My Favorite Little Bear (besides Pooh, of course!)
Else Homelund Minarik (1920-2012) may not be as big a household name as her illustrator, Maurice Sendak, but her Little Bear series of children’s books will always hold a special place in my heart.
Ms. Minarik was born in Denmark, moving to the United States at age 4. She is said to have grown up on a diet of Hans Christian Andersen so you know there was magic running through her veins. 🙂 Before she published her books, she worked as a reporter and a 1st grade teacher. It was in this capacity that she encountered the limited series of books for young readers. Let’s face it, Dick and Jane books were never very magical. To remedy this, she decided to write her own book for them and so began Little Bear (1957).
The first Little Bear book was essentially about a mother bear’s love for her child. It is illustrated with Victorian style sketches by Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things Are fame. She went on to publish five more books in the series with the same talented illustrator: Father Bear Comes Home (1959), Little Bear’s Friend (1960), Little Bear’s Visit (1961), A Kiss for Little Bear (1968) and Little Bear and the Marco Polo (2010). I had never seen the last book and look forward to finding it on my next trip to the bookstore!
Initially, when she approached Random House to publish her Little Bear series, an editor suggested she change the bears to humans. But, Ms. Minarik wanted her story to be universally pleasing to children of all colors and felt the bears would be the way to go. She later found her editor in the famous Ursula Nordstrom at Harper & Bros. [For an inspiring read, check out Ms. Nordstrom’s Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom!]
This series has sold millions of copies, and was the basis of an animated TV series on Nickelodeon. The New York Times Book Review named Little Bear one of the best children’s books of the century.
Ms. Minarik also wrote No Fighting, No Biting! (1958) (also illustrated by Maurice Sendak), Cat and Dog (1961) which was illustrated by Fritz Siebel, and Percy and the Five Houses (1989) which was illustrated by James Stevenson.