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.
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.
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.”
“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?