The Dinglehopper

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Children’s Book Review: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr, illustrated by Eric Carle

Brown Bear

A big happy frog, a plump purple cat, a handsome blue horse, and a soft yellow duck–all parade across the pages of this delightful book. Children will immediately respond to Eric Carle’s flat, boldly colored collages. Combined with Bill Martin’s singsong text, they create unforgettable images of these endearing animals.

When our toddler was born, several friends delivered unto us boxes of books they were only too glad to get out of their homes. Not because they were bad, but because their own children had outgrown them. Folks like to do something useful with their clutter.

So we had a lot of books for the early years, among them beloved classics like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? We also spent a lot of time talking about books like Midnight’s Children and Ceremony. First child. Postmodern parents.

This book, simple as it was, got into our heads in weird ways. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is an endless chain of dissociated gazes with no clear subject or object. A constantly shifting narrator trapped mise en abyme.

This is why art for children shouldn’t necessarily be approached with the same critical tools and expectations as, say, literary fiction. It leads to strange places like “All of my Issues With the “Goodnight Moon” Bedroom.” Apt, maybe; funny, certainly. But entirely irrelevant.

Because Eric Carle’s vibrant tissue paper collages are as visually arresting as Bill Martin’s text is memorable. This is the kind of gentle repetition that assists and instructs young readers. What seemed almost Kafkaesque when reading to an infant who was just happy to be there became stunningly effective a couple years later. When Brown Bear sees a Red Bird, who appears on the next page, our toddler is delighted to see it, too. And to let us know what it is.

This book would get all the stars if we were into that kind of thing. It’s definitely worth picking up for kids of every gender. We have the 5×7 board book, which is great for tiny hands and for hauling around. And it’s held up well through a couple owners, now.

Here’s author Bill Martin reading the “singsong text.” We’re used to stopping more frequently while reading with a partner.

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