I write a lot about the joys of reading aloud to your kid. This is a cautionary tale about what happens when reading aloud goes wrong.
Before we begin, for the record, I am a fan of The Berenstain Bears. While I know some parents who find their books to be provincial and occasionally preachy, I think, for the most part, Stan and Jan Berenstain are extremely skilled at crafting very engaging and accessible stories for early readers. (I should note that I, personally, very much prefer the earlier Berenstain Bear books – Old Hat, New Hat; The Berenstain Bears’ Science Fair; The Berenstain Bears and the Sitter, etc – to the newer editions that Jan co-wrote with their son Michael.)
The Berenstain Bears series was the first example of series fiction that my daughter really fell in love with, and I think that’s a pretty common occurrence. Many parents are comfortable buying their young children Berenstain Bears books for a variety of reasons – the stories are well told, the art is consistent, the books are inexpensive, the characters are captivating, the quality of the storytelling greatly outshines the other books on that one spinning rack at the bookstore (normally, cheap Barbie or princess books) – the list goes on and on. Berenstain Bears books have become a foundational pillar of modern children’s literature because they’ve created this very warm, very safe place for young readers to return to again and again.
Which was why I was so surprised when a Berenstain Bear book made me say the F-word in front of my daughter.
LET ME EXPLAIN…
OK, in reality, the incident was maybe 90% my fault, 10% the book’s fault (maybe more like 70/30). The book in question was The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, a fun little tale of Brother and Sister Bear learning not to expect toys, candy, and presents every time they go out to the store. It’s a book designed to tell children not to lose their minds in front of the candy rack at the supermarket checkout, so I fully support Stan and Jan‘s intentions behind writing the book. It has a great lesson at its core. HOWEVER, it also features a tongue-twister that completely got the better of me one night at bedtime.
I was laying in bed with my daughter, reading her The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, and, two pages into the story, we’re told about the indulgences that Brother and Sister have gotten used to at their local supermarket. They sometimes got too many treats, too many toys… well, here’s the page in question.
That’s right – “too many rides on the Bucking Duck…”
I have survived tongue-twisters thrown at me by the best. Jack Prelutsky, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein – I can get through “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too” without batting an eye. But, that night, as I read The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, I read aloud to my daughter the words “too many treats, too many toys, and too many rides on the ____ING DUCK.”
Yeah. The ____ing Duck. Get to engraving my “Dad of the Year” trophy any time now.
I sputtered and blushed and just pushed on through. (Seriously, Stan and Jan? A Bucking Duck?) My daughter didn’t entirely catch my foul-mouthed slip-up, but she knew something was wrong. I was thrown, I was floundering – SOMETHING had happened and she wanted to know what was up. But I kept moving forward. I left no room for debate. We kept moving until four pages later when we ran into this page:
A BUCKING FROG. A frog. With an F-sound. Following the word “bucking.”
Now I stopped reading all together. At this point, my internal monologue was raging – “You are doing this ON PURPOSE, Berenstain Bears! You are PURPOSELY messing with me. NOT COOL.”
But I couldn’t let my daughter know what was happening. Before she could register the pause, I started reading the page very, very slowly and very, very carefully. I was determined not to take the bait and turn “Bucking Frog” into… well, you know. And, even with all those precautions, I’ll admit, I almost slipped up again when I finally got to it. I was overthinking it now. The temptation was too great.
And I won’t even get into the “rubber pussycats” that are introduced four pages later. (SERIOUSLY. )
What’s the lesson of this story? That The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies is loaded with LANDMINES for immature, foul-minded parents who aren’t paying attention when they’re reading aloud? Well, yeah, but it’s not fair to blame the Berenstains (I guess).
I suppose the lesson here is that there are certain occupational hazards when it comes to reading aloud to your kid and making huge Freudian slips while reading is just one of them. Granted, it doesn’t help when authors knowingly insert phrases like “Bucking Duck” and “Bucking Frog” into innocent morality plays about not throwing a tantrum every time you’re in the toy aisle in Target…. BUT, I guess, if Brother and Sister can take responsibility for their bad case of the “gimmies”, as a dad, I can take responsibility for letting my subconscious rise a little too close to the surface when trying to read to my daughter at bedtime.
But, seriously, “Bucking Duck”? Come on, Papa Bear, help a brother out…