The Overly-Critical Children’s Book Review: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

by ParentCo. April 20, 2015

Ben Raphael owns Wooden Hammer LLC. He lives with his wife and son in Monkton, Vermont.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I see a book plagued by lack of conviction, critical thinking, and true intellectual curiosity, that is doomed from page two. For those unfamiliar with this alleged masterwork, by Bill Martin, the plot hinges on animals giving one another the proverbial stink eye. On the very first page, an inquisitive voice (who remains unidentified throughout the text, so I’ll call him Jerry because, given his one dimensional nature, I assume he’s male) encounters the title character. “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?” asks Jerry. Upon learning that the brown bear sees a red bird, Jerry seems to forget altogether about the hulking brown beast and its razor sharp claws, turning his attention to the red bird. Again, he wants to know what this animal sees. Well, we actually already know what the bird sees; To quote the brown bear, “I see a red bird looking at me”. Logically, if the bird is looking at the brown bear, it sees the brown bear. But apparently the bird has shifted its gaze elsewhere, so now it reports seeing a yellow duck who, again, is returning said gaze. We go on like this for a while, each new animal seeing another animal, each with a new color, each looking at the previous animal before being caught staring and shiftily looking away. Ok, I’ll buy it, purple cat and all, because I just need to know what happens next. Spoiler alert: people enter and everything just turns to shit. “I see a teacher looking at me” says the goldfish. But, up to this point, every animal has had an assigned color (even if that color is actually part of the animals name and not a modifier—I’m looking at you goldfish). So why doesn’t this human being have a color? She is clearly white: can we all just say it? Probably of mixed European ancestry. So what are we scared of here? The goldfish sees a white teacher, plain and simple, and in line with the mundane formula we’ve been following. Then we’re slapped in the face with this inconsistency once more, as the teacher dutifully reports seeing “children” looking at her. These kids also have colors, why can’t they be named? Let’s celebrate the beautiful diversity of this classroom. Are we saying that we can see animals’ colors but not humans’ colors? What, you don’t see race, Bill Martin? In conclusion, this is a really great book, and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be read, on repeat, to your demanding child, who simply can’t get enough of these playfully rendered animals.


ParentCo.

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