The Bear That Wasn’t
Tashlin, Frank. The Bear That Wasn’t. New York: New York Review, 2010. 48 pages.
The Bear That Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin is a picture book about a bear that gets mistaken for a human factory worker and despite his incessant protests, no one believes that he is truly a bear. The story begins with a bear living in the forest who decides to hibernate in a cave all winter. When he wakes up, he finds that an entire factory has been built around his home. Naturally curious, the bear goes to exam what is going on. A factory worker sees him standing outside aimlessly and tells him to get back to work. The bear tries to tell him that he is not a hairy worker, but instead a wild bear. The worker refuses to listen to him and brings him to his boss. The boss agrees with the factory worker so they bring the bear all the way up the chain to the president of the company. All of the men agree that this is a hairy man and not a bear since he does not belong in the circus or the zoo. He has no choice but to work in the factory as the men do. Winter comes again and the bear decides to leave the factory, shed his human items, and curl up in a cave for hibernation. He concludes that regardless of what everyone says, he is, indeed, a bear.
The illustrations are incredibly detailed and important to the comprehension of this book. Scenes like those from the zoo or in the office of the factory presidents contain small details that force the children to pay attention. Due to the bright colors and lack of boundaries, the reader willingly exams every inch of each page specifically looking for the slight differences between scenes. Background details like people taunting the animals in the zoo are subtly thrown in, but will only be discovered by those who are looking for it.
“The truth is he was not a silly man…and he was not a silly bear, either”.
Not only is this book funny and engaging to read, but it also has philosophical undertones in it as well. It discusses the idea of self-identity in an easily comprehended manner that young children can grasp. Regardless of what other people tell him, the bear knows he is a bear although he cannot seem to prove it. In many ways, this ideology can be transferred into the human world. For example, those who are transgender know they are a different gender than they were originally born, but cannot seem to prove it. The lesson one can take from this story is to stay true to oneself regardless of the societal pressures around them.