Like many parents my age, I was shocked when I picked up my first Berenstein Bears book to read to my kids, only to discover that it was called The Berenstain Bears.
At first, I thought maybe I had accidentally picked off a knock-off version of the book, like buying a Guddi bag or a Clavin Kleen shirt on the streets of Manhattan. But no, it was just another lie from my childhood.
Now, The A.V. Club claims that the alternate spellings of The Berenstain Bears are proof of an alternate universe. They might be onto something because when I was a kid, those were the Berenstein Bears. I don’t know where these Berenstain Bears came from, but I do not like it. It’s like the universe I lived in as a child is completely different from the one I live in as an adult. Here are a few more examples I’ve come across while reading some of my favorite books to my kids:
James and the Giant Peach: I remember loving this book when I was a kid. I remember being mesmerized by it and hanging on to every word. So imagine how shocked I was when I tried to read it to my children and found this:
“Then, one day, James’ mother and father went to London to do some shopping, and there a terrible thing happened. Both of them suddenly got eaten up (in broad daylight, mind you, and on a crowded street) by an enormous, angry rhinoceros which had escaped from the London Zoo… They were dead and gone in thirty-five seconds flat. Poor James, on the other hand, was still very much alive, and all at once he found himself alone and frightened in a vast, unfriendly world.”
Night-night, kids! Don’t let the parent-murdering rhinoceroses bite!
All of that is on the first page of the book, by the way, which is as far as we got before my kids asked if we could please read something else and also could I please sleep in their room tonight.
Dr. Suess: Who doesn’t love Dr. Suess?! I mean, Oh, The Places You’ll Go? He’s the best! So when I saw that he had written a book called If I Ran The Zoo, I was excited. a little boy who finds bizarre animals to fill his zoo sounded like a perfect story for my little dudes. Then, I found this.
I’ll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant
With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant….”
This beast is the beast that the brave cheiftans ride
When they want to go fast to find some place to hide.
A Mulligatawny is fine for my zoo
And so is a chieftan. I’ll bring one back, too.
Hey… that doesn’t seem okay. At all. Think I’ll stick with Yertle the Turtle.
The Wind in The Willows: I loved this story when I was a kid. Mole and Toad and driving and good times, right? Well, then I tried to read it to my kids.
Try defining these words for an elementary schooler: Penetrating; imperiously; cellarage; progressive, contemptuous; copses; hedgerows; meandered; sinuous; and bijou. And that’s just the first three pages. I do not have the time or patience to define every other word in this book to my child, especially when I don’t know what half of them mean myself. Thanks for making everyone feel stupid, Mole.
Be careful when going back to those classic books that you remember loving when you were a child — turns out we were all unafraid of death, racist, and knew way more big words. I say we grab an Elephant and Piggie book and call it a night.