For the past five years, I have spent more time reading children’s books than anything else. The back cover of Richard Scarry’s Good Night Little Bear says, “Each of us remembers our own favorite Little Golden Book.” I recently discovered we may remember even more about them than we realize.
Some books from my childhood, and especially this one, bring back strong associations. It’s not just the words I remember but what I pondered beyond its face value, or as I now know it, how I (in academic terms) “approached it critically.”
Little Bear, you see, should go to bed. In what appears to be a typical nighttime routine, Little Bear rides on Father Bear’s shoulders and “into the snug little bedroom they go.” But on this particular night Little Bear stays on Father’s shoulders. Father Bear pretends to nod off and then wonders where Little Bear is. The rest of the book follows Father Bear around the house as he looks for Little Bear. When he looks under the stove, he “feels something soft and furry. Is it Little Bear? No. It’s only Father Bear’s old winter mitten.”
This stove/mitten scene is where I usually stop and joke to my kids: Now WHY would a furry bear wear a mitten??
Eventually, Little Bear reaches for some chocolate cake and gives himself away. On the final page, Little Bear asks, “Did I really fool you, Daddy?” In conclusion, the book asks the reader, “Do you think Father Bear knew all the time?” I truly remember thinking it was possible Little Bear pulled one over on Father – that is how young I must have been in my first memories of this book.
Recently my parents were over, and we were all discussing this book as its familiar words were hanging in air, having recently been read out loud yet again.
As usual, I mentioned that I always thought it was weird that a bear would have a mitten.
Dad sang his reply, “You remember.”
At that moment, I realized questioning the validity of this mitten was a discussion point from my own childhood – it had resurfaced subconsciously. Thus, in this case at least, I wasn’t nearly as observant, clever, or funny as I had given myself credit for. (Of course my dad is the most observant, clever, and funny person I know so I’m ok with soaking up some of it, mitten jokes or whatever.)
I have always traced my love of literature back to my childhood. But now I can even say that my graduate career of critical reading that ended with Joyce’s Ulysses may have started by pondering Father Bear’s mitten.