Authors: Stan and Jan Berenstain
Prowling through a DC bookstore, looking for a gift for my boyfriend’s three year old nephew, I discovered a tall spinning wire book rack filled with children’s books, including several Berenstain Bears stories. This took me back to the early days of my reading addiction, the cozy bedtimes and story times spent in my mother’s lap, staring intently at all the detailed and warm drawings of Bear Country. I first learned to read with the Berenstain Bears because I simply could not be read to enough. Even now, I’ll admit that sequestered in an old bookcase, some of Brother and Sister Bear’s stories, battered and colored on, remain beloved monuments in my collection. And apparently, the Bear family’s adventures did not end with my generation. The lovable anthropomorphic family continues, including a new member, Baby Honey, and I couldn’t resist the impulse to pass on my own happy nostalgia to the new generation. I might have even cherished reliving the moments of my childhood by reading myself as a mesmerized child looks on. It is my duty to pass on the greatest gift of imagination – reading.
The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Car Trip, originally published in 2006 and therefore not that new (although, new to a child of the early 90s), Mamma and Papa bear must convince the cubs that a family vacation to explore the wonders of Bear Country is more enjoyable, and more memory making, than the cubs desired trip to a water park. Along the way, a pouting Brother and Sister Bear start to cheer up as they see Mt. Grizzmore for the first time (aka, the Bear’s version of Rushmore), a tumbling waterfall, and a battle reenactment. Baby Honey, of course, stays behind with the grandparents and by the end of the story, the cubs are overjoyed that they were able to have a road trip across their beautiful country with their parents.
Admittedly, this newer trip to Bear Country doesn’t rank with my original favorites such as Too Much Vacation, The Greedy Gimmies, Too Much TV, and others. Here, the artwork is more lackadaisical. We have fewer sweeping vistas with the majority of the rather short (even for a Berenstain Bear) story taking place at a nondescript table within the Bear family’s house. The journey doesn’t receive much page space, and what they visit is kind of . . . strange, especially the reenactment and a graveyard where all the soldiers who “fell in battle” are buried. Supposedly, the reenactment refers to a Civil War like event in Bear Country, but Papa’s information about the war is abstract, his answers non-answers, and the overall situation something that will leave children confused and might lead wary parents to discuss what “graves” and “war” mean. Death and destruction for bedtime stories? Um, I don’t think so.
The writing is ok. Children should find it fairly easy to follow and learn (other than the “fell in battle” comment, which seems unnecessarily old-world.) Yet, the old verve of the series, the humor mixed with depictions of happy childhood isn’t there. It’s simply bland. A story filling page space with Brother and Sister missing out on some great opportunities for amusing snark.
The book is not bad, but Too Much Car Trip is not memorable either, especially compared with the Bear stories I was read as a child – stories which I still remember way over twenty years later. Why isn’t this more like Too Much Vacation? Where are the funny scenarios, the expansive, detailed drawings of a country populated by talking bears which I could (and still can) easily visualize? Overall, this newer offering feels flat. Kids will like it all right I suppose, but I don’t see them repetitively asking to be read this story over and over again or remembering it in their adult years as a staple of childhood and family book time.
– Frances Carden