A Parent’s Perspective: “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”

(Amazon)

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle, was originally published in 1967. This beloved children’s book has been translated into 31 languages and has sold more than 16 million copies. If you have a small child, or ever were a small child, or have heard of the concept of small children, you are familiar with Brown Bear, Brown Bear. So what is it about this particular story that has made it a mainstay on toddlers’ bookshelves for over 50 years?

This is a gif of my kid. (Sally Brooks)

I have no fucking clue.

Synopsis

Bear, B. Bear starts with us, the audience, asking our titular character, Brown Bear what he sees. He answers that he sees a red bird looking at him.

(Amazon)

Turn the page and we do in fact see a red bird, who, when questioned, tells us that she sees a yellow duck. Set aside that the question we should be asking these variously colored animals is HOLY SHIT, HOW CAN YOU TALK?, over the next seven pages the audience asks, “What can you see?” of a yellow duck, blue horse, green frog, purple cat, white dog, black sheep, and goldfish.

The first real twist of the book comes when the goldfish reveals that what he sees is not another animal, but instead a teacher looking at him. Surprising, because all this time the reader assumes they are out in nature, maybe at a zoo, but instead we’re in some kind of classroom? A classroom that has zero health codes or concern for the animal food chain, at that.

The teacher says she sees children and the children see…

(Giphy)

Unfortunately, the children just see all the animals we already talked about.

(Amazon)

And that’s it. That’s the whole book. Like, for real. 16 million copies sold.

Critique

Some will argue that the beauty in Brown Bear’s story is its simplicity. After all, this is a book for small children and they are notoriously bad at following complicated plots. Try watching Cloud Atlas with a 2-year-old and I guarantee they won’t even notice that the film subtly shifts genres with each storyline. But beyond the very basic lessons of animals and colors– a confusing lesson at that, since I’ve never seen a purple cat outside of the time my friend’s kid took a marker to Mr. Mittens—Brown Bear doesn’t have much to offer. There are a lot of books that help kids with colors and animals that haven’t found a fraction of the success of Brown Bear and some of them even manage to throw in a story line for funsies.

I would argue that the story in Brown Bear, if you can even call it that, raises more questions than it answers—particularly when it comes to logistics. Think about it- the audience asks Brown Bear what he sees and he says that he sees a red bird looking at him, but when we ask Red Bird what she sees, she makes no mention of looking at a bear and instead says she sees a yellow duck. If we are to believe Brown Bear that Red Bird really is looking at him, and believe Red Bird that she is seeing Yellow Duck (and so on and so on, since every animal names a different animal from the one who they are supposedly looking at), then where are all of these animals standing to make this possible? Are they on some sort of risers? And where are the children so that they are situated to see all of these animals and their teacher? After some pretty advanced logistics engineering (and approximately 3 IPAs), this is the best I could come up with, and it still doesn’t answer the question of how the children can be seeing every animal, all at once.

This is a chart I spent approx. 18 hours making (Sally Brooks' Beautiful Mind)

Bottom Line

Brown Bear, Brown Bear is at the same time too simplistic and too complicated. Plus, that drawing of the teacher gives me nightmares.

(Amazon)

The unfortunate truth is that my kid loves Brown Bear and yours probably will, too. My kid also loves watching a video of me making fart noises and spinning in circles, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually good (it is) (but Brown Bear isn’t).

A Parent’s Perspective: “Carl Goes To Daycare”

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

For those who aren’t familiar with the children’s classic Carl Goes to Daycare, written and illustrated by Alexandra Day, it’s a hyper-realistic tale of a gigantic dog being let loose in a daycare while the primary childcare provider attempts to break in to save the children and her job.

My kids love the vibrant imagery and childish antics. I love the tension of the entire book hanging on the edge of life-altering catastrophe.

Let’s take a closer look.

Things start out innocently enough. A mom is dropping her kid off at daycare. With a Rottweiler. Like she’s in an early 2000s DMX music video. She’s probably just being facetious when she says, “Take care of the children.” Surely Carl will stay outside.

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

Hold up. The dog goes inside, and… what’s this? The childcare provider appears to be locked out?

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

The children are so thrilled by Carl they don’t notice the absence of adults, or that Mrs. Manning is using a crowbar she had just laying around to try to break into the daycare.

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

What is even going on here? Carl has lost control of the children. Someone tell that little girl she is trying to ride a dog with lockjaw mechanism. Your head fits in his mouth kid, watch out!

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

Carl has regained control? Carl can read? Carl is making sure they keep to their daily schedule?

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

What is that wacky Mrs. Manning up to now? It looks like she’s trying to pick the lock with a colonial-era device used to churn butter. Meanwhile, a savage 125 pound beast is teaching the children horticulture tips. I know cell phones aren’t invented yet but FFS Mrs. Manning, go next door, ask to borrow the yellow pages and call a locksmith. You’re legally responsible for those children!

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

Carl in this picture is ALL OF US. Look at his face. Fuck crafting, amirite?

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

Carl is looking burnt out. We’ve all been there. He knows that if he just feeds these little monsters he’s one step closer to the end of this hell day where he can crack open a cold one or dig his teeth into a rawhide bone and imagine it’s the flesh of the loudest, whiniest child.

Meanwhile Mrs. Manning appears to be climbing a pine tree without an OSHA-certified harness and then smash through the skylight like a young Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

What‘s the deal with this daycare anyway? EVEN IF that moron Mrs. Manning was inside, surely this is not compliant with adult-to-children ratio laws?

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

Wow, Mrs. Manning. Tie your car to it, a reasonable solution to anything. Good luck to any kids in her care with a loose tooth. I hope the bumper flies off your VW Beetle, you realize this is the wrong career for you, and you’re able to get your fucking life together before a lawsuit destroys you.

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

AW SHIT THAT’S RIGHT! CARL CAN FUCKING READ!

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

Carl, you smug son of a bitch. You knew she was out there the whole time and could have opened the door, but you wanted to make her sweat.

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

Carl’s like, “Hey genius, you owe me one day’s minimum wage pay and also I took a crap by your desk.”

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

At the end of every book this lady acts like Carl is the crazy one. “Oh, hey, I just left you in charge of my infant daughter and like 24 other kids but I’m going to put my hands on my hips and be condescending because you’ve got a ladybug on your butt like a dang fool.”

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

You bet your ass you’re glad Carl was here, Mrs. Manning. Your jumpsuit is fly as hell but your judgment is questionable.

(Carl Goes to Daycare)

Memories were made, the entire day’s schedule was attended to, careers were saved. Carl may be a man of few words, but that doesn’t stop him from being a gentleman, a scholar, and above all, an unlicensed childcare-providing Rottweiler. Like, I can’t stress that last part enough.

Bottom Line

While it is impressive that Alexandra Day could switch-hit as both author and illustrator, I felt Carl Goes to Daycare had more plot holes than the last season of Lost. The innocent amusement of the children juxtaposed with a savage beast who would rip them all to shreds if he was held without food for a week was, in fact, interesting. But throughout the tall tale I couldn’t help but imagine what would happen if the story was in modern times, and the daycare had webcams. Helicopter parents would immediately call the animal control SWAT team to storm through the windows with high-powered tranq guns. No more Carl. And after the state licensing agency got involved, no more daycare.

But if you can manage to suspend your disbelief for 10 minutes, Carl Goes to Daycare is an idealistic view of the potential heart of a rottweiler. I just wouldn’t be calling the pound to see if they have any good nannies anytime soon.