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on June 1, 2015
This has been the book of choice for my 7mo daughter's bed time. We heard that it's better to read the same book over and over to young kids so that they become familiar with matching up the words and the sounds.

I know it seems like a simple book, but there's a lot more depth to be uncovered on repeated readings, as I've had the luxury of experiencing every night (and sometimes multiple times during the day) for the last three months.

It opens with a simple question: "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?" And if you were to judge this book by its cover, you might assume the bear to be the protagonist of the story. But as it unfolds, we are...


... taken through a tour of the real and familiar (brown bears, red birds) along with the fantastically surreal (blue horses, purple cats). And despite the cartoonish illustrations and unassuming prose, we come to find that this is a world of paranoia and domestic surveillance. A world where neighbor spies upon neighbor.

"Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?"
"I see a red bird looking at me."

"Red bird, red bird, what do you see?"
"I see a yellow duck looking at me."

The book begins with a lie. When the red bird is asked, "What do you see?", the truthful answer is "a brown bear." But she does not admit that she is spying on the brown bear, only complains that the yellow duck is spying on her.

As the pages turn, we learn that all characters are being watched: from the strong (the bear), to the useful (blue horse), to the outcast (black sheep). We learn that all characters know that they are being watched (presumably, this keeps them in line). And we learn that all the characters (except for the bear) are watching one of their peers. (As an aside, it's interesting that this society's only celebrity -- the titular bear -- is the only character to be watched by his peers without the power to watch back. I can only assume that this is Martin's commentary on the impotence of fame.)

As the camera pulls back, we learn that each animal is merely a minor player with myopic vision. In its dramatic, Usual Suspects-esque conclusion, we learn that we are not in a forest or frolicking in the outdoors, but we are in a classroom. An authority figure is introduced:

"Goldfish, goldfish, what do you see?"
"I see a teacher looking at me."

With the introduction of this (white) teacher we realize that these characters who seemed to be free, roaming in their natural habitat, are actually prisoners trapped in the hardbound confines of this book. And yet, even the teacher's vision is limited, for she too is trapped.

"Teacher, teacher, what do you see?"
"I see children looking at me."

The children are vastly more powerful and knowledgeable than any other character. For it is only they -- the readers themselves -- who see all of the characters.

"Children, children, what do you see?"
"We see a brown bear,
a red bird,
a yellow duck,
a blue horse,
a green frog,
a purple cat,
a white dog,
a black sheep,
a goldfish,
and a teacher LOOKING AT US.
That's what we see."

It is those three words -- "looking at us" -- that are most chilling.

If the animals were looking at the children this whole time, why don't they say so? When the bear was asked what he saw, he mentioned only the bird. When the bird was asked what she saw, she mentioned only the duck. Every single character in the book is looking at the children and yet every single one refuses to admit that they see them. It's only the authority figure who has the courage to acknowledge their presence.

How tight must the children's tyrannical grip be to force an entire population into unified submissive silence? The children have complete control, for they not only know everything about the world the characters inhabit, but they also have the power to destroy that world (as many of this book's youngest readers undoubtedly have).

It is the proverbial bear who is not to be poked. But through the bear's opening omission we learn that even he is too scared of the children to publicly acknowledge their existence. The true revelation to this book's opening question is not that the brown bear sees the red bird. It's that he also sees the omniscient, omnipotent children, but is too terrified to say so.

But the children know that he knows.

I don't believe the rumors that this book originated as recruitment propaganda by US intelligence agencies to entice young children to join an elite, "all-seeing" organization that has complete control over the rest of the population, including its powerless authority figures.

Instead, I like to believe that Martin wrote this book (just one year after regular US troops were deployed to Vietnam) as a subversive allegory daring to ask the question "Who watches the watchers?" A question more important today than ever before.

A+++. Would read again.
And again.
And again.
And again.
And oh dear God make it stop.
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on September 18, 2017
Great book I used to read to my Kindergarten class......was always an attention getter and the children absolutely loved it! I started reading this in the 1970's. It is one that will never go out of date.
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on January 16, 2018
My 2 year old daughter memorized this book. Beautifully written for toddlers to comprehend whilst learning about different animals. I was also lucky to grab it when prices for this book was at $2.36 brand new. Total score!
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on January 3, 2018
Ordered these for my wife's pre-K class. Did not realize that the books would be so small. Well, my wife can be assured that no one else will have exactly the same books that she has in her classroom...
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on December 20, 2017
My son loves the illustrations. The book is a very quick read which is great for my infant because it keeps his attention. The board book format is perfect for his little hands to hold, too!
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on January 4, 2018
One of the best children's books of all time, in my opinion. Ideal for ages 18mo-3yrs. Good for teaching colors and animal names. I also love the spanish version if you want your child to be bilingual.
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on December 21, 2016
Toddlers love this book; we read it over and over to them. I love that the pages are hard and chewable so the kids don't destroy them as easily and are not able to rip the pages. I ordered these on Amazon to provide each of them their own copy for Christmas and a spare for me.
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on January 12, 2018
This book is adorable, well written and perfect for little hands. My niece loves this book and our toddler has memorized the entire book. Great purchase.
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on April 20, 2017
A heritage book that describes- how we feel about love!
A great book to read! I am Math Teacher- Permanent Substitute Teacher from-
Springfield, MA- Wyandanch, NY- Huntington, NY- Queens, NY.
The Children's favorite book from- the School Library!

Cherese Eudlyn Nelson
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on January 9, 2018
I find this one awkward compared to the original. My kids aren't familiar with the animals in this one and don't like it much.
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