This has got to be the saddest children’s book I’ve ever encountered.
Little Johnny Orchard carries a big gun. He is “humiliated” because while other barns nearby have bear skins nailed to them to dry, his family’s barn has never had a bear skin hanging on it. One day Johnny goes into the woods to shoot a bear and comes out with a (live) bear cub.
Where is the cub’s mother? That issues is never addressed in the book, but I suspect she’s nailed up to somebody’s barn. If mamma bear had been there, I bet she’d have fucked up that little shit Johnny.
Of course, the bear eats everything it can get its paws on. (And you thought giving a mouse a cookie or a pig a pancake caused trouble.) The bear wreaks havoc and grows huge.
After leading the bear far away on three occasions, only to have it return within days each time, Johnny and his father decide the boy will shoot the bear. (Ok, this impending shooting is not spelled out, but anybody over the age of six is probably going to look at the illustrations of a sad boy with a gun and figure it out.)
What passes for a happy ending still seems pretty sad to me, but I guess it’s better than having your best friend shoot you because the neighbors think you’re a nuisance.
I guess this book is what passed for children’s entertainment in the early 1950s. No wonder my parents’ generation is so messed up.
Unless you are from a bear hunting family, don’t read this to your kid unless you want to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions.