'The Bear That Wasn't' A Laugh-Aloud Read For Kids

Weekend Edition's ambassador to the world of kiddie literature, Daniel Pinkwater, reviews a classic book for children, The Bear That Wasn't by Frank Tashlin. Pinkwater and Host Scott Simon read from the book together and get a couple of good laughs. The Bear That Wasn't will be re-issued next month (MARCH 9th) by the New York Review of Books Children's Collection.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Once upon a time there were three bears and then there was the bear that wasnt. That other bear - "The Bear that Wasn't," is a children's book too. It was written and illustrated by Frank Tashlin in 1946. And like many children's books, "The Bear that Wasn't," is a good story with wonderful pictures and even some political satire to appeal to adults who read it, as well.

One of those adults is our very own ambassador to the world of children's literature, Daniel Pinkwater. He joins us from his home in an undisclosed location in upstate New York.

Daniel, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. DANIEL PINKWATER (Author): Hi, Scott. I provisionally copped to being an adult. For purposes of this interview, I'll play the adult.

SIMON: And did you read this book when you were a child?

Mr. PINKWATER: The last time I remember seeing it, is it was thrust into my hands around the year 1969 by a wild-eyed political radical. And interesting about this book is political radicals of all stripes can identify with it. And the book's been around for a long time in many incarnations. In other words, it's a classic. And the proof of that is that it is now coming out shortly, from the wonderful and magnificent New York Review of Books Children's Collection. You can order it the next time you're at your local bookshop.

Frank Tashlin...

SIMON: Okay, Frank Tashlin...

Mr. PINKWATER: ...is an animator and a screenwriter and a director. And then he wrote for the Marx Brothers, so you know he was a considerable chap. And this is the book that has been hanging around since 1946, with wonderful pen and ink drawings. I think we should read it.

SIMON: Yeah, fine. Okay, can I begin?

Mr. PINKWATER: You may begin.

SIMON: Okay.

(Reading) Once upon a time, in fact it was on a Tuesday, the bears stood at the edge of a great forest and gazed up at the sky. Away up high, he saw a flock of geese flying south.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) Then he gazed up at the trees of the forest. The leaves had turned all yellow and brown and were falling from the branches.

SIMON: He knew when the geese flew south and the leaves fell from the trees, that winter would soon be here and snow would cover the forest. It was time to go into a cave and hibernate.

Mr. PINKWATER: And that was just what he did.

SIMON: Not long afterward, in fact it was on a Wednesday, men came - lots of men, with charts and maps and surveying instruments. They chartered and mapped and surveyed all over the place.

Mr. PINKWATER: Then more men came, lots of men with steam-shovels and saws and tractors and axes. They steamed-shoveled and sawed and tractored and axed all over the place.

SIMON: They worked, and worked, and worked. And finally, they built a great big huge...

Mr. PINKWATER: ...factory right over the top of the sleeping bear's cave.

SIMON: The factory operated all through the cold winter.

Mr. PINKWATER: And then it was spring again.

SIMON: And we see flowers.

(Reading) Deep down under one of the factory buildings, the bear awoke. He blinked his eyes and yawned.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) Then he stood up sleepily and looked around. It was very dark. He could hardly see.

SIMON: Then he saw a light in the distance.

Daniel.

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes?

SIMON: America wants you to be the bear, so would you take this next line, please?

Mr. PINKWATER: Oh, there's the entrance to the cave...

SIMON: ...he said and yawned again. He walked up the stairs to the entrance...

Mr. PINKWATER: Where was the forest? Where was the grass? Where were the trees? Where were the flowers?

SIMON: What had happened?

Mr. PINKWATER: Where was he?

SIMON: Things looked so strange. He didnt know where he was. But we do, dont we? We know that he was right in the middle of the busy factory.

Mr. PINKWATER: I must be dreaming...

SIMON: ...he said.

Mr. PINKWATER: Just then a man came out of a door.

SIMON: Hey, you. Get back to work. The bear said...

