“Brown bear, brown bear, What do you see?”
“I see a red bird looking at me.”
“Red bird, red bird, What do you see?”
“I see a yellow duck looking at me.”
When I first read this to my son, I immediately sensed the vibes of a classic book of children’s literature. Martin’s tender rhyming and Carle’s stunning, energetically colored illustrations make “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” a classic picture book that all children must read.
On each page, the reader asks a favorite animal what he sees in a rhyming tone; the animal responds with another animal.
“Blue Horse, Blue Horse, What do you see?”
“I see a green frog looking at me.”
This pattern is repeated in all pages until, in the last page, the students in a classroom see all the animals.
I have to admit that I found Martin’s trick very clever. Although the concept is pretty straightforward, it gives magic to the book. With a simple question “what do you see?” children learn the colors, the animals and how to rhyme. Each rhyme leads effortlessly to the next one, while the excellent tissue-paper illustrations anchor the collage of animals. The use of a simple repetitive language actually intrigues children who love to rhyme and to repeat the new words they learn.
What I like the most, though, in “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” are the illustrations. Strong colors and jagged texture help delineate animal bodies more sharply. Also, the animal positions are kind of static, which adds a minimal dimension to the pictures without making them less interesting. For example, the red bird is sketched in a flying position with glossy body, a sharp beak and a defined tail; Blue Horse shows his teeth; Green frog has a pink tongue. All these details create a great atmosphere and add a live essence in the book.
In 2007, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” has celebrated its 40th anniversary and came out in a larger size, with an updated cover, and an audio CD included. To be honest, I preferred this edition over the original one, mostly because with the CD my son has been able to follow the story better. Reading the book along with the CD has made the picture book liverier and even more interesting. Also, Bill Martin and Eric Carle talk in the CD about the book, while the voices of the animals are performed by the excellent actress, Gwyneth Paltrow.
To my view, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” is a must in children’s literature because it helps young children and toddlers to learn new things with a rhythmic repetition and plenty of identifiable pictures. Without offering any extravaganza or any sophisticated plot, the book has earned a top place in the children’s book hall of fame.