There are a lot of bears I wouldn’t take advice from (Yogi, Winnie, Paddington, this guy…), but the Berenstain Bears? They’ve got our backs. I remember being a wee little brat and getting some major life lessons handed to me by these furry nonhumans. How not to be a messy slob? Learned that in Bear Country. How not to be a whiny little jerk? Bear Country 101. How not to eat so many chips that you turn into a chubby tub of bear fur? Well. I’m still working on that one.
Stan and Jan Berenstain kept a whole generation of kids on the straight and narrow, and though they passed away in 2005 and 2012 respectively, the Bear Family lives on through their books and videos. I think it’s fair to say that I’m a slightly more acceptable human thanks to my parents reading me Berenstain Bears books as a kid. You too? Then let’s take a trip down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country, where Brother and Sister bear live with their mama and papa in the big treehouse. I bet there are one or two (or 12!) things we can still learn from our favorite ursine family.
The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room
The Bear family lives in a perfectly pictaresque tree house beside a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country. All is perfect and neat except... the cubs’ room is a post-apocalyptic landscape of gnawed toys and drool-dripping tiddlywinks. Luckily, Mama Bear has a solution: she is going to throw all their sh*t right out. She rampages through their room and tosses all their toys in a trash box, and it is hilariously gratifying to watch her completely lose her cool. Finally, Papa Bear gets off his big bear butt and builds them a toy chest and pegboard. Hooray!
The Lesson: Sometimes you have to go full scorched-earth crazy to get kids to do anything.
The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food
One day, the cubs are raiding the pantry, and Mama Bear notices something: the cubs are getting a little chubby. “Yes, they were chubbier from the side... they were chubbier from the front... and from the back.” This is adorable in miniature bears; not so much in humans. So what’s a Mama Bear to do? Wean those chubby cubs off the honey pot and teach them a thing or two about fruits and veggies.
The Lesson: There is literally no species on this planet that can eat only cookies, gumballs, and lollipops without gaining unhealthy amounts of weight. So knock it off with those Doritos!
The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners
This is one of the best Berenstain Bears books of all because it was a great primer on how to be a little jerk. Basically, Brother Bear and Sister Bear turn into insufferable brats who throw food, push each other, snatch toys, kick under the table, and shout impressively creative insults at each other (“Sillyhead! Fuzzbrain! Noodlepuss!”).
The Lesson: I think we were supposed to learn the importance of manners, but my takeaway was that broccoli can, in fact, bounce off of a sibling’s foreheard. And that “Noodlepuss” is, truly, the greatest insult of all.
The Berenstain Bears and the Truth
Let me set the scene for you: Brother Bear and Sister Bear get drunk, throw a rager, and trash the house. EDIT: That was a lie, because telling the truth is hard. What actually happens is that they play soccer inside, knock over a lamp, then blame it on a mockingbird. In the end, Mama Bear solves the mystery, and by the final page, the only lingering questions that remain are, “Where was the pay phone? What’s a Best Buy? What makes its buy the best?”
The Lesson: Life is full of mysteries. Mockingbirds are not a good explanation for any of them.
The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble With Chores
All together now: CHORES — UGH. Brother Bear, Sister Bear, and even Papa Bear decide to ignore all the household chores in the hopes that they will magically do themselves. Which leaves poor Mama Bear to do it all herself. But don’t worry — in the end, Mama Bear goes on strike, the tree house turns into a dump, and Papa Bear and the cubs finally have to clean or be eaten alive by mold spores. Yay, resolution!
The Lesson: If Mama Bear can’t do it all, no one can. So let it go. This book would also make the perfect passive-aggressive gift for the man-child in your life.
The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers
This is by far the most terrifying Berenstain book. I think I still have PTSD flashbacks to Sister Bear biting a shiny apple and finding a worm inside. Apparently, this was meant to be a metaphor for the evil lurking within strangers. Mostly it made me hate apples. And strangers. And worms. And definitely this guy:
Shudder. Thank god this one came with bonus stickers, so we could sop our tears with them.
The Lesson: Trust NO ONE. Everyone around you could have a demon worm inside of them, no matter how shiny and apple-like and paying-for-your-dinners they look.
The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Pressure
It looks like our favorite bears are up to something —i n fact, they’re up to EVERYTHING. In this story, they literally signed up for: baseball, ballet, horseback riding, swimming, gymnastics, soccer, karate, art, and computer club (aww!). I got so tired hearing about their activities that I had to pull a TL;DR. I assume a tidy resolution was reached within 32 pages and peace was restored to the Bear family?
The Lesson: Make like the bears and hibernate. Really — Stan and Jan insist.
The Berenstain Bears Get The Gimmies
Okay, we all know that this book was really just an excuse for our parents to not buy us candy at the supermarket like we rightfully deserved. Sorry that we were so good all day and now want to collect our sugary wages. Sorry that Sarah’s mom buys her Bubble Tape and you’re not as good as her. Sorry that you missed an opportunity to show us how much you love us. AND NO I DON’T WANT THE BONUS STICKERSSS I WANT THE CANNNNDDDDYYYYYY.
The Lesson: Adults who say no are jerks. Get a job immediately so you can buy all the candy you want.
The Berenstain Bears Show Some Respect
After you came down from your sugar tantrum high, your parents might have pulled this selection off the bookshelf. This book is the literary equivalent of a backhand to the face. In it, Sister and Brother Bear are getting a little fast and loose with the ‘tude, and Mama Bear is having none of it. But then, in the most glorious plot twist, Gramps and Gran Bear think that Mama and Papa need to reel in the sass themselves. Drama!
The Lesson: Thy cup of snark may runneth over, but don’t spill that junk on the rest of us. Oh, and respect your elders.
The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV
The Bear family is completely hooked on The Nutty Bear Show (I guess they don’t get HBO?), and Mama Bear has to snap them out of it. What’s a bear matriarch to do? SET THE TV ON FIRE! Unfortunately, she goes with option B and just bans TV for a week. I think I could teach Mama a thing or two about the power of shock value to teach children lessons.
The Lesson: The talking pictures inside your electronic cube are not real. So stop spending so much time with them, you weirdo!
The Berenstain Bears and the Dark
Not afraid of the dark anymore? You will be after reading this book. Get ready to have all your childhood nightmares flash back to you in a whirlwind of boogeymen and faceless demons. Poor little Sister Bear is happily reading a book about three kittens who are arguing about which is the prettiest (need that book!) when Brother Bear starts reading to her from his scary mystery book. This, understandably, scares the piss out of her. Even worse, he calls her a “scaredy bear” when she’s afraid of the dark that night. Brother Bear gets zero spankings for this, but Mama Bear does remedy the situation with the world’s cutest treehouse nightlight.
The Lesson: Upcycle your brother for a nightlight. (I think you can do this on Craigslist?)
The Berenstain Bears: No Girls Allowed
Sister Bear runs faster, climbs higher, and hits a ball farther than all the boys. She also gets higher test scores and is more likely to graduate college than all the boys. (Or at least, she will.) But Brother Bear and his bros don’t like that she’s been not-so-humble-bragging about it, so they build a boys-only clubhouse. What’s a Sister Bear to do? She builds her own, even better clubhouse, and invites all her lady friends over for buckets of wine and charcuterie. I mean... age-appropriate activities.
The Lesson: Stan and Jan Berenstain make a careful distinction here: Sister Bear was excluded because she was gloating, not because she’s a ladybear. As they write, “It’s not whether you’re a he or a she that counts, it’s how you play the game.”
The Berenstain Bears: Papa’s Pizza
Here is a real-life, actual book in which the Berenstain Bears do nothing but eat steaming gobs of pizza. AND IT’S SCRATCH-N-SNIFF!
The Lesson: You need this book. Go ahead and order your own copy, except that you won’t find any, because I just bought all remaining 133 copies in existence. Mama Bear never said I had to share.
Images: Sarah Gilbert/flickr