WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the stories ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
The Berenstain Bears by Stan, Jan, and Mike Berenstain
Type: Animals, Children’s Book Series
Basic Idea: A family of bears lives in Bear Country and learns many things about how to behave and live in a way that is moral and godly and how to be brave when doing new or scary things.
Plots: 3½/5 Above Average: The plots are about a family of bears named Papa, Mama, Brother, and Sister Bear. The stories are usually things that happen to the every day family, like nail biting or being pressured to do things that are wrong. They then find a way to fix the problem. Though they are realistic, they aren’t boring, but are more so helpful for children that may want an answer to a problem they are having. In the later books these answers are backed up with the Bible.
Writing Style: 4/5 Very Well Done: The first few books have a very simple style. They are brief and have simple descriptions. After a few books, the stories have a lot more dialogue, have more creative examples, and more thorough descriptions. The style is like a story book in some ways, but in others has some of the characteristics of a regular fiction book, only shorter.
Graphics: 4½/5 Very Well Done: The graphics in the first books look hand drawn. The bears are drawn with long noses, more slender bodies, and a different fur shape than the ones later. Around book nine (The Berenstain Bears: In the Dark) the noses are shorter, the bodies are plumper, and the fur has a different look that was not there earlier. Most of the books are like the second description. After Mike Berenstain replaces his father, the book’s graphics look almost the same, but look painted rather than hand drawn. All of the books are detailed and colorful.
Moral: 4/5 Good Application: The morals are very good. They either teach a good character trait, good habit, or how to not be afraid when something new happens. The principles are usually biblical and the newer books are backed up directly with the Bible. One thing that is a good moral influence in all their books is the strong family bond and testimony they give. The children have respect and obedience for their parents and the wife often has respect for her husband. I like that though even Mama Bear was not a doormat; she was still respectful and would probably qualify as a biblical wife. She had a very good temperance as she is not a loud, stubborn, obnoxious woman, but she still has a mind of her own and will calmly tell Papa Bear what he or both of them are doing wrong. This strong family structure and good husband wife relationship is good for children to see, as often children in entertainment are bratty and women loud and rebellious. (See Isaiah 3:12) Papa and Mama are also ready to realize their own mistakes. Through the series, the children are held accountable for their misbehavior, but Mama and Papa will accept when they should have been better parents. It is good for children to have an example of taking responsibility.
Overall: 4/5 Very Well Done: I highly recommend the Berenstain Bears as a children’s book series. It is moral, well drawn, and is interesting for children ages four or five and older of either gender.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 1½/5 Slightly Inappropriate Situations: At Sister’s birthday party they play spin the bottle and Sister kisses Brother on the cheek. A baby sitter helps brother wash his back. Brother and Sister take a bath together at least twice in the series and it is mentioned in passing at least once. (In the books these things happen in, Sister is only supposed to be six and brother eight at the oldest.) It once shows Sister in the bath and once shows Papa in the bath. In one book it shows in the inside cover Mama and Papa chasing a naked Brother and Sister, though nothing “inappropriate” is shown. In the same book Brother and Sister start to take off their clothes for a bath in the hallway. In one book Mama is pregnant, and Sister asks some questions about babies. Nothing inappropriate is in the book and all that is said is that babies grow in the womb and are born through the birth canal. No illustrations are shown. In a book dealing with being careful of strangers, the advice for children warns about keeping your body safe.
Violence: 2½/5 An Average Amount of Light Violence: Sister hits Brother lightly on the nose. A woman gets hit in the head with a kite. Brother gets injured at camp in a wheelbarrow race. Some books show children getting it with a dodge ball. A doctor pinches Papa’s stomach in one book. Brother once wants to beat a mean boy and in another actually does try to, but doesn’t end up injuring him at all. In one book a boy likes wrestling and does some in gym. In one book Brother and Sister push each other and kick at each under the table. Sister and a friend fight on the ground for a stick. Brother and Sister get in a fight in one book and end up fighting in the ground. This is also shown on he book’s cover. One book shows David knock Goliath down with a stone. Some boys throw rocks at a hornets nest. Sister hangs on to a bully and he tosses her through the air, though she is uninjured from it. In one book some adults are mentioned, while waiting in line, to have started fighting a little. In one book children are injured in a soccer game from the violence of a team. Once Pap lets a ball hit off his head. In one book some people on TV doing slapstick comedy. In one book there are some video game covers with light violence on them. The most violent Berenstain Bear book is The Berenstain Bears: The Bully. In you see the results of a girl tripping and beating on sister. Brother wants to avenge her, but then find out a girl beat sister up and therefore doesn’t. Sister wants to get back though, so Brother teaches her basic punches and blocks as well as letting sister beat up a bag of beans. Though Sister does not beat up the girl, when she sees her throwing rocks at an animal she is threatened and defends herself. Her self-defense causes the other girl to get a nose bleed.
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: 1/5 A Little Misuse: “Gee” is used at least thirteen times and “gosh” one times. There is a book that deals with how people should not swear. Sister watches a movie with swearing and says one of the words later. They never say what the bad words are, just that they are said.
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 1/5 Slightly Emotional: The most emotional book is the one called The Berenstain Bears: Lose a Friend. In it Sister’s pet dies and she and the family are sad about it. There is bleeding once in the series.
Religious Issues: 2/5 Suggestive: A radio is described to look like a “cathedral.” There are at least three books with Halloween mentioned in some way and one book is Halloween themed. In that book brother wears a monster costume that looks a little like a devil costume. “Mother Nature” is mentioned three times in the series. In one book there is a Native American style camp out and the camp counselor tells Native American myths. Evolution is suggested in at least one book when Papa says in passing how some dinosaurs did not live in the same era, but “millions of years apart.”
Magic: 1/5 Frequent Mentione: Descriptive words and phrases include “magic,” “magical,” “a spell,” “zombie,” and “wizard.” In one book it briefly shows that Brother wants to watch a ghost movie. In one book some of them watch a movie about a ballerina that believes she has magic shoes. A play that the children put on is “Grizzlystiltskin” which is originally from the fairy tale “Rumplestiltskin.” Grizzlystiltskin is called an “elf-bear.” In the story he disappears magically. One book mentions the tooth fairy and another one a version of Santa Claus. In one book Brother wants to read a fairy tale that has a troll in it. In one book, the children believe an old lady is a witch and that she uses a broomstick. She isn’t. The book also has references to Halloween things like jack-o-lanterns. Sister watches a version of Lord of the Rings under the name The Bear of the Rings. No magic is done in any of the books.
Others: There are references to popular cultures things only with like names (ex. are “The Beartles” for “The Beatles” or “The Bear Stooges” for “The Three Stooges.”) There are brief mentions of contemporary music. Some boys want to make a rap song for a talent show.
Overall: 1½/5 Almost All Ages Appropriate: There aren’t really any big bad things (except maybe Brother and Sister using the same bath once or twice) but a lot of minor things that might bother parents. One nice thing is that a parent can choose which books they prefer and which they don’t. If Halloween bothers a parent, they can skip that book. I recommend most Berenstain Bear books to children of any age, but some parents may wait for a child to reach a certain age before reading them the book, such as waiting until a child is in school before reading them The Berenstain Bears: The In-Crowd.