Bears, in their natural habitat, are wild and fierce beasts that most humans instinctively fear. (Well, perhaps not Timothy Treadwell, the unfortunate subject of Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" documentary who suffered a grisly death in a bear attack).
However, in the eyes of children, bears are warm and fuzzy creatures that they read about before bedtime and snuggle with at night. The idea of bears in children's literature as creatures of coziness and guidance dates as far back as the 1800's with Rudyard Kipling's lovable bear "Baloo" from "The Jungle Book." The most well-known -- and best-loved -- bear made his first literary appearance in 1924's "When We Were Very Young" by A.A. Milne. In honor of Milne's birthday, we celebrate Winnie the Pooh and other famous literary bears.
The inspiration for Winnie the Pooh all began with a beloved teddy bear belonging to Milne's son, Christopher. (Fun fact: the name "teddy bear" came from U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt in 1902). Beginning with a poem, the character of Winnie the Pooh developed into the soft spoken, honey-loving bear, that millions of children all over the world have fallen in love with, and continue to cherish. In the 1930s, various rights were purchased, including merchandising and animation, that made Winnie the Pooh a $50 million bear. In the 1960s, Winnie the Pooh and his friends were franchised by powerhouse Disney and the momentum has not stopped. The brand continues to produce books, films and various retail items.
After Pooh, many other bears made their literary debuts. In the 1950s, children met "Little Bear" in Else Holmelund Minarik's 1957 book of the same name and Paddington in Michael Bond's 1958 book "A Bear Called Paddington."
In the 1960s kids were introduced to a special bear named Corduroy in Don Freeman's 1968 book of the same name. In 1962, the first Berenstain Bears book by Jan and Stan Berenstain was released and since then, more than 260 million copies of the Berenstain Bears series have been sold. Families of all decades and generations still read and enjoy these characters and their many, many books.
There are also new literary bears for children to meet. Karma Wilson's "Bear Snores On" and other books about a lovable bear are adored by children and storytellers alike.
Interested in one of these storybook celebrities? Visit your local library. These titles are available for check out at Manatee County Public Library System's six locations.
Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. You may also access the library via the Internet: mymanatee.org/library. Kimberly Barbour is a librarian at the Rocky Bluff Library.