Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

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Title: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Author: Bill Martin, Jr. (website)
Illustrator: Eric Carle (website)
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, LLC
Year:  1996
ISBN: 978-0805047905
Format: Board Book
Pages: 26
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Early Reader
Kid Love Factor: 4/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 2.5/5

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is of course a classic.  Originally published in 1967, this one’s been around long enough it’s technically possible that its first readers are sharing it with their grandchildren.  Okay, so they’d have to have had children young and their children had to have children young, but it is possible.  Without any laws having been broken, even. </weird tangent>

Brown Bear,
Brown Bear,
What do you see?
I see a red bird looking at me.

Each page has a colourful Eric Carle illustration of the animal being questioned, who sees another animal, who is in turn questioned on the next page.  Eventually, the chain of animals leads to a goldfish in a classroom, a teacher, and the children who can see everyone along the way.  Cue summary page!

The book is wonderful visual stimulation for babies, encourages animal and colour identification in toddlers and preschoolers, and the simplicity and repetition of the text should make it a win for beginning readers, too. The group of children at the end are a delightful mix of genders and ethnicities; every child should be able to find someone that looks reasonably similar to them.  Hmm.  I'd be interested in knowing if the original spread in the 1967 edition was as ethnically diverse.  

Boo has loved this book since he was about 9 months old.  We always read it in the same rhythm, with the same intonation, and we were (eventually) rewarded with the first large-scale verbal mimicry from him.  “BROWN bear, BROWN bear, WHAT do YOU SEE?”  translated to “DUM da DUM da MA ba MA BA!”, which he would do repeatedly while turning the pages, effectively reading to himself.  It’s also one of the books (along with Bright Baby Colors) that brought out his first proximal points.  His ability to jab a finger at the yellow duck on command was a brilliant moment in our house.

It’s a fun read, but repetition does get fairly tedious after the third time in a row, hence the middle of the road Adult Sanity Factor.  Especially when you throw Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear into the mix...

Autism Spectrum Bonus: The brightly coloured and stylized animals are alone on a white (or black, in the case of the white dog) page, with no distracting backgrounds to take away from listening to the rhythm of the text or learning the animals and colours.  The teacher is also alone on her page, which may allow for eye contact practice on something recognizably human but stylized enough to be (possibly?) reasonably comfortable.  And because the text is repeated so often, it’s the perfect book to pause during, hopefully eliciting continuing vocalizations in kids who don’t do so often. 

Bottom line:
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?
I see a series purchased by me.  (sigh)



  1. For whatever reason, this seemed to be the go-to book during Early Intervention speech therapy when my daughter was going through it. There is also a song and a set of little stuffed likenesses of all of the animals that our SLP used. Even though I will always associate this book with one of the lowest points of my life, I can't help but like it because Audrey loved her therapist so much.

  2. Both this and the Polar Bear one were recommended to us by the first SLP we saw, back when all we knew was that Boo had a communication delay. She thought the pattern and repetition would help, and it did. :)

    I didn't know there was a song and stuffed animals, though. I'm trying to imagine the illustrations in three dimensions and it's not working for me...

  3. Such a lovely blog, Sam! Hug to Boo.

    Brown Bear was tops at our house. You just can't escape that rhythm. Ever.

  4. @Lorie Ann "You just can't escape that rhythm. Ever." Heh, no kidding. I'm pretty sure I'll still be able to recite the whole thing when I'm 106. With my three remaining functional neurons.

    Thanks for the compliment. :) Boo says "Ug!"

  5. Lol, great description. I feel the same way. My son loves them, and I tolerate them. Oh, but we have one that is even worse in terms of repetition! Let me see if I can remember the name. Here it is: Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too?

  6. We love Brown Bear, Brown Bear at our house. Bill Martin Jr's rhythms and rhymes are fun to read!

  7. @Infant Bibliophile - Hmm. We (and by we I mean Boo) are very fond of Aussie animals due to books we've been sent by Aussie relatives. I'll have to check the kangaroo one out, as repetition is good for him. When it brings me to the brink of a mental breakdown, I'll remember to blame you. :)

    @Happy Birthday Author - glad you guys enjoy it. I don't mind it too much most of the time, just when Boo insists on reading it a bunch of times in a row and then breaks out the matching books of the series for a change of pace... ;)

    Thanks for the comments, both of you!


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