: Someone Help This Person Who Is About to Be Driven Out of Her Mind

  1. Oh, the Berenstain Bears. Has anyone ever noticed that there are GRAMMAR ERRORS in those books? And many spots where you think ‘hey, did I miss a page here?’ because the story just doesn’t quite hang together? Not to mention that they constantly feed off of the father-as-hopeless-loser gender stereotype. They drive me crazy on so many levels.
    Wait? What was the question? Oh, book recommendations. I see you mentioned penguins. Have you tried the Tacky the Penguin series? Some of those are quite good, very funny and goofy. For something with more of a story line, maybe the Mud Flat ones by James Stevenson. And for something that would probably fit the bill, but might eventually become just as annoying as the B. Bears, maybe the Magic School Bus picture books. My BB fan LOVES these, but they really aren’t high quality literature. But, since a change is as good as a rest, then maybe they are worth a try.


  2. How about Mr. Putter and Tabby (an old man and his cat) by Cynthia Rylant? These are great books that features older people (he has a neighbor named Mrs. Teaberry and her “good dog, Zeke”) who are terrific characters and are exceptionally well-written. My daughter loves them. Cynthia Rylant also wrote the Henry and Mudge books. Good luck!


  3. My kids and I are fans of Henry and Mudge. Particular favorites are Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas and Henry and Mudge in the Green Time. My 6 year-old loves the B. Bears too, but is also interested in the Mercy Watson books. There is sweetness and familiarity in each book, but the writing and humor offer some relief for the adult reader, in my opinion. The Frances books were my favorite when I was that age, and I still love them. My favorite is Bread and Jam for Frances. Good Luck!


  4. Little Bear is a great choice and someone beat me to the George and Martha books.
    Yolen’s Commander Toad books are funny and full of puns.
    Do you think Sarah Plain and Tall is too old? What about Little House in the Big Woods?


  5. I would also try the Toot & Puddle books by Holly Hobbie. My 6-year old son has loved them (and still does!) They are gentle, and beautiful, and fun.
    How about “Little Fur Family” by Margaret Wise Brown?


  6. The Mercy Watson books are a big hit with all the 6-year-olds I know and they’re enjoyable for adults as well.
    Also, my boys liked the Chris von Allsberg books too. They leave a lot of room for discussion which I liked quite a bit.


  7. I second the Frances books. I don’t know what it is about them, but I’m just charmed. Also, have you tried the Miss Spider books? Again, before the cartoon, which I find insipid, the books are actually kinda clever. And if she likes nonfiction, why don’t you check out the juvenile biography section at the library. Brynna (who is granted younger) loves, loves to read about real people. Her favorite so far is Amelia Bloomer.


  8. I’m wondering if what she likes about those books is the comfortable safety and sameness of them. I’ve noticed a few kids who are very alarmed by the “non-traditional” or crazy feel of a lot of the picture books (e.g., Robert Munsch, Mo Willem)
    That being said, I’m going to go old-school and recommend Robert McCloskey. Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings… safe, predictable stories. Similar to Mike Mulligan and Katy and the Big Snow in their tone.
    Next step for me would be Jan Brett. Again, safe predictable stories, but with a little more colour. The Mitten, Hedgie’s Surprise.
    And if she likes some of that more active tone? Phoebe Gilman. The Balloon Tree, The Gypsy Princess, Jillian Jiggs.


  9. Can I add to the Cynthia Rylant love with a recommendation for the High Rise Private Eyes series? Funny and sly, just the right combination of repetition and challenges, great illustrations by G. Brian Karas…they’re an absolute delight.


  10. I was going to recommend McCloskey, too. My 6-year-old who sounds similarly evolved is very fond of One Morning in Maine.
    The Robert Munsch stories, which you can get in a big collection called Munschworks, are also popular and are fun to read.


  11. Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Holden Averill – delightful little books for a sensitive soul. Great classic illustrations.
    Gaspard and Lisa friends forever by Anne Gutman with fantastic painterly illustrations by Hallensleben.


  12. Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole by Wong Herbert Yee.
    There are about 3 other ones in this series. Similar to Frog and Toad, but much sweeter in my opinion, and a better gender balance.
    I’d second Jenny and the Cat Club and Poppleton as well.


  13. My 6 year olds loved Tomie dePaola’s series 26 Fairmount Avenue. We actually checked out the books on CD at the library and listened to it in the car. My kids listened to it THREE TIMES IN A ROW before it was due back. They got the series for Christmas and were thrilled. I will also chime in and agree: Cynthia Rylant Rocks. She also has picture books that are outstanding. My Kindergarten Class LOVED The Book Shop Dog and The Cookie Store Cat. There are so many more….LOVE HER!


  14. Many of the series books I truly love are sadly out of print, but still worth it to look for them either at the library or through Abebooks. To combat the dreaded “Froggy” series (one which I truly hate as well), there’s the beautiful, simply written, and always sweet “Frog” series by Max Velthuijs. “Frog in Love” is my absolute favorite. His books often deal with issues such as prejudice or feelings like love and sadness, and always in a way that is a pleasure to read. Another series I love is “Mole and Troll,” by Tony Johnston. They are totally silly and sweet and fairly “Frog and Toad”-like. If she likes “Frog and Toad” she might like Arnold Lobel’s other books, such as “Owl at Home,” “Uncle Elephant” (a personal favorite), or “Mouse Tales.”


  15. Thank you thank you thank you! (I’m the mom who needed the recommendations). We’re on our way to the library with this list and I can’t wait to see what we find and what works for my daughter.
    We are big fans of McCloskey, The Wind In the Willows is a little too much for her still… There are so many books that you guys have come up with that I’ve never heard of – and I consider myself an expert on children’s literature!
    Thanks so much, I’ll let you know how it goes!


  16. I love the title of this post.
    And the “fury of a 1000 suns” is so right on as a description of that particular feeling engendered by B. Bears, Froggy, Clifford, and, later in your child’s reading life, Her Royal Ickness Junie B.
    Long live George & Martha, Little Bear, and anything Daniel Pinkwater has written about bears.


  17. Ha, kk! You’re right on the money – on this very trip to the library my daughter clamped onto a Junie B. audiobook like a limpet and has listened to it multiple times already. And has begun to memorize the dialog! Snotty attitude and all!
    I will confess that so far at least I don’t mind Junie B. quite as much as the dreaded B. Bears and their ilk. It may just be the novelty (though I hated the Berenstains on first sight), but I do at least sort of sympathize with old Junie and her struggle to understand the seemingly nonsensical whims of the rest of the world. Maybe it’s because she reminds me of Ramona and I have fond memories of reading Ramona when I was a child.
    So, our trip to the library: They didn’t have everything on the list. I really wanted to find Upstairs Mole Downstairs Mouse and they didn’t have that. But we did get Munschworks – we have yet to read it because there’s a story about a boy with a giant father and my daughter got scared of the pictures. We did get George and Martha, and she likes them. We also got “The Cookie-Store Cat”, which went over well but was a little short for her taste. Also “Hen Lake” which she loves. We got some more that I can’t remember at this moment and which I am too lazy to go look at.
    I appreciate so much all the suggestions, and the solidarity with me about the horrors of the Bears!


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