TRC Read to Kids

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Happy Birthday, Brown Bear!

This September, a special 50th anniversary edition of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle finds its way to bookstores. In anticipation of a year-long celebration of the 1967 publication of this beloved picture book, Macmillan publishers have produced special editions and planned a year of events. They even created a dedicated website for the Brown Bear celebrations to come.

Eric Carle celebrating 50 years of  Brown Bear
at the Eric Carle museum. Photo by Jim Gipe.

What makes a picture book worthy of all this hoopla? This classic picture book appeals as much to kids today as it did 50 years ago, and has introduced millions of kids to the joy of reading. It is often the first book with Eric Carle’s distinctive illustrations that kids encounter.

Courtney Kissell, TRC's executive director, shares Brown Bear with kids at ARHA.

At The Reading Connection, Brown Bear is our go-to book, whether our topic is the importance of rhyme and repetition or the appeal of illustrations.

We love Brown Bear’s
  • Vibrant, cut-paper collage illustrations,
  • Rhyming, rhythmic, repeating text that is fun to chant,
  • Colors and animals,
  • Just-right length and
  • Surprise ending.
These qualities build reading skills. Colorful illustrations and familiar animals hold kids' interest, while galloping rhyme and repetition and frequent chances to predict what comes next teach phonemic awareness and build comprehension.

We asked Angus Killick, Vice President at Macmillan Publishing Group, what he thinks gives Brown Bear it's enduring appeal.
It's the perfect picture book! Bill Martin, Jr.'s skill was bold rhythmic text and word repetition. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? is a fine example of his genius in that respect. It is also a wonderful example of the drama of prediction and that's why children who are not yet reading can appreciate the predictive nature of the text and participate in the many readings. Martin's text, paired with Carle's gorgeous illustrations featuring impressionist portrayals of colorful and playful animals ('blue horse', 'purple cat' anyone?), make for nothing more than a perfect picture book to read aloud and share with a small child over and over again.

Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr.  in 1992

Twenty-five years after Martin and Carle created Brown Bear, they collaborated again to create Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? This time, zoo animals make a ruckus, inviting kids to bellow, flute and snort along with the story.

Next came Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? This time, 10 years after Polar Bear, Martin and Carle featured endangered species strutting, soaring and strolling through the pages, daring kids to romp along.

Finally, Martin and Carle created Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? Their last collaboration, published in 2007, follows a baby bear as he looks for his mother among animals from North America. As with its predecessors, Baby Bear’s simple rhyming text delights children and invites them to chant and move along with the story.

"All together, the four Bear books have sold 50 million copies in the U.S., including 14 million of Brown Bear,” according to Kare Rauquist in the August 10, 2016 edition of Publisher’s Weekly. The numbers don't lie. Brown Bear and his relatives have enchanted millions of kids, and at 50, they are still going strong. These books are fun to read and to listen to and a delight to look at, making learning to read a pleasure.

Move over, Cat in the Hat. The Bears are coming for you!

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