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Monday, 20 March 2017

The Berenstain Bears Go On Vacation

Written and Illustrated by Stan and Jan Berenstain, with their son Mike Berenstain
Publisher: HarperCollinsChildrens, 2006

Certainly not the best of The Berenstain Bears series, but a good read nonetheless. Go On Vacation doesn't capture the characters of Mama and Papa Bear, like in the early 1970 book, The Bears' Christmas, with Papa Bear being the egotistic bumbling fool and Mama Bear the despairing, head in hands,gritted teeth, housewife, but it's good to see that the Bear family has expanded since first publications, and this title has a nice, if nonchalant, 'quality-family-time-together' message. 

The narrative is a bit frenetic, aiming to cover activities on everyday of the holiday, but we like that they get rained off from the beach on one day, and end up in a museum (very true to life!) There are a few misadventures along the way, namely 'fog' on the beach, so they go for a 'jog'. (Can't help but think that was contrived, the Berenstain's have been a bit of a slave to the rhyme there). Generally though, the rhyme is fun and insistent, continuing through to the end of the book (though rhyming pattern oddly changes part way through). 

The book does capture the essence of beach life and beach holidays, which are clearly universal as The Berestain Bears is an American series (though I have a false memory of this series actually being Canadian). There's some lovely verse describing the water and the light, and the illustrations depict big skies and pinkish sunsets well.  

The aspect of the story my children like, is Papa Bear's insistence on going fishing (maybe because they anticipate the 'boasting/looser' dad from the Christmas book). Fish, particularly the size of certain fish, is a real theme in the book, with the Bears looking at marine artefacts in the museum and then a page talking about bait, to a the Bears returning to find smug Mama bear and baby Honey bear having caught a 'whopper' earlier that day. 

The pinks and oranges in the book set a real summery, holiday mood, and facets of family fun on holiday, such as building a giant sandcastle, running to the sea, sending postcards, burying someone in the sand are all timeless, and cross cultures. Yes the Berenstains paint a very sugary happy, naive  image of family life, as anthropomorphic bears, but in the context of this book, an insight into a holiday, its within an escapist context. I don't like how the bear illustrations have been fattened, I prefer the scrawnier bear characters in the 1970s editions, as again, this family seems more polished than I recall. Indeed, without the Bears' vulnerability the book still offers something cheery and fun, but not necessarily laugh out loud. A fun quick read (though two pages too long) to 3-5 year olds, and great for introducing children to the idea of a holiday. 
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