The Berenstain Bears and the Mama’s Day Surprise by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Some mama bears are so all-seeing and wise, when Mother’s Day comes they’re hard to surprise.

So says the title page of the book, and it pretty well sums up the storyline. Mama Bear can see that her loving family is cooking up something big for Mother’s Day, so she does a lot of little things to make it easier on them – things like buying the ingredients for her own breakfast-in-bed. Through it all, she’s secretly dreading the mess she’s going to have to clean up after their surprise (and isn’t that a common theme in a lot of books on the holiday?!). Still, because she loves them and wants to have the thrill of  “surprising” her, she keeps her mouth shut and plays right along…. right until the very end, when she discovers they’ve managed to pull off a surprise she NEVER saw coming!

I have to say, this is not a book I’d recommend for the youngest listeners. I don’t *want* my kids to know I’m onto their surprises, any more than I want them to know that the “bootiful fowers” they bring me on Thursday are the same weeds their Daddy tries to kill on Saturday.

For an older child, one who’s beginning to ask “Were you REALLY surprised, Mama?”, this could be a worthwhile book. I think it’s good to explicitly show kids what good, loving parenting looks like. The effort Mama Bear goes through to help her cubs pull off their surprise – even pretending to sleep through the crashes and bangs as they make a mess of her kitchen – is beautifully explained. I can see this story being especially helpful for a child with a younger sibling, who doesn’t quite get why everyone makes such a fuss over the baby’s efforts, praising scribbles as pretty pictures and such.

(There’s a wonderful demonstration of Papa’s love for Mama implicit, too, but for some reason the Berenstains skipped right over it.)

Worth reading with the right child.

Available on Amazon

The Berenstain Bears and the Mama’s Day Surprise by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Random House 2004.


The Mother’s Day Mice by Eve Bunting

Three little mice creep out early Mother’s Day morning to pick their gifts for their Mother. Along the way, they brave many dangers from animals that would like to eat little mice. Biggest Mouse and Middle Mouse find their gifts with no trouble, but the gift that Little Mouse has chosen is guarded by a big, black cat who just won’t go away! He’ll have to think of another plan…

The Mother’s Day Mice is a lovely tale that illustrates for kids that gifts don’t always need to be something wrapped up with a bow. I’ve read many books on the holiday recently, and many of them *try* to get that message across, but this book is one of the most tastefully done.

The artwork is done by the prolific Jan Brett, and is prettily done. It is somewhat sophisticated art, or at least more adult than many children’s books. A preschooler may enjoy lingering on a page to absorb it, but I found it was a little too advanced for my toddler. Still, it was pleasant to *my* eyes.

My favorite part? Middle Mouse picks a dandelion fluff ball, calling it a “Wish Flower”. A bit of whimsy that I enjoyed, and I think it’ll linger with my kids, as well.

Well worth reading.

Available on Amazon

The Mother’s Day Mice by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett. Clarion Books, 1986.

Max and the Dumb Flower Picture by Martha G. Alexander

Max and the Dumb Flower Picture is a book with an agenda. Namely, to encourage children to create their own art, instead of just coloring “inside the lines”. While I applaud the message, the vehicle is somewhat problematic for me. This is a book to carefully discuss with your children.

Max, a small boy of preschool age, doesn’t want to color the “dumb flower picture” his teacher has chosen for his Mother’s Day gift. Max knows his mom would much prefer something he’s created himself. However, Max is too small to express this to his teacher, so he reacts in typical small-child fashion – he refuses to obey. Actually, he pouts, he stomps, he eventually runs out of the classroom and hides. His teacher is so worried, she calls the police to help find him. When Max is finally found, he has created his very own picture for his mom, which so inspires the other children they rush back to their desks to create something of their own, too. In the end, the mothers are all thrilled with their unique gifts, and the teacher has learned an important lesson from this small boy.

Does this bother any one else?

Reading this to my 3- and 5-year-olds, we had to discuss how worried the teacher and the policeman were when they couldn’t find Max. While Max did have a good point, in wanting to make his own picture, he carried it out badly. Most importantly, we discussed other, better, ways that Max could have handled the situation. A valuable lesson to be sure, but one you want to be prepared to teach.

Although the story could probably be appreciated by a toddler, the necessary discussion to follow makes it more suited for an older child, perhaps 4 – 6 years old.

Available on Amazon

Max and the Dumb Flower Picture by Martha G. Alexander, illustrated by Martha Alexander and  James Rumford. Charlesbridge, 2009.