Mamabare Reads

Endearing Bear Book Series for Discussing Tricky Topics with Kids

By Rebecca - January 30, 2019
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Australian children’s book author Nick Bland has created such an endearing series featuring Bear. Here at mamabare, as you can imagine, we’re partial to a relatable bear character (not to mention superb children’s literature!). As mamas and educators, our focus is usually on books that incorporate plenty of whimsical features, catchy rhymes, with a particular soft spot for those that focus on tricky subjects like loneliness, big feelings, fear, and empathy. These have quickly become some of our family favorites!

Bear navigates the uncertain and, at times, perilous landscapes of Jingle Jangle Jungle, Forest, and Mountain, while trying his very best to navigate complicated relationships. His stories reassure young readers that it’s ok to feel hungry, cranky, scared, or different. Bear is gentle and appeals to kids who may feel rough and tough, but who always have underlying reasons for even their most challenging behaviors!

Here’s a breakdown of our favorite Nick Bland Bear books with brief discussion suggestions for you and your students or children to explore:

 

The Very Cranky Bear

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Uh-oh. In The Very Cranky Bear, published in 2008, Bear is first introduced to readers in this series as a grumpy, tired, super ornery bear. He’s uncomfortable and interrupted sleep is to blame! (Hands up, mamas! Who can relate??…) One cold day in Jingle Jangle Jungle, four animal friends find shelter from the awful wind and rain. The only problem: their shelter happens to be Bear’s cave and he’s not feeling particularly welcoming.

The Very Cranky Bear: Discussions About Fatigue, Helpfulness, and Empathy

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Zebra comes up with an idea: if the friends can just cheer Bear up then he’ll surely let them play in his warm, safe cave. Unfortunately, none of the animals really know what Bear needs… except for Sheep, who’s been paying attention. Bear’s extra cranky by now so he roars at Sheep. All Bear needs is sleep! Instead of leaving or yelling back, the thoughtful sheep listens and shows empathy.

Suggestions for Discussion:

  • Why is Bear feeling cranky?
  • Are Lion, Sheep, Zebra, and Moose trying to bother Bear’s sleep?
  • What does it feel like in our body and our brain when we are feeling tired?
  • What type of things make us feel cranky?
  • How do we communicate with others that we are feeling cranky?
  • What could we do to let someone know what we need?
  • How does Bear let the other animals know he is feeling cranky?
  • Is Sheep thinking of what he needs or what Bear needs? (great place to explore the BIG concept of EMPATHY – Sheep could run away or yell back, but he chooses to offer help instead!)
  • How do we know Sheep i being thoughtful?

The Very Itchy Bear

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In our opinion the most whimsical of Nick Bland’s bear books, The Very Itchy Bear tells the tale of an improbable friendship between Bear and a flea. Off to an uncomfortable start, Bear reacts to his itch-inducing, uninvited companion by flicking Flea out to sea. When he realizes Flea might get eaten by a pesky seagull, though, Bear quickly comes to Flea’s assistance. The unlikely friendship between the pair is based on compromise, understanding each other’s needs, and companionship.

The Very Itchy Bear: Discussions About Discomfort, Empathy, and Compromise

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This book, first published in 2010, can be used to address sensory discomforts, loneliness, empathy, and compromises in friendship. These can be complex issues for young kids to grasp, yet they deal with them nonetheless every. single. day! As teachers and/or parents, it can be helpful to navigate these topics through a fictional character’s story when rereading this entertaining tale.

Suggestions for Discussion:

  • Why does Bear feel grumpy when he’s itchy?
  • What does it feel like in our body and our brain when we feel uncomfortable?
  • What type of things make our body feel uncomfortable? Itchiness? The cold? Heat? Stress? Fatigue? Excitement?
  • Why does Bear choose to flick Flea to sea?
  • What can we do to let someone know we don’t appreciate the way they try to connect with us?
  • When Bear realizes Flea might get eaten by the hungry bird, why does he offer help? (great place to explore the BIG concept of EMPATHY!)
  • Why do we think Flea decides to stop biting Bear?
  • Do Flea and Bear feel comfortable together at the end of the book? How do we know?

The Very Hungry Bear

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The Very Hungry Bear definitely hits home with any adult or child who has ever felt hangry!! In this 2012 publication, Bear is prepping for hibernation and, while busy fishing, he realizes he can’t catch any fish because a polar bear has already caught them all. Oh no! Instead of getting angry and roaring at the polar bear, Bear actually approaches this frustrating situation with kindness and patience, and says what he needs directly. The dialogue between bears encourages kind communication and direct requests for kids to learn how to interact more peacefully:

“Excuse me,” said Bear.

