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May 5, 2020

The Flying Bears

Francesca Serritella has written nine humorous essay collections with her mother, bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, about their relationship, which are based on their Sunday column in The Philadelphia Inquirer titled “Chick Wit.” She’s a graduate of Harvard University, so it’s only fitting that her newly released debut novel, GHOSTS OF HARVARD, revolves around a Harvard freshman who becomes obsessed with her schizophrenic brother’s suicide. Then she starts hearing voices. In this hilarious blog post, Francesca reflects on her childhood obsession with the Berenstain Bears and the not-so-conventional way that Lisa dealt with it.


I co-authored nine memoirs with my mother about our relationship, so the way she has influenced me as a writer has been well-documented. Instead, I’m going to fire up the way-way-back machine, and tell you a story about when my mother, Lisa Scottoline, #1 bestselling author of more than 30 novels, taught me how to throw a book across the room.

When I was a little girl, my mother was a single mom, working as a judicial law clerk, not yet a published author, and she made time to read to me every night. We read all of children’s literature’s greatest hits: GOODNIGHT MOON, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, the Frances the Badger series, STREGA NONA. But around the time I turned four, I went through a phase where I wanted to read only one series of children’s books: The Berenstain Bears.

I remember my favorites:THE BERENSTAIN BEARS AND TOO MUCH TV,THE BERENSTAIN BEARS GET THE GIMMIES,THE BERENSTAIN BEARS AND TOO MUCH JUNK FOOD,THE BERENSTAIN BEARSFORGET THEIR MANNERS. Looking at the titles now, I seem like a baby schoolmarm, obsessed with rules. But I swear I was a normal kid, a normal kid obsessed with the Berenstain Bears.

And my mom. Was. Sick of it.

No disrespect to the authors Jan and Stan Berenstain, and I want to be clear, my mom liked the Berenstain Bears just fine. But I was relentless in my desire for those spiky-haired bears and their upturned noses. It’s like we can all agree that Idina Menzel is a world-class vocal talent, but there are parents who are sick of playing “Let It Go” for the 2,394th time for their Frozen-obsessed kid. They’d like to “Let it Go” right out the window.

And that’s exactly what my mother did.

One night, after failing, again, to talk me out of my Berenstain addiction, my mom got halfway through the book and flung it across the room.

We turned to each other in shock.

“Oh my God,” my mother said, “it flew out of my hand!”

We stared at each other for another moment, our mouths forming matching O’s, before I caught the glimmer in her eye.

I was utterly thrilled by the naughtiness, and from the most unlikely actor --- Mommy. Mommies do not do naughty things, not even in books, especially not to books! Throwing books was not allowed --- and it was delicious.

I jumped out of bed and fetched it like a dog, eager to begin again --- the book or the game or both.

It became our new nightly routine. I’d choose a Berenstain Bears book, and she’d read me a few pages before something would take it from her hands:

“The wind!” “It slipped!” “Francesca, did you do that?!”

I would erupt in peals of laughter. I mean, she had me rolling every night. This act killed.

And before she would throw it was better still! I’d be in such a state while she was reading, trying to anticipate when the transgression would occur. Even thinking of it now, I feel a giddy bubble in my chest.

But she always took me by surprise --- a suspense author in the making.

This is not a story about how my mother taught me to disrespect books; it was only a silly game and a funny memory. But I do think it reflected a more lasting lesson my mother taught me, which was to love books, not revere them.

Books are wonderful, inspiring, enduring works of art; my mother and I both have devoted our professional lives to this belief. But there are pitfalls to treating books as only Literature with a capital L, formal, untouchable, intimidating. I see too many people put books on a pedestal, a pedestal that grows dusty. I’m not sure I would’ve become a writer if I had been raised only to revere books. And while I love the classics, I’m not sure I would’ve become as avid a reader.

My favorite books have pages folded and passages underlined. They have wiggly pages from being dropped in the tub and covers smudged by suntan lotion. Sometimes I rebuy a pristine copy, but I always cherish my battered ones.

And yes, sometimes, rarely, I have to throw a book across the room.

My mother taught me to love books, live with them, live through them. You can grow with them, grow out of them and grow into them. Books are the stuff of life, printed on pages, nothing more.

And that is extraordinary.