Blueberries for Sal...The Director's Cut

Months back, Mrs. G. and her class of third graders were just finishing a lesson on active verbs. Mrs. G. explained that active verbs allow Superman to leap, lions to roar and fairies to flit. She had them each write out five sentences using active verbs and then let each of them read their sentences out loud. But the deal was that when they came to one of their active verbs, they had to yell it out in their loudest voice. It went a little something like this:

My dog bit my sister and then ran and hid under the bed.

I told my mom I hate beets and she made me eat them anyway.

The lesson was a big hit. Sanctioned screaming in a classroom is always well-received and kid-approved. The energy level in the classroom was through the roof. Mrs. G. sensed that the kids were moving toward kooky and reckless, so she told then to grab a carpet square, take a deep breath and settle themselves on the floor for a story.

She pulled this little 1948 classic out of her book bag. It was Mr. G's favorite book as a child and shortly after the birth of Mrs. G's daughter, Mr. G's mother gifted Mrs. G. with the original copy she had read to wee Mr. G. and his three siblings. This book has been read, loved and slobbered on by three generations. Mrs. G. treasures it.

The story is about a little girl named Sal and her mother who go out into the country to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries for winter.

Little Sal walks behind her mother with her small tin pail picking the sweet, plump berries and eating every single one.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Blueberry Hill, a kindly mother bear and her sweet baby cub are meandering the countryside eating berries for winter, preparing for their impending warm and cozy hibernation.

Sal keeps swiping blueberries from her mother's pail, so her mother tells her to run along and play so that she can gather enough berries to can for the winter.

Sal heeds her mother's words and scampers off to play, but she gets a little lost.

Mrs. G. could tell by the faces of her third graders that they were into the story. She had to hold the book in front of her for a while, so that everyone got a chance to see the pictures.

So, anyway, Sal tramps happily along when suddenly she hears a noise and is sure that she has finally found her mother...

but instead, Little Sal finds herself nose-to-nose with the kindly mother bear.

What do you think happens next, asked Mrs. G. trying to keep the childen engaged.

Five of them threw up their hands, wiggled around on their carpet squares and begged pick me! pick me! As she often does, Mrs. G. ignored the loudest, wiggliest kids and turned her attention to one of her more wary, more reserved students. In this case, a quiet, serious boy who had a grim look on his face.

So what do you think happens next, Mrs. G. asked him brightly.

What do I think? I think Sal is a goner.

Oh, no no no no no, said Mrs. G. quickly, I've read this book hundreds of times. Sal doesn't die. The mother bear is a nice, loving bear.

The kid wasn't having any of it.

I saw a show on the Discovery Channel, he said, bears are unusually aggressive. A mother bear is called a sow, and a sow is very protective of her offspring. A sow will always attack if she thinks she or her cub is being threatened.

To bring it on home, the boy took his finger and slowly slid it across his throat.

A couple of the girls squealed for affect.

Hold up! Mrs. G. said emphatically, Sal is not going to die. Let me finish the story. Sal's mother turns around, sees the sweet little baby bear cub and finally realizes Sal is missing. She sets off to find Sal...

That's the end of her, another kid piped up, that mom is dead meat.

Discovery Channel boy nodded his head; it was clear he was now in charge, the new Superintendent of all things Bear:

Approximately 70% of bear caused human fatalities are the result of mothers defending their cubs.

NO ONE DIES! Mrs. G. yelled insisted. Look at this picture. Do you see? Sal's mother finds her alive, safe and sound and in one piece...not mauled.


Mrs. G. went on to read the last page:

...And Little Sal and her mother went down the other side of Blueberry Hill, picking berries all the way, and drove home with food to can for the next winter— a whole pail of blueberries and thee more besides. The End

Mrs. G. closed the book and scanned the faces of the small, innocent children in front of her. They were unimpressed. They were let down. They didn't want blueberry freezer jam and happily ever after. They wanted carnage and mass murder. They wanted a full-on bear bloodbath.

These kids today. And their bullshit cable.

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Reader Comments (107)

lol! my kids love that story. maybe because we don't have cable. :P

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMemarie Lane

*snort* yet another reason I left the classroom 6 years ago ROFL

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbazanna

My children are ages 9,7,5,3 and 5 mo. They make me crazy with their literalism. Fantasy and Science Fiction stories are always de-ligitimized by comments like, "That is not possible, no one can live on Mars." Then we are treated to an analysis of what we could do to make the story valid, "If everyone wore a space suit that could create breathable oxygen from Mars' atmosphere, that would help. Also, we would have to come up with a way for people to get water, . . ." By this time I've given up the original story and have picked of Jane Austen or some such thing. They have hours of planning to do.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMothership

This is one of my favorite books and I agree kids watch too much cable!!!

