Blueberries For Sal: The Director's Cut

Years 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.

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 nutty 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 copyshe 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 to be pickedAs she often did, 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 niceloving bear. I promise!"

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 kids squealed for effect.



"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. 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.

Kids today. And their bullshit cable.


Originally published in 2007 when 17 people read this blog.

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Reader Comments (19)

Kuplink! Kuplank! Kuplunk!

One of my favorites from my own childhood and my kids' youth as well (can I write that when my baby is 14 years old?) The now-twenty-one-year-old would have been just like your know-it-all student had we had cable back in those days. Come to think of it, that may be why we don't have cable now!

Omg I had that book!!! (And the kids were right, btw)

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

Well, I must have been one of the 17, then! Loved this story of yours then, and I love it now. Blueberries For Sal was a favorite around here, too; but maybe that was because we didn't have cable or Internet back then.

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersuburbancorrespondent

Count me as someone who hated that book. BORING. I like your kids' version better.

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Paul

Little bastards.

I loved McCloskey books. "Make Way for Ducklings" is wonderful, but I adored "Homer Price" with the crazy doughnut machine.

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAunt Snow

We never had that book here in Australia, or any of the other ones mentioned either, but it's like most memories of childhood reading, I think you had to be there :)

In my house you only have to say, "...and they roared their terrible roars..."
and some one will say, "Let the wild rumpus start!"

Resilient little creatures aren't they...

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah J

I remember reading this when you originally posted it as well - loved it then and now. :)

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

They will undo do you every time.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermeredith@whynot

Once, while I was on university we were doing a geology field-mapping exercise out in the bush of eastern Ontario. We had compasses and air photos of the area and had to map the geology of an area. My crew consisted of me and two male geological engineering students. We were walking down a new logging road (that wasn't on the air photos) through heavy bush, and came out onto a clearing. There was a big outcrop of pyroxenite and we stopped to take a sample. I was whacking away with my rock hammer, when one of the guys said, "look." Two baby black bears had ambled into the clearing, about 30 feet away. They were the size of poodles and all I could think was how cute they were. Suddenly I noticed that the guys had moved behind me and my hammer. The momma had come into the clearing after her cubs. We froze. The momma bear lifted her nose and must have caught our scent, because she bellowed for the cubs and the good news is that they ran away from us. The bad news is that they ran off on the exact compass bearing we needed to take to get to our pick-up point. Needless to say, we made a lot of noise going through the bush. So we didn't exactly make friends with the bear, but we didn't get mauled a la Discovery Channel either.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

We live near a state park with a large bear population. Last week a lady found 5 bears in her driveway. One attacked her. The local authorities decided to set some traps and kill the bears. They killed 7 of them.

No blueberries for bears around here. It makes me sad. The bears were here before the country club community.

We have so much in common! About 17 people read my blog now! And I once gave a children's sermon (for some reason, my topic focussed on frogs) which was completely hijacked by a kid who knew way more than I did about frogs.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCommon Household Mom

Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk!

One Morning in Maine was my absolute favorite. By then, Sal had loose tooth, a little sister named Jane, and an ice cream cone before lunch. It was a special day, indeed.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLisse

Oh! Karen beat me to it!

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLisse

That book always put my stomach on edge, even though I knew the end. I just couldn't believe all would end well. There was a family cabin in the mountains we'd go to every summer. It was too cold in the winter. Thus, underneath it a bear had dug a cave with a cub hole. My dad was stationed in Greenland during WW2, and had brought back a bear skin. All that was left was the head. Being the nasty, cruel children we were, whenever we took friends up there, we'd take our friends through the tunnel. Hiding in the cub hole would be another of us wearing that head. You want to hear some screaming, and see some scrambling? Do that. Hmm, I may be able to come up with a six word story now.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenternaomi d

I didn't know "Blueberries for Sal" when I was the right age for it and my daughter didn't seem too interested when I read it to her, but I did enjoy other McCloskey books in my childhood. I always especially liked his illustrations. Now I'm going to log into the library catalog and reserve whatever they have of his for a trip down memory lane.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter~annie

This was my Birthday Book in Kindergarten! And I LOVED it. I never thought for a minute (well, maybe a MINUTE) that Sal would be mauled - or eaten. It was the 50's, when Things Turned Out Right.

But I do remember that my kdg. teacher (the old sow) didn't believe that I could read the book. But I could. So there.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBriget

I have read that book so many times to my children I am quite sure I could recite it. That kid had it wrong- mamas are smart and these two weren't any different- they both knew enough about bears/people to be scared of bears/people, even very small ones like Little Bear/Little Sal! I suppose it is a wee bit saccarine for the third grade bunch though...

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

I was one of the 17 - tho I am not sure I commented then. This was one of my favorite books because my mom is called Sal, too! My kids were not so enamored of it as I was.

April 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrightsideSusan

Bullshit cable indeed. Reality wrecks so many good parts of childhood.

April 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreen Girl in Wisconsin

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