As we head toward the weekend and a holiday that has most places and people decked out in green and/or orange, I thought it would be fun to highlight a couple of St. Patrick’s Day themed books. Today I offer a look at a unique vintage one by a pseudo-mysterious duo. As it is so vintage, the poor book is missing its jacket and has a non-descript old cover, thus the title page introduction above. Nevertheless, here is Little Bear Marches in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade by Janice and illustrated by Mariana, 1967.
I recently discovered this fun Little Bear thanks to Becca from Once Upon a Bookshelf’s post about another in the series. I was so charmed by this little guy, I just had to track down one from the six that this duo created; and what an appropriate time indeed to find a St. Patty’s one. To be clear, this is not the Little Bear of the familiar books by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak, or the TV series that followed. Actually, this Little Bear feels (and looks) very similar to the original Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. But enough clarification, let’s allow this guy to have his own day.
Beginning in the month of March when Little Bear awakens from his long winter sleep, the book opens with Little Bear stuffing himself like a good bear with all the cornflakes and milk he can find. During his replenishment (in bed, of course), Little Bear is interrupted by his friend, Squeaky the Mouse, who has discovered a green umbrella. They decide to go on a walk together and use the umbrella as it was raining very hard.
Strangely enough, as they walked, the rain stopped. Being a silly bear, and mouse, they decide it isn’t helpful to carry the umbrella with them when it isn’t raining, so they head back to Little Bear’s house and drop it off. But when they set out again sans umbrella, the rain returns. Enter a funny cycle of the bear and mouse and umbrella dance that leaves Little Bear and Squeaky very confused and experimenting with the potential magical properties of the green umbrella.
All this activity makes Little Bear very tired and lazy, so they stay home for the next few days which causes weather chaos and is a threat to the ever-loved St. Patrick’s Day Parade which is quickly approaching. As the Mayor and the town’s children are distraught, Squeaky steps in and introduces Little Bear as the solution to the problem. It takes some convincing and deal-making but in the end, Little Bear does indeed save the parade and he gets his own dream realized of marching in the parade with his very own green hat.
This book is charming, but also oddly unique with its simple 60s feel. I was struck by how very straight-forward the text is, including lots of description and written in a longer narrative format. I can’t decide what exactly it is that endears me to this bear and his tales, but I find myself smiling and enjoying him all the same. The text is quite different from current children’s books in its length and writing style; but while it feels very simplistic, it isn’t boring. The author, credited here just as Janice, is more formerly known as Janice Brustlein and has quite a few books to her name including a famous title Mr. and Mrs. Button’s Wonderful Watchdogs (illustrated by the marvelous Roger Duvoisin!). I find her writing to be very engaging and for some reason they make me wish I could hear my Grandmother’s raspy voice reading the Little Bear stories aloud. That would be a perfect combination.
The illustrator is credited simply as Mariana. After a bit of more difficult searching than I would have thought, I tracked her down as Marian Foster Curtiss who has many beloved vintage books that can be pricey to find. Her style seems to be very consistent across her many books with its loose, sketchy feel and limited, yet vibrant, color palette. I’m always impressed when an illustrator is able to portray emotion and charm with rough strokes and pared down features. I particularly love Little Bear’s house in this book with its symmetrical windows that look like eyes (reminiscent of the darling The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton!). I also love her use of two colors for Little Bear’s adventure. Green is incredibly appropriate here, but it is used so well with the furniture, ties, parade decorations and more.
Also to love and note about this themed book is the lack of stereotypical leprechauns, clover, etc…. This is a book about Little Bear, a little bit of magic which almost doesn’t even get noticed and isn’t really discussed, and a fun 60s festivity with cute kids in green gear. Although I can appreciate the silliness of the holiday and I definitely enjoy learning and reading more about St. Patrick and Ireland, it is refreshing to have such a simple book from a bygone era.
My only complaint about this story is a passive tantrum of sorts that Little Bear has in the end which eventually gets him his way. I’m never a fan of naughtiness winning in books. I’ll still read and enjoy this book on occasion; but I’ll probably always wish that Little Bear found a better way and could be a little bit more loveable.
Hopefully you enjoyed meeting this Little Bear as well and perhaps even attend a St. Patrick’s Day Parade of your own this weekend! I’ll be living vicariously through this 1967 version myself.