Little Bear, Big Trailblazer: The First “I Can Read” Book Ever #tbt


Sometimes I take for granted what a lavish age we live in when it comes to books for emergent readers. There are entire sections in libraries and bookstores bursting with options, subdivided by topics and genres, and to boot- an ALA award dedicated to the segment. It wasn’t always so. In fact, today’s featured throwback was the trailblazer!

little bear

Each Thursday I’ll be featuring a book that my parents *could* have read to me as a toddler (spoiler alert: I’m no spring chicken), so we will go with a publication date of 1983 or earlier; all books must still be in print as of my writing.

Title/author: Little Bear by Elsa Holmelund Minarik; illustrated by Maurice Sendak (yup, that Maurice Sendak, and you’ll find a nod to his Wild Things in the drawing Little Bear makes in the subsequent installment, A Kiss for Little Bear)

Copyright date: 1957

Plot in a Sentence (or two): (Sorry, I’m going to need some extra sentences for this one!) Little Bear follows the title character through four short stories (convenient for those bookworms building reading stamina!): Little Bear needs some help finding just the right thing to keep him warm in the snow (anyone with a finicky dresser will relate); Little Bear thinks his mom has forgotten his birthday so he tries to make a special birthday treat for himself, Birthday Soup (of course mom was busy preparing the perfect treat for him all along); Little Bear travels to the moon and is surprised to find that it looks just like his home on Earth (ah, the power of the imagination); Little Bear wants to hear stories about himself, so Mother Bear proceeds to share about when he searched for something to wear in the snow, made Birthday Soup, and traveled to the moon (a nice review of vocabulary for early readers, and a sweet nod to the joy kids find in reminiscing about “when they were little”).

Why It’s Timeless: Elsa Holmelund Minarik has a perfect bio for an author who would create an emergent reader’s dream book: she taught 1st grade for many years, she was a mom of a daughter who learned to read very young, and she was an immigrant from Denmark who hated learning the English language. Her background comes together to create the perfect offering for those learning to read.  The sentences are short and uncomplicated, but the stories are rich in characterization, emotion, and humor. Young bookworms will easily relate to lovable Little Bear, and I suspect Bookworm Mamas and Daddies will relate to Mother Bear as I did. Actually, I aspire to be Mother Bear: patient, playful, respecting her offspring’s need for independence,  yet supportive when needed.

Just for Fun: Minarik’s editor used the success of Little Bear to launch the I Can Read series, including several other Little Bear books. Be sure to check them out. I wavered for a while between featuring the first Little Bear or A Kiss for Little Bear, our favorite in the series! Both are fabulous and worth a read not just for emergent readers but for preschool storytime as well.

Keep Reading!

Books mentioned in this post should be readily available at your local library, or at the Amazon affiliate link provided.

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