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I get it. You know how theater requires one suspends disbelief? Forgo fact and let yourself be in the alternate reality? Impossible for some. Reality TV speaks volumes. James Frey can't publish his book as fiction but it's a memoir hit. Nonfiction outsells fiction. Nobody wants to suspend that disbelief anymore. . . .even third-graders.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMinnesota Matron

I missed this book, but I was betting on the mother.
I am asked all the time why I have childern's books in my house.
well- I raised two childern and why would you not have childern's books about?
I'll have to look for this one.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercookingwithgas

Guess there's no hope for "We're Going On Bear Hunt" (we're gonna catch a bit one; what a beautiful day;we're not scared) by Helen Oxenbury. Our kids can still recite this whole book. And believe me we know about bears. My friend Trish wrote "The Bear's Embrace" about her personal encounter with a grizzly. My kids grew up with a first hand view of the damage a bear can do and yet my kids still managed to suspend their disbelief and enjoy a good story.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterpengellypastimes

This makes me sad.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLI Laura

You're a better woman than I. I've always had difficulty communicating with children that aren't my own! My kids all grew up with a love of books. You know Mrs G, I bet you're an amazing teacher.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRudee

I still have the copy of this book my mom gave me. Her name is Sally and I always thought it was about her. Loved it, my kids were never big fans of my treasured books, but they introduced me to Roald Dahl and we enjoyed all his books together.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbrightside-susan

bloodthirsty little suckers!

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRhea

I loved loved loved that book. Apox on electronic media that take away the magic!

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdebra

this just shows how bears always get a bum wrap! and how tv/media sells fear as a commodity. and how kids think jam comes from the store....

nice pictures, btw! i don't remember the book, but the pictures are SO familiar. Someone must have read this to me.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

Now that was a fun day.
So much for the relax.on.the.carpet.square caper.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterM

Sorry to say, but that book has always made me nervous. Where I live, we have real bears, even in our yard. You don't want to sneak up on them and trade kids with them.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBeverly

This is my fave gpost ever.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Ahhhh...I love that fact I just bought it for my niece. I'll be sure to tell my sister to throw the damned TV out before she gets all jaded.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMary Alice

Once again, the joy of story telling is taken away by cable TV! Excellent post, Mrs G.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLaDue & Crew

I have to admit, I was thinking the same thing the kids were as soon as that bear showed up.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZenmomma

that's fantastic! i love blueberries for sal and so did my kids, but after days and days and days and days and days and days (you get the idea) of reading it over and over and over and over and over and over and over (again, you get the idea) i would have so gone for that new and improved cable ending!!

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermonica

I adored this book when I was young - I also adored One Day in Maine, a companion book to Blueberries.

Kids today certainly are...literal.

Whatever happened to imagination and happily ever after??

Shade and Sweetwater,

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKyddryn

Well, they'll probably want a sequel anyway.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSaucy

I guess that particular boy will be growing up a scientist and not a creative writer!

My own personal childhood favorite was The Fourteen Bears in Summer and Winter. All fourteen of the bears had names and hobbies, and there were absolutely no maulings.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTan

This reminds me of a Black Hockey Jesus post. Do you know BHJ? Check him out:

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentera fan in germany

No kidding! My kids would think all was well with the book!

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

Admittedly, I thought the part where he fake-sliced his neck open? That was only a bajillion times better than Sal's mom finding him unscathed. Sorry Mrs. G., the kid really is the superintendent of all things bear.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteri am very mary

I don't remember the book from my childhood, but I fell in love with it as an adult. When our nephews come to visit Seattle from Texas each August, we go blueberry picking; they pick blueberries much the way Sal did. I gave them this book for Christmas a couple of years ago, and they loved it. I think they're disappointed that we never see bears in the Mercer Slough.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterkimberly

it is far too late and the walls far too thin for me to be laughing that loud...

Mrs. G.... you're the cat's pajamas.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMidge

I love how you wound that one up! You can never get that innocence back once it's gone, can you?

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercactus petunia

I still love that story.

And yes, BS indeed.

Kids can't even sit and enjoy a board game these days!

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

Yay for TV and cable and video games!

Boo for ingrained thoughts and unquestioned assumptions about kids who watch TV and play video games.

