, I am terrified of bears, but I love learning about them in my preschool class. I love building caves, learning about hibernation, about polar bears way up in the arctic, and panda bears in Asia too. This fall, we will be learning more about hibernation or torpor as many scientists call it, and I wanted to round up all my favorite books about bears for preschool. While I love the way picture books can help teach about the natural world, many of these books about bears include social-emotional lessons too. Is your favorite on the list? There are so many great preschool books about bears.
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I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda, by Steve Antony, is a precious little book that even the youngest children will love. My students and I read it and talked about how hard it is to wait and be patient. The reason I included this book on this list is that Mr. Panda huge but quiet, and gentle and wearing what some people would call a feminine apron doing what some people would call a girly activity, baking. He doesn’t challenge the reality of what boys can be, just the stereotype, which is kind of what this list is all about!
The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain has been on my bookshelf as long as I have been able to read. I love this book, and maybe its nostalgia, or perhaps it’s because I remember connecting with Brother Bear as he stepped into the unknown. This is a great book and is incredibly powerful for children who are familiar with the characters. If a character they know has to move too, the unknown isn’t so scary. Don’t overlook this book just because it’s part of a character franchise.
Looking for Sleepy by Maribeth Boelts is a perfect bedtime book. I think it’s brilliant. It probably wouldn’t jump off the bookshelf to me while browsing at the book store. However, someone gave it to me, and I’m happy it ended up in our hands. The book is about a little bear and his papa bear getting ready for bed. They go through their bedtime routine, starting by looking for sleepy hiding under toys, in the bath, in his PJs, in the bedtime stories, etc.…
I love the dad in this book. I love how he’s patient and kind, and the illustration on the page where they are reading in bed, and his toddler’s hand is awkwardly on his head cracks me up. My favorite part is that when the toddler asks Papa to stay a little longer while he falls asleep, Papa does. I enjoy books about bedtime challenges that are reassuring and provide a sense of security for young children. This does that with ease. Awesome book!
Polar Bear Island by Lindsay Bonilla is a fantastic book. Sent to me by the publisher, this book is a kid-friendly look at immigration, innovation, and what it means to be inclusive. I love this book because it doesn’t shame Kirby, the polar bear, for being against change. It accepts that change is challenging but also beautiful.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Caralynn and Mark Buehner is one of my favorite Goldilocks and The Three Bears books. I like the modern text, the pop-culture details ( a Smokey the Bear poster on the wall being my favorite), and that it didn’t take itself too seriously. There are hidden images in every picture, but I am glad I didn’t notice that note until after reading it with my son when we first read this many years ago. They are incredibly hard to find, and for my then four-year-old, it would have been beyond frustrating, so take a look before announcing it to your child or group of students.
Dinner at the Panda Palace by Stephanie Calmenson is an excellent book. The story is about a restaurant and the people or animals that come into the restaurant in ever-enlarging groups. The text rhymes, which makes it fun to read, and students love it. As each group enters the restaurant for dinner, their parties increase by one. Not only is this an excellent opportunity for math during circle time, but its message about inclusion is also excellent. There is always room for one more even when all the chairs are taken, and a mouse comes knocking, wondering if he can eat too!
Time To Sleep by Denise Fleming is a beautiful book about hibernation and all the animals that take these long winter naps. What I like about this book is that it’s simple and great for a zoom circle time that we are trying to keep short but engaging. The illustrations are lovely, and it’s simple text lends itself to so many extension activities, especially sequencing.
Don’t Worry Bear by Greg Foley is a short little book about a bear who is so worried about his little caterpillar friend. Most children will figure out what is really going on with the caterpillar and that there is nothing to worry about. However, the story lets teachers and students talk about anxiety is a simple way with stunning illustrations.
Corduroy by Don Freeman was a childhood favorite of mine, and it hasn’t lost any of its shine over the years. The story is about a lonely bear at a department store who, despite being a little disheveled, finds a forever home with a kind little girl who needs him as much as he needs her. There are so many levels to this book. As a child, I remember being awed by the thought of toys coming alive in stores when the doors are locked, and the shoppers leave. As an adult, I see this as a touching adoption story. My son loves the escalators Corduroy travels on in the store! This is another book that has lasting power and can be read for years in your home.
