I’ve got no objection to giving timely appraisals to public figures — be they politicians or author-illustrators — upon their passing; it’s to be expected. But what’s missing from Farhi’s piece is an indication that he has firsthand experience with how actual children perceive the crisis-and-moral-du-jour formula of the Berenstain books. It’s like reading an appraisal of Jonathan Franzen by a five-year-old who may or may not know any actual adults who have read The Corrections.
Part of my discomfort with his article may be my interest in controlling my inner snob. My college days were full of my open questioning of the musical and literary tastes of my acquaintances. I’m sure that made me a joy to be around. So while I don’t much care for the Berenstains or Lyle the Crocodile, six-year-old S does, so I read what he asks me to read and otherwise try to keep my mouth shut (and sometimes succeed).
On the other hand, this comment by Farhi —
[This] has always been the smaller of the criticisms about Stan and Jan Berenstain’s stories: That by depicting dads as doofuses, they undercut the very parental authority and wisdom they seek to embrace. Can young children accept the Berenstains’ teachings without noticing a parallel message amid all the moralizing — that dads are dummies who are better off ignored?
— rings true. And I’ve heard it before — right down to the description of Papa as a doofus — from a childhood education expert who spoke recently at an Austin SCBWI meeting.
Not that I have a big problem with the Dad-as-doofus stereotype in literature and entertainment. It definitely lowers the expectations for us real dads.