“Mommy, you know what? You know what? You know what?”

November 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

My five year old loves to tell stories. Most of the time, his stories are a blend of autobiographical truth and nonsensical make-believe, and most of the time they are his way of working through whatever he’s trying to make sense of in the world (“There was this hurricane, and the winds were swirling around outside like a tornado, and then the roofs of the houses blasted off to Outerspace, and then…). As a parent, I know that I’m supposed to dedicate my ears to him when he’s narrating life’s inexplicable phenomena, but golly if his stories don’t always seem to come at a time when I’m desperately trying to corral him into putting on his coat or swallowing a few bites of food (the fork goes up, then stops, millimeters from the mouth, then comes down again: “Mommy, you know what?”). But I get it. I do. We all want to narrate our lives, and we all want an appreciative audience.

That’s why I’m not surprised that JP’s sister, now a full-fledged two year old, has decided that she too has verbal musings of her own to share. Suddenly, our family dinners are filled with Emily’s terrorizing screams—“I talking here!”—followed by JP’s despairing moans, “Emil-ee, I haven’t finished my story yet!”

Alas, tonight seemed like a good time to introduce my clan to the latest treasure from Philip and Erin Stead, the husband and wife duo that wrote and illustrated two of my all-time favorites, A Sick Day for Amos McGee and And Then It’s Spring. Their newest gem, Bear Has a Story to Tell (Ages 2-6), has all of the subtle charm, all of the understated quietness, of their earlier works, and this makes it perfectly suited for the subject at hand: hibernation. A yawning Bear wants to settle in for his winter repose, but first he “has a story to tell.” Naturally, telling a story requires an audience, but all Bear’s friends—Mouse and Duck and Mole and Frog—are too busy prepping for their own hibernation (or migration) to listen. Unlike my five year old, Bear is a patient and empathetic soul: he doesn’t stomp his feet in frustration; he knows his friends will be ready when they’re ready. Or maybe he just knows that a good storyteller must work carefully to set his stage.

When Bear later awakens to a warm spring sun (exclaiming jubilantly to himself, “Now I can tell my story!”), he greets each friend with a kind deed before asking for their attention in return. Only after he has sought out a cool mud puddle for Duck and waited all day for Mole to poke his head out of the ground, does Bear look out at his assembled audience, “sit up straight,” “clear his throat,” “puff out his chest,” and begin his story: “It was almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy.”

I’m not so delusional as to think that this picture book could transform my children into non-interrupting storytellers, no matter how much they relate to Bear’s eagerness. But I can tell you this: the sweet, lulling text and subdued pencil and watercolor illustrations brought a long-awaited hush upon my little ones tonight. As it turned out, this hush was the perfect opportunity for me to take my moment. Like I said, everyone likes to tell a story.

Bear with his audience, at last.

Other Favorite Stories About Hibernation (and Patient Bears):
Old Bear, by Kevin Henkes (Ages 2-4)
Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman (Ages 2-4)
Leaves, by David Ezra Stein (Ages 2-4)
Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep, by Maureen Wright & Will Hillenbrand (Ages 3-6)

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