Storybook Review by DeeDee Ginns Gruenberg
Dear Bear by Joanna Harrison is one of my favorite books to help children face their fears. A little girl named Katie is convinced that a terrifying bear lives under the stairs of her house. Worried and frightened of the bear, she believes the bear’s shadow follows her when she climbs the stairs.
Imagination at Play
Katie’s mom encourages her to write a letter to the bear and tell it to go away. The bear writes back to thank her for the wonderful idea and informs her he definitely needs a vacation. The thoughts running through her head after the bear writes back are beautifully depicted with numerous illustrations which begin with a bear that looks quite menacing to a smiling, friendly bear riding a bike and enjoying his trip. The bear includes a P.S. in his letter which informs Katie that he’d be “Back on Monday.”
Writing at Play
Upon his return, the bear leaves Katie a note and present on the piano letting her know he’s happy to be back. When she stops hearing from him, she misses him and becomes concerned that he is ill. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss who was probably behind the bear’s letter writing. With mom’s encouragement, she continues correspondence and inquires if the bear is ill. After receiving a letter confirming that he is “under the weather,” Katie prepares an antidote which she leaves outside the door under the stairs.
The Bear’s next letter confirms that he is feeling better and includes an invitation to join him for tea. Again, with Katie’s mom’s encouragement, she gets all dressed up and nervously descends the stairs. As she enters the little room underneath the stairs, she finds a cute teddy bear by a tea set with a note that reads “I’m tired of living under the stairs. Can I come up and live with you instead?”
Creativity at play
The heroine in this story models for the fearful child a creative way to conquer their fears through writing, communication, imagination, and play. By following this story’s example, countless children I’ve worked with have embraced the idea of writing a letter to the source “the villain” of their fears. By writing a letter, the child concretely communicates to villain, faces their fear and asks them to disarm or go away.
Following the initial letter, the child and I are free to use our imaginations to turn around that fear. We then write a letter from the villain in response to the child, and our imaginations are endless with positive endings, apologies, and words of encouragement which we can even act out.
The book Dear Bear offers a child many tools in which to face fear, worry, and anxiety. When learned, the tools of communication, writing, imagination, and play empowers a child to live with confidence and control.