“Do you have to fish there?

You are catching all of the fish.”

“I’m sorry,” [polar bear] said,

as he lifted his head.

“You can have one of mine if you wish.”

The Very Hungry Bear: Discussions About Hunger, Sharing, and Friendship

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The polar bear’s allergic to trees. With Brown Bear now willing to help a new friend in need (even though he’s feeling so, so hungry!), readers can focus on how we can best communicate our needs clearly and kindly. It’s essential (but often overlooked) to explicitly teach our kids how to verbalize what they need instead of remaining passive or becoming aggressive. In the process of sharing resources, Brown Bear and Polar Bear become friends.

Suggestions for Discussion:

  • Why does Bear feel grumpy when he’s hungry?
  • What does it feel like in our body and our brain when we feel hungry?
  • Is it helpful for Bear to speak honestly and directly to the polar bear about what he needs?
  • What words or phrases does Bear use to show kindness – even when he feels hungry, grumpy, and surprised?
  • What words or phrases does the polar bear use to show kindness – even when he feels nervous about losing his home and then uncomfortable in the cave’s heat?
  • If we don’t ask kindly and directly for what we need, how can others know how to help us?

The Very Brave Bear

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Kids get to explore Slimy Bog of Jingle Jangle Jungle in The Very Brave Bear. Bear gets caught up in a battle of bravery and competitiveness with Boris Buffalo. With each new challenge, one “brave” animal is always trying to one-up the other one.

The Very Brave Bear: Discussions About Fear, Competitiveness, and Bravery

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The illustrations in this book, first published in 2014, are of particular interest: Bear and Buffalo alternately show facial expressions of fear and effort.

Suggestions for Discussion:

  • Why does Bear fall off his log?
  • What does it feel like in our body and our brain when we fall?
  • What does it feel like in our body and our brain to fall or make a mistake in front of someone else?
  • Why do we think Bear wants to show Boris Buffalo he is so brave?
  • Can we find illustrations of Boris Buffalo and Bear when they are each feeling nervous, brave, or scared?
  • What clues do we have that they might be feeling those ways?
  • Can we try some of the facial expressions Bear and Boris Buffalo are showing?
  • Exciting little detail your kids/students will love!: try to spot a tiny character who shows up on every single page!

The Very Noisy Bear

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The Very Noisy Bear, published in 2015, covers so many amazing topics that are often so tricky for younger kids! Bear is tired (welcome to the club… we sense a theme here!) and he’s feeling extra grumpy about his interrupted sleep. The jungle animals are just having fun and playing music but the noise keeps Bear from sleeping. The animals happily invite him to join and, although Bear tries different instruments, he’s not particularly successful until he finds what he’s uniquely good at:

ROARING!

The Very Noisy Bear: Discussions About Inclusion, Our Strengths, and Trying New Things

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This book’s especially popular with our 7 year old son, probably because he’s smack dab in the middle of exploring what he’s capable of, seeking more independence, and navigating social interactions where he’s often unsure of his own strengths.

Suggestions for Discussion:

  • Do we think Bear feels left out when he sees all the forest animals playing music together?
  • What does it feel like in our body and our brain when we feel left out or lonely?
  • How can others know we feel that way?
  • Why does Bear try all those instruments? Is he feeling brave, scared, nervous, excited,… ?
  • What does it feel like in our body and our brain when we feel brave?
  • What does it feel like in our body and our brain when we feel proud?
  • How does Bear know he is really good at roaring?
  • Could anyone else roar like Bear could?
  • When he feels good at roaring, does Bear feel sad or upset or angry about not playing the other instruments? Why not?

The Very Sleepy Bear

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The Very Sleepy Bear is another favorite around here! Mama can relate: sleep for an entire season? Yes, please! Bear is tired and running late so he’s already feeling quite stressed. But then he chooses to trust a tricky fox, and his search for a decent hibernation spot is quickly and uncomfortably interrupted.

The Very Sleepy Bear: Discussions About Honesty, Fatigue, and Trust

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In this most recently published Bear book from Bland, we love how new animal characters are introduced at the very end. Released in 2017, this book takes us through the snow of Jingle Jangle Mountain and we can totally relate to Bear just needing a safe place to lay his head.

Suggestions for Discussion:

  • How do we recognize that we’re feeling tired?
  • How does our body feel?
  • How do others know?
  • What helps our body when we’re tired?
  • Why does Bear trust Fox at the beginning of the book?
  • What do we think Fox is trying to do? Why?
  • Do we think it’s important to be honest?
  • How do we think Fox is feeling at the end of the book?