|Photo Credit: bluekdesign at morgueFile.com|
After reading "The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving" the other evening, my daughter and I had a conversation:
Daughter: “Let's read some of these questions in the back of the book tonight.”
Me: “Okay. Let's see - What is the greatest gift that you have ever received?”
Daughter: “Hmmmmm - that's a hard one, Mom. Lemme think. (pauses for a moment) My brother and sister.”
Me: (sits with heart melting...it could have been ANYTHING...Christmas and birthday presents are still fresh on her mind…and scattered throughout the house, actually).
These are the moments I treasure. I love these precious gifts called children! This memorable moment brought to you by…the Berenstain Bears.
Is there anyone else out there who loves these bears more than my family does? I can’t tell you how many memories we’ve made with the Berenstains. I remember curling up on MY mom’s lap for a good bear adventure in the 1970’s. Fast forward thirty-somethin’ (ish) years, and I think our family has either bought, rented from the library, or received as gifts, almost all of the Berenstain Bears books out there!
After the conversation with my daughter, my interest peaked and I wanted to find out more. I wanted to learn how these Berenstain Bears came to be and what makes them so captivating. Who ARE these adorable, furry creatures who walk, talk, wear clothes, learn valuable lessons, live in a cool tree house, and make us laugh every time we meet for story time?
Berenstain Bears 101…here we go!
Stan and Jan Berenstain (writers/illustrators of the beloved book series) met in 1941 on their first day of art school, when they were 18 years old. During World War II, Stan worked as a medical illustrator in an Army hospital and Jan worked as a draftswoman in the Army Corps of Engineers and as an aircraft riveter. They married in 1946 and had two sons, Mike and Leo.
It’s hard to believe life without the Berenstain Bears, but did you know that the authors toyed with the idea of penguins? Penguins! The Berenstain Penguins? Nah – I’m glad they chose the bears. The Berenstains thought that bears were “more like humans – they stand on two legs, their mothers are very good mothers, and so on.”
Have you ever wondered how old the bears are in the books? (Me too). So, in an interview, Stan and Jan said that Papa is 29 years old, Mama is 27, Brother Bear is in 3rd grade, and Sister is in 1st. “They won’t ever get older!” declared the writing duo. (I know you’ve lost sleep over this, so now you know the facts – hee hee. Hmmm. They don’t age…suddenly, I think I wanna be a cartoon bear).
Stan and Jan didn’t come up with the idea of calling their favorite bears – the “Berenstain Bears.” That was their editor’s idea. And their first editor’s name? None other than Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). How ‘bout that!
Their first book featuring the Berenstain Bears was “The Big Honey Hunt” in 1962. Since that time, over 300 books have been published in 23 different languages and the series has sold close to 260 million copies! Their best-selling book is “The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby.” Incredibly successful books about bears – who woulda thunk it?!
In an interview, Jan said that “most of the books are based on real experiences.” Their inspiration came through difficulties that parents face, as well as childhood tribulations when they themselves were kids. The books offer moral lessons through the lives of Papa, Mama, Brother, Sister, and later, Honey Bear. “Family values is what we’re all about, “said Jan.
When asked how they made a book come to fruition, Stan said that they thought up the story idea first. Then, they thought of a cover and drew that. Next, they wrote the story together and Stan did rough drafts of the pictures. Finally, Jan did the beautiful drawings on art paper and they shared the job of coloring the pictures that brought the bear family to life.
Half a century of doing that process together – I bet they were experts at communication, don’t you think?! To have been a fly on the wall…
Some of the many topics covered in their books include: messy rooms, envy, too much TV, homework, peer pressure, junk food, manners, teasing, bad dreams, bad habits, first day of school jitters, spooky shadows, doctors and dentists, chores, moving, fighting, blaming, telling the truth, bullying, babysitters, and new siblings. Whew! Sounds exactly like life to me!
The Berenstain Bears books received many awards over the years, but when asked what honor or award meant the most to them, they answered, “The awards we receive directly from children are our favorites.” Their editor, Dave Linker, said that Stan supplied much of the humor, while Jan produced the heart. (Humor and heart – a timeless combo, if you ask me!) In a 2011 interview, Jan said, “It’s wonderful to do something you love for so many years.”
After Stan died in 2005, Jan and their son, Mike, continued to write and illustrate these enduring books. They focused on promoting Christian practices through the most recent series of Berenstain Bears books, called Living Lights. Some of the areas they touched upon were forgiveness, following God’s Word, respect, helping and loving others, kindness, generosity, and the true meaning of our treasured holidays.
Mike and Jan worked on new projects until her death in 2012. Mike said, “She was working on two books and had been doing illustrations until the day before she passed away.” In a recent interview, Mike said that he will continue writing and illustrating future Berenstain Bears books. While I am sad that Stan and Jan have passed away, I am thrilled to learn that Mike will continue sharing his parents’ love for Papa, Mama, and the huggable cubs. And, since books are a gift you can open and enjoy again and again and again, we will always remember the Berenstains.
Why are the Berenstain Bears so timeless? How can decades go by and the same books remain so popular with children across the globe? I’m certain it’s because their message stands the test of time. Kindness is timeless. Generosity is timeless. Family is timeless. Love is timeless. Forgiveness is timeless. Faith is timeless. No one gets tired of those things. Let’s hold on tight to these timeless qualities. Let nothing and no one take them from our grip.
Now, if I could just build that ultra-fabulous tree house they have on that sunny dirt road, deep in Bear Country – we’d be all set! Gotta run - I’m off to find the perfect tree…and my favorite Berenstain Bears book!