The facts: Some families play Monopoly and Life together, read favorite books together, AND watch *GASP* TV together, play video games together.

It was a sweet post, Mrs. G., and "these kids today" was funny. But NOT when people take that seriously and start that TV/video games/kids today crap. For God's Sake, people, "these kids today" LIVE in today, not yesterday.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLaura/CenterDownHome

you said it, KIDS THESE DAYS!

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGary Rith Pottery Blog

Studs Terkel interviewed a man about his experiences during the depression. The man said that if there were a depression today it would quickly become anarchy because, "When I was a young man I was prepared to die. Today young men are prepared to kill."

Somehow, your experience reading Blueberries for Sal, make me think of this. Laura/centerdownhome says that we shouldn't judge tv watching children. But I don't think we can deny a cultural shift. Where did it happen? In front of the tv, of course.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine

I'd move on to My Side of The Mountain and have them watch Survivorman on TV as an assignment.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterblackbird

Sigh. I read this book to my kids when they were growing up. We loved it. I think it's still on the shelves with Good Night Moon and Amelia Bedelia.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScout

Yes, it's sad how the Discovery Channel can sweep away some of the mysteries of childhood. Sounds like a lovey book though, I may have to check and see if our library has it!

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercalicobebop

Heh heh heh, which is why I read Blueberries for Sal in kindergarten! "Kuplink, kuplank, kerplunk" tend to be my students' favorite words.

Funny, the story is a favorite in Alaska classrooms... probably because they know non-fiction Alaskan bear tales first hand.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichaele

Instead of being eaten by bears, Sal will just die of botulism due to improperly canned blueberries.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjennie w.

Well, perhaps there was at least one child in the room with a little imagination left who loved and believed in the happy ending. It will be this child that gets mauled by a bear next time she's in the woods and tries to befriend one.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterxup

70% is hard to argue with. I'm just sayin'...

Loved this post!

Y'all might like a new book review site by an adorable 2nd grader I know named Coral - she reads books and gives us her opinion. check out the reading corner, where she reads a book out loud.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Julie

That was my birthday book when I was in kindergarten! I'm so glad I didn't know squat about bears back then.

And, speaking of causing mayhem in the classroom, have you discovered Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus? My kindergarten class LOVED it (I left for the sake of my sanity 2 years ago). They love it because YOU read the story and they get to shout "NOOOOOooo!" each time the pigeon comes up with a new reason why he should drive the bus. It's a howl. Just be sure to read it right before recess, since they will need to be exited from the building without loss of time.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBriget

LOL That his hilarious! Blueberries For Sal was one of my favorites when I was little, and my boys hear it often now. I guess we don't watch enough Discovery channel, neither has questioned the mama bear not mauling Sal and her mother.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

We discovered this book a couple of months ago when Rachel brought it home from one of our trips from the library. She loved it. But, after growing up in northern Ontario and once on a geology field camp during university coming up unexpectedly on a momma black bear with 2 cubs (it all ended well - no maulings -- but no maternal indulgence either), I'm more likely to agree with mr. cable on the bear thing.

But I'm with you on the cable. We don't have it. Which is probably why the girls like the library so much.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteralison

Awww, I appreciate your book, Mrs. G.

Before I had to stop for health reasons, I had a business selling vintage children's books, both to collectors and to people who were nostalgic for childhood book. I was unable to part with my inventory though; I just have such a soft spot for these books.

Thanks for sharing this.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterso NOT cool

Too funny!
That little boy sounds just like my oldest at that age -
We love Blueberries for Sal.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I have BFS in my daughters room, waiting for her to be old enough so I can read it.
And sometimes....I wish that she could have been born in a simpler time....where iPods and cable and JLO didnt exsist. So she could appreciate all the good things--like BLUEBERRIES!!!!!!

The world we live in!!!!

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCherry Tree Lane

I love that sweet book. But imagine if they made a TV movie based on that book today, sadly, it would end like your students predicted.

I love that you chose the quiet boy. I was the quiet student, still am the quiet mom, so I spent years being overlooked for the louder, wigglier kids. Now I have quiet kids, so I think you sound like an awesome teacher.

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSheri

Oh, you made me miss my 2nd graders for the first time in 5 years. LOL I posted a pointer post to here. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTeacher of One

KIds are so desensitized now. Cable, video games, etc...

November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterD...

I tried to warn my kids about the Wizard of Oz. "You'll like this movie," I said. "But there are these flying monkeys that will scar you for life."

Nothing. Nada. No reaction. "I sort of think they're cute."


November 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBarb

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