Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review - The Berenstain Bears: No Girls Allowed

The Berenstain Bears: No Girls Allowed
by Stan & Jan Berenstain
Date: 1986
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Sister Bear can run faster, climb higher, and hit a ball farther than the boys, and she gloats over it. So Brother Bear and his friends build a clubhouse for boys only, and Sister is hopping mad! She plans a honey of a revenge in this funny and thoughtful book.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I may have encountered this book in my childhood (my younger sister had quite a Berenstain Bears collection). Back in the 1980s, this was probably a very forward-thinking book. The overall message is good. Unfortunately, some of the details are kind of dated, and I think parents could probably find books with more modern, relevant messages.

Sister likes to tag along with Brother and his friends. As she gets older, she starts to be able to outrun and outplay them. And she's not subtle about it when she wins. So Brother and his friends make a secret clubhouse and decree that no girls are allowed. Sister thinks this is unfair, and her parents agree. So she starts her own club with all the girls from the neighbourhood that have been left out. She wants to disallow boys, but Mama gently dissuades her. Eventually, the cubs all make up and share.

I think part of the problem I'm having with this is that the boys-versus-girls thing is really overdone... when it doesn't need to be. The thing that probably rankles these boys so much about Sister winning isn't so much that she's a girl... but that she's younger than them. If this story had focused more on the sibling rivalry aspect rather than making it a battle of the sexes, it might seem a little more up to date. Gender binary roles are heavily pushed, too (baseball, marbles, running, and climbing trees are all considered "boy" activities, while jumping rope, picking flowers, tea parties, and reading books are considered "girl" activities). And there's some casual racism thrown in there, too, with Sister's victory celebrations (she resorts to "war whoops" to gloat). All of these things together would make me hesitant to give this book to a modern child.

This may have been fine for teaching my generation that girls can do the same things boys can do, but the lesson doesn't really go far enough and the book still promotes rigid gender stereotypes. Maybe that's part of the reason why women are still fighting for equal rights in our world: books from previous generations didn't go far enough. (If you're a child of the '80s or '90s, read this one for the nostalgia factor. Otherwise, I'd recommend treading with caution.)

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

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