Mama Bear – Jan Berenstain – R.I.P.

Is there anyone who doesn’t know of The Berenstain Bears? It’s pretty likely The Berenstain Bears books were read to you as a child or you read them to your own children. I discovered them when my son was a toddler in the late 1980s. We literally read every single Berenstain Bears book and he loved them. He slept with them, he quoted from them and looking at the pictures was the only time he sat quietly.

Jan Berenstain

Well just this week co-author, Jan Berenstain passed away, seven years after losing her husband, Stan. I wanted to honor them today for several reasons.

  • They were innovative authors and illustrators writing several books together, the first of which was The Berenstains’ Baby Book in 1951. This celebrated the birth of their 2nd child. Jan knew there were mom’s out in the world who needed answers to questions about pregnancy and raising a baby. Stan and Jan went on to write 25 more books for adults on the topics of parenting and family values.
  • Their writing and their lives exemplify the All-American family. They stood strong together, facing typical crises and struggles and teaching their two boys what it means to do the right thing, love your neighbor, family comes first, find the value in everything you do.
  • Stan and Jan are parenting role models. Read the books they wrote and you’ll see how they lived their lives.

They were quite the couple, Jan and Stan. They met as students  in 1940 at the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art on the first day of drawing class. They were instantly drawn to each other (pun intended). When they weren’t studying the art of drawing, they were drawing themselves closer while attending orchestral concerts, museum events and theater performances.

During WWII, Stan ended up in Indiana at an Army Hospital working as a medical illustrator, drawing instructions related to plastic surgery facial reconstructions for soldiers. Jan worked for the Army Corps of Engineers as a draftsman, as well as, working as a riveter for the Navy.It's All in the Family Cartoon

During his war time work, Stan began drawing cartoons and submitting them to Saturday Review of Literature. He was published. After the war, in 1946, Stan and Jan married and began drawing cartoons together. They published several books and began drawing the cartoon It’s All in the Family, which I read faithfully in the Sunday newspaper as a child. The couple continued writing books for adults and were very successful.

As their boys grew, they became enamored of Dr. Seuss’ books. Theodor Geisel (Seuss) happened to be working as an editor for Random House Publishing at the time. It was 1962 when the Berenstains submitted a book idea to Dr. Seuss. His work as their editor played a part in the publishing of The Big Honey Hunt that year. This was the first book in their wildly popular series, The Berenstain Bears.

The books dealt with everyday crises in the lives of children and families: How to deal with new neighbors, how to count your blessings, how to behave with strangers. “Family values is what we’re all about,” Jan Berenstain told an interviewer last year. Mama Bear and Papa Bear were drawn from the real lives and personalities of Stan and Jan Berenstain.

The Berenstains were a deeply collaborative team and often alternated the writing and illustrating. The publisher for the Random House Golden Books/Young Readers Group once stated, “You couldn’t tell where one left off and the other began. They loved their work. The studio was their home.”

And of Jan Berenstain, the publisher recalled, “She was quite a gentle soul with a wry sense of humor. Jan’s gentleness and dry humor were a wonderful foil to Stan’s more gregarious nature. She was basically a gentle soul.”

According to The Washington Post, “The Berenstains credited their first editor at Random House, Theodor Geisel, who wrote books himself under the name “Dr. Seuss,” with helping them achieve their trademark simplicity in language and illustrations. That style made their books popular as reading primers, by helping toddlers see connections between stories and words on a page.

To learn a little more about Dr. Seuss, click HERE.

“He wanted very simple, schematic illustrations with nothing in the background,” Mr. Berenstain told The Chicago Tribune. “Because the purpose of the books was to help kids tie the pictures in with the words.”

Their youngest son, Michael, said that his parents “both grew up in the Depression and they had a common-sense approach to things.” He recalled that his mother “would always say kids are a lot smarter than parents think. “He said that as a parent, Mrs. Berenstain “was very original. She had her own ideas about parenting. She encouraged creativity.”Stan and Jan Berenstain
As the years passed, the Berenstains adapted their stories to contemporary life situations including bullying, the dangers of online dating and children bringing guns to school. In 1994 the book, New Neighbors, told the story of The Berenstain Bears being confronted with racism. Papa Bear learned a serious lesson when the Asian-looking Panda family admitted to feelings of prejudice.
The Berenstains owed the popularity of their children’s book series to the light humor and simple messages they offered. In The Berenstain Bears and the Truth, Brother bear and Sister Bear get into some mischief, a lamp gets broken and they fib to their parents. Children are left with wise words to remember after the bear cubs learn their lesson, “But they never ever again told a whopper, because trust is one thing you can’t put back together once it’s broken.”
Over the years, the Berenstains marketed their stories as television cartoons, films, and music.
As wholesome as the Berenstains were, they still had their detractors. “A Random House editor once said of the bears’ almost impossible wholesomeness, their attire that never changed with the times, and the tepid games the children played (they included hopscotch and jacks) “…it’s just not that way in the real world.”
“But it’s that way in Bear Country,” the Berenstains said.Cool Factoid #1: Jan, while working as a riveter on Navy seaplanes, made wedding rings for Stan and herself from airplane aluminum.

