Top 100 Picture Books #38: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle
#38 Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle (1967)
The lilting rhythm of this book is so soothing and familiar, and Eric Carle’s art is classic. Love the colors, love the animals, love the familiarity. – Amy Johnson
It is a preschool icon. – Angela Reynolds
If you are ever lucky enough to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, do be so good as to see whether or not they have an exhibit on Eric Carle’s work going at that particular moment (the odds are good). When I visited roughly a year ago there was a simply lovely exhibit at the time (The Art of Eric Carle: Bears and Beyond) that discussed Brown Bear, Brown Bear at length. I guess I’d always been under the impression that the Brown Bear you buy in the bookstores today looks exactly like the original Brown Bear as it was originally conceived in Eric Carle’s shiny brain. Not the case. Brown Bear has seen many incarnations over the years, all of them created by Carle’s guiding hand. Here are two:
This makes particular sense when you discover that Brown Bear was Carle’s debut.
The description of the book from the publisher reads: “A big happy frog, a plump purple cat, a handsome blue horse, and a soft yellow duck– all parade across the pages of this delightful book. Children will immediately respond to Eric Carle’s flat, boldly colored collages. Combined with Bill Martin’s singsong text, they create unforgettable images of these endearing animals.”
I was not read Brown Bear as a child. Honestly, I don’t remember it existing at all. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was the known Carle in my part of the woods. So when I became an adult, Brown Bear was introduced to me as a children’s librarian and as an adult. I should note, however, that it is my readaloud staple. Sing it to them to the Baa Baa Black Sheep / Alphabet Song tune and watch their little mouths grow quiet and their little bodies sway in time to the music.
School Library Journal made special note of some of the illustrations’ updates in its review: “In this new edition of the popular classic (Holt, 1983), the same clean design and crisp text remain. Illustrations, however, have been slightly altered. Stronger colors and more texture help delineate animal bodies more sharply. Positions and shapes are slightly changed, resulting in a less static look. Red Bird is shown in flying position with a sleeker body, sharper beak, and more carefully defined tail and wing features. Yellow Duck has webbed feet and an open bill; Blue Horse has black hooves and teeth showing; Green Frog a spotted back and pink tongue; the former Mother with pale pink skin has become Teacher with beige skin tones and darker hair. The overall effect is livelier and more interesting, although changes are minimal enough that the old edition is still serviceable. When replacements are in order, this will be a welcome addition.”
Fun Note: Did you know that Bill Martin Jr. wrote a Christian version of this book called Adam, Adam What Do You See? Nor I, said the fly.
- Want to use this book in the classroom in some way? Here are some suggestions.
- Want to read the book yourself? Go here.
- Want to hear Bill Martin Jr. reading his own book? Just watch it here:
Finally, our First Lady digs Brown Bear. Shouldn’t you?
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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