Santa Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. Bruce is a grumpy black bear who reluctantly does incredibly kind things… he’s kind of like that grumpy old grandpa that is secretly the most thoughtful guy ever. But Bruce is a bear. In this new story, the young animals in the forest mistake him for Santa and start telling him all their Christmas wishes. He humors them, but all he wants to do it go to sleep! The big question is, will he play Santa on Christmas Eve for the whole forest?
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey is a true classic. Written in 1948, it’s a simple tale about a little girl and her mom collecting blueberries to can. While mama pics them, Sal eats them and wanders off, but they aren’t the only mama and baby out gathering blueberries. A mama bear and cub are enjoying the blueberries too. This book is chill and sweet, and the black and white illustrations make the readers feel like they are on the top of the mountain, gathering blueberries.
We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Micheal Rosen is a preschool classic. We sing it more than read it, and to be honest, usually act it out. I don’t need the book to recite the words, but it’s always a treat to sit with a student and read this book about overcoming challenges. It’s an excellent book to introduce different natural environments, and I like to use it to bring pretend play into STEM learning. “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it… oh no, we’ve got to go through it.”
Leaves by David Ezra Stein is such a sweet book about a young bear who doesn’t understand what is happening when he sees leaves falling from the trees. He even tries to put the fallen leaves back on the trees to no avail. Eventually, he lays down for a nap and hibernates until Spring when he happily notices that new tiny leaves are budding on the trees. This is a great book to introduce the idea of hibernation as well as seasonal changes. Ask your students what they notice about the environment at different points in the book. I appreciate that this book is simple enough for my 2.5-year-olds but just as useful and engaging for Prek.
Polar Bear Night by Lauren Thompson is a beautiful book. Like Snow Bear, a polar bear cub goes on an adventure, but this one is in the middle of the night. As the cub walks past sleeping creatures, a “star shower” lights up the night sky. I assume this is the Northern Lights, but that’s just my assumption. I love how the little bear sees his world in a new light, both literally and figuratively, and then returns home to his mom’s warm fur. I love the pictures by Stephen Savage. They make readers feel like they are in the dark, cold tundra as much as they make you feel like you are witnessing the incredible Northern Lights.
Poles Apart by Jeanne Willis is my newest book purchase. As a preschool teacher, it drives me bonkers when people make crafts or stories where a polar bear and penguins are friends unless like in Poles Apart, they specifically talk about how these two animals live on opposite ends of the earth. This story is hilarious and perfect for a PreK class. In the story, the penguin family gets a little lost and ends up in the Arctic. A friendly polar bear helps them get back home but not before they have an epic adventure through multiple countries. I love the travel aspect to this story, and following up on a read-aloud with a map activity would be perfect! I love this book!
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson is such a heartwarming story about friendship. Bear is hibernating, but his friends wake him up to celebrate Christmas. It’s not easy at first, as Bear is super sleepy. He wants nothing more than to cuddle back up and fall back to sleep. They get a tree, decorate it, hang their stockings, and sing carols. When all the other animals snuggle in and go to sleep, Bear stays up. He is busily making gifts for all his friends. He is so busy he doesn’t even notice Santa coming and filling the stockings. He delights in the friendship. His friends present him with a lovely quilt. He snuggles under and goes back to sleep, happy, and filled with friendship. This is such a wonderful book. I love its focus on friendship and the excitement of giving gifts!
Goldy Luck and The Three Pandas by Natasha Yim is a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that takes place during Chinese New Year. Goldy Luck is asked to take some food over to her neighbors, but when they aren’t home, curiosity gets the better of her, and she gets into all kinds of trouble. What I specifically love about this version of the fairy tale is that Goldy goes home to think about what she did and how to make it right. I love that there is that addition to the more traditional telling of the story.
You forgot one amazing book by a talented artist by the name of Clayton Gauthier entitled Sus Yoo/The Bears Medicine.
It is about a Mother Bear’s love for her cubs and the world around them. The artwork is astounding and it has so many hidden lessons in it that every child would understand.