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Here's a doozy of a question for you. How is it that British picture books have cornered the market on the old scared-of-the-dark theme? I am referring, of course, to not only "The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark" but also the delightful, "Can' You Sleep, Little Bear?" Both British, these books have won wild applause and great heaping helpfuls of praise from professional and (ahem) amateur reviewers alike. In the case of the Waddell and Firth book, "Can't You Sleep, Little Bear" was once referred to by none other than the Sunday Times of London as, "the most perfect children's book ever written or illustrated". High praise that is not generally amiss.

Big Bear and Little Bear live in a somewhat hibernationless state of their own. One day they play all day in the sunlight and at night return to their comfy cave. After tucking Little Bear into bed, Big Bear tells the young 'un to go to sleep, retiring to his own claw footed (and armed) comfy chair to catch up on some reading. Unfortunately, Little Bear cannot fall asleep. He points out that there is a lot of dark around them and that it frightens him. Big Bear accommodates the small fry by providing a little nightlight lantern for the nightstand. But Little Bear is still afraid. With well hidden reluctance, Big Bear puts down his very interesting story and gets Little Bear a bigger light. When that (again) doesn't work he brings in something that the book calls, "the Biggest Lantern of Them All". But STILL Little Bear is afraid. After all, there's no denying that outside the cave the dark is all around. Taking Little Bear out into the nighttime, Big Bear offers the only comfort he can. He presents to Little Bear the moon and all the stars in the sky. Finally convinced that he is safe from the dark, Little Bear falls into a sound slumber and the two bears cuddle up in front of the roaring fire where Big Bear can finally finish his book.

The text has the nice repetitive structure and comforting protagonists that kids will be readily drawn to. Little Bear is never obnoxious in his fears, instead acting very much the toddler as he hops about his bed, unable to find rest. Likewise, there?s a comfort to Big Bear's patient nature. Every time he puts down his book we are told how many pages are left until "the interesting part" (a number that corresponds to the moment when Big and Little Bear step outside their cave into the dark night). He remains a calm sturdy presence, offering comfort and love to the little one. Waddell's text is matched superbly with Barbara Firth?s illustrations too. The first picture in the entire book is a view, from a distance, of the two bears standing in thick white snow, a little ways from their cave. The light in this scene suggests that it just might be late afternoon in a winter month, a beautiful thing to suggest. Once inside the cave, each picture is filled with tiny delightful details. There's a trophy of a bear shot putting with the words, "Ursa Major" underneath. There's an open jar of honey and a photograph of the two bears wearing identical striped shirts. In Little Bear's room the light from the Biggest Lantern of Them All reveals marionettes and handmade pictures. The interactions between the characters are especially touching. When Big Bear leads the little one up the cave's steps in the night, he holds Little Bear's paws as the small creature works at the stairs one at a time. From the shot of Little Bear snuggled against the big one's shoulder to his fearful pointing towards a darkened corner of the cave, this book rightly earns itself the moniker of "charming".

