Monday, April 04, 2011

Letter from reader about THE BERENSTAIN BEARS GIVE THANKS in which the Bears fatten up Squanto (their turkey)

Last week, Kim in Canada wrote to me...

Hi Debbie,

Here's another book to add to your poison pile of inappropriate, misleading Thanksgiving resources (if it's not already there).

I found it on my nephews' bookshelf when I was reading them bedtime stories a couple of weeks ago. I was immediately suspicious as soon as I saw the cover, but before I could talk my nephews into reading another book, the 6-year-old caught a glimpse of one of the illustrations inside and the first thing out of his mouth was "That's a First Nations bear!" (he's in the middle of a unit on treaties at his school). At 6, he's apparently already absorbed the dominant society's misconception that all Aboriginal peoples in North America are signified with headdresses. Sigh.

I asked my sister where she got the book, and she said the boys chose it from a book fair at their school. I explained to her why I didn't want to read it to my nephews, and she donated it to the library where I work so we can include it on our shelf of "not recommended" kid lit (our main clientele are Metis and First Nations students studying to be elementary school teachers).

I just assumed that a book this bad (it manages to include every single bit of American Thanksgiving misinformation and stereotyping out there; to add insult to injury, the turkey in the book is named Squanto) would have been written in the 1970s or 1980s with all of the other Berenstain Bears books I grew up with, so I didn't give it much thought. As I was cataloging it today, though, I was shocked (well, more dismayed than shocked, I guess, as I'm a regular reader of your blog) to see that it had been published in 2009. And in a series of books called "Living Lights," which professes to "help children learn how God wants them to live every day,"  no less.

Sorry to go on for so long. Thanks so much for your blog. Reading it has been a big part of my education over the last couple of years.


I read Kim's email and clicked on the link she provided. On that page you can read most of the book.


Well. I have literally been stuck on that "I..." ever since I got Kim's email and looked at the book. I don't know what to say. I'm shocked, and not shocked. I'm surprised, and not surprised. Maybe the right word is disgusted.

I'm disgusted.

They named the turkey Squanto! And they're fattening him up so they can KILL him and EAT him. In the end, he is saved and turned into their PET. Kristina Seleshanko, managing editor of the Christian Children's Book Review, writes on Amazon that:
when Mama calls "Dinnertime!", Sister suddenly remembers Squanto. But she's relieved when Papa points out the window at the pen he's made for the family's new pet: the turkey Squanto. A fine salmon is the center of the family's Thanksgiving dinner and when prayers of thanksgiving to God go round, Sister adds, "And I am especially thankful for my wonderful new pet, Squanto the turkey!" "AMEN!" everyone cries. 
Amen?! Can you see why this book is problematic? Are Jan and Mike Berenstain that obtuse?! Or do they know perfectly well what they're doing???

Is The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks in your library?  If it is, can you move it, as Kim is doing, to a place where it can be used as a teaching tool?

You can also write to Jan and Mike Berenstain at this email address: Or directly to Zondervan (the publisher) at

Note: Sunday, March 11, 2012
See the follow-up at Update on Berenstain Bears Give Thanks
You might also be interested in the stereotyping in Berenstain Bears Go to Camp. 


Witch Mom said...

Thank you for posting this. As a mom who cares about respecting and understanding the history of all peoples and teaching my son to do the same, it is as important to know which books to avoid or save til later and which ones to seek out.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for this insight. I'm a children's librarian and instantly went to my catalog to see if we have the book. We don't, and I won't be buying it. Would it be possible for you to post a review on Amazon bringing out the facts in your blog? I went there to see what the reviewers said, and the only negative content was a mom worried about her kids not relating what they were eating to a real turkey. Pam

Debbie Reese said...

Pam--and anyone reading AICL, you can post links to reviews on AICL whenever you want to do so. You don't have to ask my permission. I'll go to the Amazon page and see if I can post a link there.

Anonymous said...

I read this book after ordering it from my daughters book fair and was astonished at how horrible it is. However, instead of just removing it from our book shelf immediately, i instead decided it was important to keep as a teaching tool, as an example of how history is often mis-told, and racism is extremely prevalent in our schools and society. It is read now as an opportunity to have an honest discussion with my kids about the reality of America. I don't remember the Berenstein Bears books being like this as a child, but then again, i might just not have had the perspective i do now to realize what was going on. I am going to talk to the school about it, too.

Mary Ann Reilly said...

Just a note: Many of the Berenstain Bear books are objectionable.