Else Holmelund Minarik passed away last week at the age of 91. A resident of Sunset Beach, North Carolina, Minarik was the author of the “Little Bear” series of children’s books. In 1997, the New York Times named her debut, Little Bear, one of the best children’s books of the past half-century.
Prior to publishing, Minarik was a first-grade teacher. By her own account, her best ideas came to her while gardening—those stories she initially wrote for her daughter, Brooke, because there was nothing else for her to read:
“I considered one day, while setting out the spring garden, that plants and children are alike in this respect—they flower beautifully if placed in the right setting, and subjected to no gaps of neglect, either by us, or by nature. I thought of my first-graders, all as willing and marvelous as the plants I was tucking into the earth. They had learned the elementals of reading, and yet would, almost to a one, spend the summer without using this fine new skill, and would return in September to astonish their second-grade teacher with a seemingly complete lack of memory. Here was a gap that needed mending!”
Born in Denmark, Minarik moved to the U.S. when she was four years old. She attended classes at Queens College in New York and worked as a reporter for the Rome Daily Sentinel. During the teacher shortage of World War II, Minarik began teaching first graders in Commack.
This international worldview helped shape her legacy. When an editor suggested she change the bears in her series to people, she refused.
“I thought to myself, all children of all colors would be reading the stories,” Ms. Minarik told The Star News of Wilmington, NC, in 2006. “All children love animals. The bear is fine. I love them because Mother took me to the Bronx Zoo every day, and I fell in love with the cubs. My bears were a family.”