I am who I am today because I loved The Berenstain Bears as a kid.
Every night, I’d get to pick two or three books for bed, and I picked The Berenstain Bears so much that I had memorized the story and put the words I knew to the ones I saw on the page and started guessing at the rules that made them work that way. That’s how I learned to read before I went to school. I loved those books so much, reading sprang from my obsession with Brother and Sister, wise Mama and bumbling Papa Bear.
My parents taught my sisters and I lessons through these books without needing to lecture us. Too Much Junk Food, Too Much TV, The Bully, The Messy Room: these were all regular stories my parents would read to help us understand what they, as parents, wanted from us girls. These are the books that taught me that stories can guide and shape you as a person. They are what first planted the idea that stories inspire, transform and give hope.
I still remember the name of the bully in “The Berenstain Bears and The Bully”. Queenie. I had a Queenie in my life. She tortured me from first grade through sixth when, like in the story, her fortunes reversed on her and she reached out to me. And I, like Sister, gave her grace. I remember that day. I remember recalling that story and it helped me to make my decision. She found me years later, in our twenties and said that day, that kindness, changed her life.
It’s not fair that it often takes death to help us see how important someone is to us. I wish I’d pondered this years ago and written her a letter, thanking her for teaching me to read, teaching me that stories have unmeasurable guiding power and for teaching me honest lessons about life. But I didn’t think of this series vast impact on me, not in the way I’m pondering it now, until today. But I can still thank her and her husband here.
Thank you for teaching me, Jan and Stan Berenstain. You’re responsible for who I am today, and thanks to my stockpile of well-preserved books from childhood, you’ll be responsible for who my children will be as well. Rest in peace.