Mr. PINKWATER: I dont work here. Im a bear.

SIMON: The foreman laughed very loud.

Mr. PINKWATER: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

SIMON: Thats a fine excuse for a man to keep from doing any work. The bear said...

Mr. PINKWATER: But I am a bear. The foreman stopped laughing. He was very mad.

SIMON: Don't try to fool me...

Mr. PINKWATER: ...he said.

SIMON: You're not a bear. You're a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat. Im going to take you to the general manager. The bear said...

Mr. PINKWATER: No, you're mistaken. I am a bear. The general manager was very mad, too. He said...

SIMON: You're not a bear. You're a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat. I am going to take you to the third vice president. The bear said...

Mr. PINKWATER: Im sorry to hear you say that. You see, I am a bear.

SIMON: And let's summarize here. He goes to the second vice president and the first vice president, gets similar reaction. Finally, he goes to the president of the factory.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) The president said...

SIMON: Not only are you a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat, but you're also very stubborn. So Im going to prove it to you once and for all that you are not a bear.

Mr. PINKWATER: So he takes him to the zoo, and the zoo bears confirm that hes not a zoo bear because if he was a zoo bear, hed be in with them, and they take him to the circus, and the circus bears confirm that hes not a circus bear because if he was a circus bear, hed be performing with them.

SIMON: They left the circus and drove back to the factory, smoke stacks in the distance.

Mr. PINKWATER: This is homage to a couple of films of the 20th century. One is

SIMON: Fritz Lang, right?

Mr. PINKWATER: Metropolis, yes.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: and also Modern Times, isnt it?

SIMON: Yes.

Mr. PINKWATER: And so they put the bear to work on a big machine with a lot of other men. The bear worked on the big machine for many, many months.

SIMON: Then the bear gazed up at the trees. The leaves had turned all yellow and brown and were falling from the branches.

Mr. PINKWATER: It was time to go into a cave and hibernate.

SIMON: So he walked over to a huge tree to have a cave hollowed out beneath its roots. He was just about to go into it when he stopped and said

Mr. PINKWATER: But I can't go into a cave and hibernate. Im not a bear. Im a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.

SIMON: So another summer and the winter comes, the snow falls and piles on the poor bear, whos just covered by icicles, but he tells himself that everyone agrees hes not a bear.

Mr. PINKWATER: The poor bear was very lonely and sad. He didnt know what to think.

SIMON: And suddenly he got up and walked through the deep snow toward the cave.

Mr. PINKWATER: Inside it was cozy and snug. The icy wind and cold, cold snow couldnt reach him there. He felt warm all over.

SIMON: He sat down on a bed of pine boughs. Soon he was happily asleep and dreaming sweet dreams, just like all bears do when they hibernate. So even though the

Mr. PINKWATER: Foremen

SIMON: And the

Mr. PINKWATER: General manager

SIMON: And the

Mr. PINKWATER: Third vice president

SIMON: And the

Mr. PINKWATER: Second vice president

SIMON: And the

Mr. PINKWATER: First vice president

SIMON: And the

Mr. PINKWATER: President

SIMON: And the

Mr. PINKWATER: Zoo bears...

SIMON: And the

Mr. PINKWATER: Circus bears

SIMON: Had said he was silly man who needed a shave and wore a fur coat, I dont think he really believed it, do you?

Mr. PINKWATER: No indeed, he knew he wasnt a silly man.

SIMON: And he wasnt a silly bear either.

Mr. PINKWATER: Nice work, Scott.

SIMON: Thats a delightful story, Daniel.

Mr. PINKWATER: It was a great pleasure for me.

SIMON: Bear that wasnt written and illustrated by Frank Tashlin will be published early next month by the New York Review of Books Childrens Collection. Daniel Pinkwater is the author of many fine books for children and for adults. His newest is Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, and its available now serialized online. You can't turn down a bargain like this.

Mr. PINKWATER: And at pinkwater.com.

SIMON: Thank you, Daniel.

Mr. PINKWATER: Nice.

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