Cool Factoid #2: In answer to the question why they decided on bears instead of any other animal, Jan replied,  “they stand on two legs, their mothers are very good mothers, and so on.”

Cool Factoid #3: Whenever Jan was asked which was her favorite book, she always replied it was the book she was working on. She always also mentioned Inside Outside Upside Down, a book about concepts for children 4 and up, which the Berenstains wrote in 1968 and Geisel edited.

Cool Factoid #4: Michael Berenstain, an illustrator and writer, took his father’s place, working with his mother, after his father’s death in 2005.

Cool Factoid #5: Jan and Stan wrote more than 300 picture books guiding children through the trials and tribulations of childhood. Nearly 300 million copies have been sold around the world.

R.I.P. Jan and Stan. We send you and your family big bear hugs.

Are you familiar with Stan and Jan Berenstain’s books? Which was your favorite? What has the Berenstain’s story taught you?


30 thoughts on “Mama Bear – Jan Berenstain – R.I.P.

  1. I think I still have my Berenstain Bears books somewhere. I remember they were always checked out at the bookmobile I frequented so I finally talked my mom into buying me my own copies. They’ve left a wonderful legacy and so many memories. Wonderful post, Marcia.

  2. I grew up on these books and hope to someday read them to my kids. My favorite was the Berenstein Bears and the Truth. I can remember when I hid behind the couch and ate cookies I wasn’t supposed to take. At least I knew to fess up to it thanks to the Berenstein bears 🙂

    • Cute story, Marcy! I’m sure your kids will love them! I used that book to teach my son that lesson. Fibs are so enticing for a 4-5 year old. Thanks for coming by!

  3. These are some of our favorite books. I’ll pull out the one that deals with manners if my son isn’t being very sweet. He always rolls his eyes, but listens when I read the book to him. Which cracks me up since he’s 13 now. I think he likes it, but shhhh! We won’t tell.

    • How cute that is, Tameri! If that secret got loose in the neighborhood, he’d never show his face among his friends again, or else he’d claim his mother is crazy! It will be one of those things he reminds you about, when he’s 30 yrs old. lol

  4. As far as I am aware, the UK hasn’t seen these bears; or at least I don’t ever remember seeing them. They do sound super cool, though. It is a shame when brilliant authors pass away, but look at Enid Blyton….books and stories live on forever.

    • I’m not familiar with Enid Blyton…I’ll have to Google her. It is a shame when people pass and leave a legacy but their essence is gone.

  5. Beautiful post, Maria. I discovered the Berentain Bears when my boys were toddlers and we bought every book available. Eventually, I passed the books on to my sister for her children. My boys loved the stories so much, it was difficult for them to part with the books, but they loved their cousins, too. 🙂

    • I can relate to how the boys felt when you passed them on. I hate to part with any book, but I’d probably be considered a serious hoarder if I’d kept every book I ever bought. 😀 They were wonderful stories. Thanks, Sheila!

    • I guess we learn lessons almost by osmosis, August. The stories were fun and easy to read, but in the end we all learned something from them. I suppose that’s what any good book should do for us. 🙂

  6. My son rarely held still long enough to be read to, but there were two books that would do the trick. One was Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs and the other was Inside, Outside, Upsidedown.Thank you for telling us more about this lovely couple who brought so much enjoyment to families over the years. It’s a much deserved tribute.

    • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is my favorite children’s book. I saved the copy I read to my kids for my grandkids. They loved it, too! Inside,Outside, Upside Down was another favorite for us, too. You’re welcome and glad you stopped in.

  7. What a lovely tribute. My boys loved their stories and you’ve prompted me to stop in and pick up one or two of the Berenstain books this afternoon on my way to see the Adorables (aged 2 and 4). Thanks!

  8. Marcia, loved the post. The Berenstain Bears were an important part of my kids’ early years (I’d never read them as a child). I’m so glad I discovered a stack of them at a yard sale when my first was little. We added more over time, and each boy loved them (and I loved reading the stories to them, too!). Sadly, the youngest has now outgrown the Berenstain Bears, so we donated the dozens we had accumulated to our local library. We still have the holiday ones, though!

    • I loved that the family never changed. They were a stable part of teaching my kids values. It’s sad when they outgrow books, but it’s great that you are recycling them among new readers at the library!

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