Lots of picture books deal with fears. From the odd, "Go Away, Big Green Monster" to the delightful, "There's a Nightmare in My Closet" these books serve to empower kids to some degree. They give little ones the power to face their fears and deal with them as they see fit. "Can't You Sleep, Little Bear", recognizes the importance of giving toddlers' fears a voice, but it also understands the necessity of strong adults in a child's life. Because the exact nature of the relationship between the two bears is unclear (are they father and son, brothers, or just friends?) this book serves to speak to a variety of different family situations. On top of that, it's sweet as honey on the vine. Cuddle up to it immediately.
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on December 27, 2002
As a 1st and 2nd grade teacher who owns over 1,500 children's books... I have to say that this book is in my top 2 for reading aloud to my students, or anyone who will listen. All it took was a thought to what little bear might sound like (little, scared, and a little bit mischevious). Once I got the voice down, this book became a frequently requested, and rerequested read aloud. My students, it seems could listen to it again and again. They enjoy the illustrations and watching Little Bear "try to go to sleep", while gradually revealing quite a fear of the dark, which some of them identify with. This is a great story to read out loud at bedtime or anytime!
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on April 24, 2009
As a little kid I was an avid reader. I was also very picky about what I liked. I cant remember how old I was when I first got this book but I know now, that at 17 I finally realize how much I loved and still love this one in particular. After recently going through old boxs of dozens of books from when I was younger, and setting aside ones I wanted to look through later, just for memories sake, i found this one. I instantly opened it up and could hear my moms voice reading it aloud to me. cheesy i know but this honestly has to be one of the few books from my childhood that after one quick read through i could remember almost every line and how the smooth short sentences transfered to the beautiful pictures so well. Myself, being very nostalgic kept 3 or 4 books from the many boxes and put them on my shelf. I still have this one.
Its hard to describe a book in general but i especially think a children's book more so. And seeing parents in book stores looking for books for there kids and not even knowing where to begin, its hard to say why i think this one should be the first one you pick up. Except that 10 years later a kid that had this one book among her literally hundreds remembers this one as a stand out i hope gives you enough of an example as to why this should deffiantly be on your list to check out.
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on January 7, 2013
This was our third copy: two for our kids, and one for a new cousin. The repetitive back and forth conversation ("Can't you sleep, Little Bear?" "I'm afraid of the dark.") is great for setting a calming atmosphere for small children who need to settle down to sleep. Big Bear is cited as "he" in the book, but we tend to skip the pronoun and let the kids make "Big Bear" be whatever sex they would like. The drawings are tender and just the right level of detail for small children.
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on February 12, 2016
Interesting little story of how Little Bear really doesn't want to go to sleep at all, and Big Bear does everything he can to help him not be afraid of the dark. Because he says that's why he can't sleep. Finally Big Bear takes him outside to see the bright moon, and stars, and he picks him up and holds him as he shows him. And that is when Little Bear falls asleep; he really wanted to be held close.
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on June 10, 2006
i read this to my toddler, too. he also laughs at the funny positions little bear tries so he could sleep. i think though, that this is more than about the excuses and tricks of a toddler to escape going to sleep. instead, it is about human comfort and physical contact our little ones need in order to make them feel comforted and safe. and about us adults trying to meet those needs and going beyond simply giving them a conducive atmosphere where they could sleep (giving all kinds of 'lamps'). all they really need is the warmth, love and physical presence of a parent or guardian.
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on May 11, 1999
My four year old son Joseph has had this book for two years now. We borrowed it from the library but he wouldn't part with it so we bought him his own copy. His bedroom is full of books but this one and the sequel 'Let's go home little bear' are the books he always gets out for me to read to him at bedtime, over and over again.
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on January 12, 2015
No doubt every parent knows the feeling. You finally get cozy in your favorite chair with a great book in hand, only to be interrupted by a sleepless little one. This is exactly what happens to Big Bear, though he "bears" this trial with greater patience than I can often claim. "Can't you sleep, Little Bear?" he asks. It turns out that Little Bear is afraid of the dark, and no matter how many lanterns Big Bear uses to dispel the dark of the cave, there is still more darkness to be found outside.

Big Bear's tactic is to bring Little Bear out into the darkness of night. Though no lantern can help this situation, Big Bear offers something even better. "I've brought you the moon, Little Bear," he comforts. The picture captures the quiet beauty of a winter's night, and you can't help but recognize what a perfect frame darkness makes for the moon and stars. Soon Little Bear is asleep and they both snuggle into the chair where Big Bear can finally finish his book.

I'm not promising that this book will cure anyone's fear of the dark. It is, however, a cozy way to address the issue. Barbara Firth masterfully portrays every sleepless fidget and fright in this furry little bear, while somehow achieving a peaceful lull appropriate for a bedtime story. Where often books will use a mother in this role, I appreciate Martin Waddell's choice of a father figure. He presents a comforting blend of strength and gentleness. Whether there are any fears of the dark or not, I recommend you add this to your collection for 3 to 7 year olds.
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on October 27, 2015
I bought this for my daughter when she was 2 years old - and must have read it to her 20 times - and then another dozen to my younger son. I highly recommend. Both kids kept asking for it - right up until when they started to read on their own.

The premise is that there are 2 bears: Big Bear and Little Bear. They live in a cave, of course. One day they play all day together during the daylight and at night return to their cave to sleep. After tucking Little Bear into bed, Big Bear says good night and ambles out to read before going to bed himself. Unfortunately for Big Bear, this doesn't work. Little Bear cannot fall asleep. He opines that there is a lot of dark around them and that it frightens him. Big Bear then brings a small lantern to put next to Little Bear. Big Bear goes back to read - and this continues through 3 lanterns, all successively bigger and brighter. Finally, Big Bear takes Little Bear out of the cave and into the brightly lit sky - where - LIttle Bear quickly falls asleep.

Not sure the huge appeal for little kids - but it was great for mine!
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on May 29, 2001
My daughter laughs at Little Bear as he tries all the different sleeping positions. The illustrations are colorful and interesting. As in all of Martin Waddell's books, the text is not too long, nor too short. It is a perfect feel good bedtime book.
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