Into the Spooky Old Tree, They Go

Through shared reading children learn about reading before they can read.

Every day one of the children asks, ‘Can you read The Spooky Old Tree?’ The book is The Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree, written and illustrated in 1978 by Stan and Jan Berenstain.

51WTZ07AHXLThree little bears. 

One with a light. 

One with a stick. 

One with a rope. 

A spooky old tree

Do they dare go into that spooky old tree?

They do. Every day the children dare themselves to go into this book. Inside the story they, and the bears, come face to face with threat and menace – a twisty old stair, a crocodile, a moving wall, a spooky old hall, and a great sleeping bear. Along the way, one by one, they lose the rope, the stick and the light. And they find the shivers.

Do they dare?

Three little bears…

without a light,

without a stick,

 without a rope.

And all with the shivers!    


When I read a story I try to engage each child by pacing the telling and changing the tone and pitch of my voice to suit the scene. At the same time, I try to gauge each child’s reaction – especially if, like in The Spooky Old Tree the story has scary bits. An anxious child might come and sit on a chair close to me, or maybe go right away to listen from afar – while seeming not to listen at all. And then, from a safe distance, make bold comments with a lot of bravado.

Whether I’m reading to one child, a small group, or to everyone, I make sure there is plenty of time for stopping and starting, particularly if I am introducing the children to a story they haven’t heard before. Anyone can ask questions, make comments, and together we look closely at the pictures. This helps us to imagine what the characters are thinking, and how they feel. Setting off from home they look eager, confident, prepared (they’re smiling and striding straight ahead). Once they are in the dark woods, they’re not so sure (Look at the bear with the rope. What is he thinking? How does he feel? Why has the bear at the front turned on the torch? However, I am always ready to start reading the story again when someone asks, ‘Can you just read the story?’

With every reading we learn more and more about the spooky old tree and the children begin to share the telling. But a frisson of fear remains. Even though they know the bears will return home safely, there is still a sliver of doubt – maybe this time the little bears will be caught…!?! Maybe they won’t return home. Maybe this is why someone always asks, ‘Can we read The Spooky Old Tree?’ – so that they can, again, be reassured. In the end, of course, the Berenstain Bears do make their way through and out of the spooky old tree.


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Up a ladder…

Through the floor…

Down a slide…

And out of a door!

Three little bears running fast.

 Home again. Safe at last.

And Mum is always there, standing at the front door, looking out for them.

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Children  become spellbound by a story. They point. They frown. They raise their eyebrows, and hold their breath. They comment. They laugh. They gasp. They may be moved to tears. They imagine being in the story  – ‘I’m that one with the torch’; ‘I’m the

spooky old tree’. They learn something they didn’t know before. And when we are reading together I learn more about each child, and I learn more about myself.

Story sharing draws us into the lives of others, and so, back into our own lives.

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A child’s reading of The Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree.

Henry, aged 4 years



Do they dare go over the bear?


‘Cause they’re bears.

Now what are they doing?

Going over the bear.

Do they dare go over the bear?




Up the ladder,

down the slide,

out the tree,

out the door,

and running home.

Now they’re back home and live happily ever after.

They’re going on a camp

Now, if them go down the slide

Now, if they’re allowed to go up the stairs –

the twisty stairs –

the twisting stairs

Are them allowed?

See that.

Are ‘em allowed to go through there?

Are ‘em allowed to go through the spooky door?

Are ’em going to go through the spooky axe?

Are ’em going to go over the bear?

Up stairs.


Go through the woods!

The End


© Book illustrations from The Spooky Old Tree, by Stan and Jan Berenstain, originally published in 1978

Photos: Janet McLean ©


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