A Little Happier: Why the Children’s Book “Little Bear” Made Tears Come into My Eyes.

I love children’s literature, and young-adult literature, and I also love picture books. Because I love them so much, although we gave away three giant boxes to my sister Elizabeth’s son Jack when he was little, I still have many shelves of my favorites. The other day, I was looking for my copy of Stone Soup when I happened to pull out the book Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik. I’m not a particularly sentimental parent—in fact, I’ve sometimes felt guilty about my lack of emotional response to a first haircut or eighth-grade graduation—so I was astonished to find myself with tears in my eyes as I re-read these lines from the first story in Little Bear.

“What kind of story would you like to hear?” said Mother Bear. “Tell me about me,” said Little Bear. “Tell me about the things I once did.”
What was it about this particular passage that pierced me to the heart? Well, the utter trust, for one thing, and the unselfconscious self-centeredness of childhood. “Tell me about me.” As adults, we don’t get to ask for that kind of attention, no matter how much we’d like it. But what really got me was the reminder about the passage of time. Little Bear is still Little, but already, he’s bigger than he was. So much is already past: his unnecessary attempt to dress warmly for the snow, his trip to the moon, his sixth birthday party…childhood passes so quickly. In my own mind, I summarize this bittersweet truth with the phrase, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Little Bear asks his mother to tell him about himself. As parents, we play an important in shaping and preserving our children’s memories of their own brief history. One of my happiness-project resolutions is to “Be a storehouse of happy memories,” because remembering happy times in the past is an important way to boost happiness in the present, and children need parents’ help to sustain happy memories. The responsibility to be the custodian of the art projects, class portraits, and endless anecdotes about The Time You Got Locked in the Bathroom and The Time You Threw Up on the Way to the Airport can feel fairly trivial, but it’s an important obligation. For, although I almost suffered nervous collapse when I finally buckled down to organize my enormous cache of photos into albums, I know that such records are a key way that my daughters—and my husband and I—hang on to memories. “Tell me about me. Tell me about the things I once did.” These stories show us the things we once did, which is part of who we are now.  Do you find yourself tearing up over passages in picture books? Which ones? Let me know if so. Here’s the link to my one-minute video  “The Years Are Short.”




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