The renowned Beatrix Potter classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby – an early installment in the long-running series of books by Stan & Jan Berenstain — make for two great animal fantasy books for analysis on the quality and substance of the plot, characters, and overall story development in the book.
The anthropomorphic characters in both Peter Rabbit and Berenstain Bears are believable in the sense that they possess traits which with young readers can identify. Both stories present their characters in contexts and situations which are possible. However, while the bear family in Berenstain Bears possess grossly human-like traits (though they live in ‘Bear Country’ and have an affinity for drinking honey as a beverage), while Peter Rabbit and his brood live in a setting all the more familiar for “real” rabbits.
Characters in both works bring a good balance of animal and human traits into the bodies of likeable characters. Children may find quite enchanting the notion of a curious little rabbit that looks and behaves much like ordinary rabbits. In fact, Peter essentially has no speaking roles at all. However, he has a very real human quality; he explores for the sake of exploring, he cries, he feels a little queasy after eating too much, and he seeks the help of others like any human would do in perilous situations.
The members of the Bear family look like bears, but in every other sense they are humans – and are so in the same terms as one would expect for a Type I animal fantasy. But the intensely human traits of the Bear Family are necessary both for the plot and for the type of reading material the Berenstains were clearly trying to write; the book series delivers safe glimpses at the perils, travails, joys, and moments of everyday human life which children are, in their young years, just beginning to experience. With the package delivered in the guise of lovable bears, the mix of human and animal in New Baby and all of the other installments of the Berenstain Bears is appropriate and indeed a winning combination for all types of young readers.
The plots in both books are legitimate. Peter Rabbit, the curious young rabbit he is, happens into the property of Mr. McGregor – the very man Peter’s mother said to avoid. The bulk of the plot follows Peter’s attempts to escape the farm and return home to his burrow. Peter returns home to his family, and his loving mother tends to him and caringly scolds him for not listening to her advice. In Berenstain Bears New Baby, Small Bear learns he is about to become a big brother.
The story follows his and Papa Bear’s journey into the woods so that they can gather the wood for and build a new bed for Small Bear; his old bed becomes that of his new baby sister. The book concludes with the birth of the young female cub.
Insomuch, both plot lines are believable and enjoyable. Readers of Peter Rabbit can indeed imagine a curious young rabbit getting into trouble upon wandering onto a farm; not only would children enjoy such a tale, but they may also learn a valuable lesson from the plot: always listen to your mother! The plotline in Berenstain Bears New Baby is entertaining as a story and simultaneously serves to prepare young readers for the idea of welcoming a new, younger sibling into the world.
My readings and evaluations of:
Potter, B. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Frederick Warne, 1902.
Berenstain, S. & Berenstain J. The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby. Randon House, 1974.