Recommended Reading for March

A few days ago, the garbage container at work was raided. And yesterday, I saw the perpetrator. Our very mild winter must have cut hibernation short, because March 2 is awfully early for the bears to be out and about. So keep an eye on the kids when you send them out to play; otherwise, your neighbor might very helpfully point out that it is rather irresponsible to have the kids in the yard when there’s a bear close by. (I try to keep in mind that she’s only looking out for us, but I wonder… didn’t she think I would have kept the kids indoors if I had known about the bear?)

The bear is a popular character in literature, so here are just a few suggestions for you.

German Lit: Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Yoko Tawada (tr. Susan Bernofsky)
Three generations of polar bears are famous as both circus performers and writers in East Germany. The grandmother matriarch in the Soviet Union accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography. Her daughter (born in Canada, where her mother had emigrated) moves to the DDR and takes a job in the circus. Her son―the last of their line―is born in a zoo and raised by a human keeper in relatively happy circumstances, until his keeper is taken away. Happy or sad, each bear writes a story, enjoying both celebrity and “the intimacy of being alone with my pen.”

CanLit: The Bear, Claire Cameron
While camping with her family on a remote island, five-year-old Anna awakes in the night to the sound of her mother screaming. A rogue black bear, 300 pounds of fury, is attacking the family’s campsite. At her dying mother’s faint urging, Anna manages to get her brother into the family’s canoe and paddle away. When the two children must battle hunger, the elements, and a dangerous wilderness, we see Anna’s heartbreaking love for her family—and her struggle to be brave when nothing in her world seems safe anymore.

Classic: The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor
Ok, this one is included because of a little play on words. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. First published in 1960, The Violent Bear It Away is a landmark in American literature. Tarwater and Rayber struggle with their dead uncle’s prophecy that Rayber will one day become a prophet, trying to figure out where the sacred begins and ends. O’Connor observes their struggle with an astonishing combination of irony and compassion, humor and pathos. The result is a novel whose range and depth reveal a brilliant and innovative writer.

Fantasy: The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. When her father remarries, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Fun: The Fourth Bear, Jasper Fforde
In the second of Fforde’s nursery crimes series, detectives Jack Spratt and Mary Mary take on a murderous cookie stalks the streets of Reading: the Gingerbreadman—psychopath, sadist, genius, and killer—is on the loose. In addition, a chance encounter leads Spratt and Mary into the hunt for missing journalist Henrietta “Goldy” Hatchett, star reporter for The Daily Mole, who was last seen alive by the Three Bears. While perhaps not as clever as Fforde’s Thursday Next series, this is a fun book that especially readers familiar with nursery rhymes will appreciate.

For Kids: Goose the Bear, Katja Gehrmann
Bear gets more than he bargained for when he picks up the goose egg Fox has stolen and dropped. Soon, the egg hatches, and Bear finds himself holding a confused little creature that calls him “Mama.” Bear tries to show the animal that he’s not her mother by climbing, running, and swimming away. But the goose is there every step of the way, climbing, running, and swimming just as well as Bear. It turns out the two have a lot more in common than Bear thought.

Which “bear” book would you add to this list?





  1. Hey!! They all have ‘bear’ in them. I really want to read Bear and Nightingale because it is supposed to be fantastic. I am still in two minds over Memoirs of a polar bear. At first I was fascinated by the premise. Then as I thought over it, I thought I might not love it so much

  2. Memoirs of a Polar Bear caught my interest while I was perusing titles on my nook, and I downloaded a sample. It still surprises me that the author is German, though! I thought surely it was a Japanese translation. At any rate, I hope to read it for German Lit Month in November.

  3. What a ‘helpful’ neighbour you have. 😉 It reminds me of the time I was in the front yard with one of my kids when they were small and a woman in a car slowed right down to tell me that *she* would never have *her* child playing so close to the road. However, I guess it really was helpful if you didn’t know about it. 🙂

    The Bear by Claire Cameron is very good! But I haven’t read the others. Brown Bear Brown Bear was also a favourite of ours when the kids were small. Another one for adults is Bear by Marian Engel (which I also haven’t read, but lots have if you want to have a gander on GR).

  4. I love this list. I find they all sound interesting. I had The Bear and the Nightingale in my hands in a book shop yesterday, I’m waiting for reviews before buying it though.

  5. Oo, gotta be the Little Bear books. I do not remember who wrote them but I recall being extremely fond of them, as the ending was always that Little Bear got cuddles and hot soup and probably nice warm blankets.

    In related news, I am deeply alarmed that you have spotted a bear. HOW CAN THERE BE A BEAR? WHAT IS THIS LIFE? The mega-est megafauna I have ever seen out and about it is a coyote, and that’s not surprising because coyotes are everywhere.

    • Little Bear and his friend Emily. I remember them both well! Unfortunately, my kids have lost interest in these books. 😦 We’ve gotten used to the sightings of bears, but believe me, I was very alarmed when we discovered a bear den in the brush right behind our yard last summer. The thought of a bear sleeping RIGHT THERE, while we were having snowball fights and such last winter, made me more than a bit squeezy!

  6. Love bears in fiction – bit scared of them in real life…
    Brown Bear Brown Bear was one I read to my children so many times, we all knew it by heart. Paddington Bear was my absolute favourite when I was a child. And a more recent delightful bear book is Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo – about a friendship between a bear and a little girl.

    • Brown Bear Brown Bear and Paddington Bear are still very popular with my kids. Dreaming the Bear isn’t yet available in the US, but I will look out for it when it is released next month. Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. I remember when I was a boy having a lovely book called Boris the Bear Hunter. It must have come down from my father or grandfather. Your post reminded me of it so I checked to see if it was on Project Gutenberg. It is!

  8. The Jasper Fforde sounds great. I’ve read one of his adult books – struggling to remember which one right now, but it was very good. As for which bear books I would add to your list, it’s got to be the Winnie the Pooh series. Classics from my childhood days…

  9. I love themed book lists like this! I’ve not read any of these, but have had The Bear and the Nightingale recommended from various quarters. Where do you live to have bears so close?!

    • I haven’t yet read The Bear and the Nightingale either, but also heard good things about it. There is actually a wait list for it at the library. I don’t live too far from New York City, and a lot of people are surprised to hear how many bears we have around here.

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