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Berenstain Bears Children Books - A Classic

The-Berenstain-Bears-Banner for the article agout Stan and Jan Berenstain

You might not get grizzly bears where you live, but many children and adults still have a soft spot for these fuzzy creatures because of the beloved characters created by Stan and Jan Berenstain. The husband-and-wife team published hundreds of titles in the Berenstain Bears Childern Book Series, as well as other works aimed at children and adult readers.

Their most famous books, which they illustrated themselves, are the stories about the family of bears. Like the Toby children’s books, the Berenstain Bear stories are never just a bit of entertainment. They always offer a nugget of wisdom, whether it’s a basic moral or a few simple safety tips. The lives of Stan and Jan Berenstain are a testament to their love of one another, of their children, and of all the children who love the Bears.

Art School Sweethearts

Stanley Melvin Berenstain was born on 29 September 1923 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Janice Marian Grant was born in the same city a few months earlier, on 26 July 1923. Stan was Jewish, and Jan was Episcopalian.

After high school they both enrolled at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art where they met one another on their very first day in 1941. The US entered World War II at the end of that year and Stan did his part by serving as a medical illustrator for the military.

Not to be outdone, Jan worked as a draft artist for the Army Corps of Engineers. She also found a job in an aircraft factory – probably not what you expected to read about a young woman who would become a classical children’s books writer! Jan collected scraps of aluminium while working in the factory and formed them into wedding bands for her and Stan. They were married on 17 April 1946 and their first son, Leo, was born in 1948. Mike followed Leo in 1951.

Books For Parents

After Mike’s birth, Stan and Jan Berenstain wrote and published the Berenstains’ Baby Book, which was filled with helpful advice about pregnancy and raising children. It also contained a big dollop of humour, because the authors wanted to remind parents of the lighter side of child rearing.

The book was a success, although its popularity was nothing like the children’s books that the couple would publish in a few years’ time. They published two more books for parents in the course of their career and they also contributed a cartoon feature published in Good Housekeeping and McCalls between 1956 and 1989.

Books For Children

In the early 1960s, Stan and Jan Berenstain were inspired when they realized just how much their boys loved the Dr Seuss books. The couple decided to see if they could also create a series of children’s books with animal characters.

They drew a few different animals, and eventually chose the grizzly bears because they were the easiest to draw. It also helped that so many people like bears, and that teddy bears were such popular children’s toys.

Speaking to an interviewer, the couple explained their vision for the classical children’s books series. They wanted their stories to include some of the difficulties faced by children, including situations that they experienced when they were young. They also wanted their stories to touch on some of the challenges of being a parent.

They submitted their first manuscript, titled Freddy Bear’s Spanking, to Random House where the publisher had appointed Theodor Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, as the editor of the Beginner’s Books series. The man whose books had been an inspiration behind their project was the very person who received the manuscript – and he loved it!

However, the writer and illustrator of the Cat In the Hat thought the story by Stan and Jan Berenstain needed a bit of tidying up. The three of them spent two years making changes to the text and the structure of the story. The couple even had to create profiles of the characters so that they felt they knew the bears personally.

The children’s book was finally published as the Big Honey Hunt in 1962. Initially, the couple was told to use other animals as characters in their next book; something they duly started doing. That project was stopped in its tracks when the publisher told them that the book was so popular, they wanted a follow-up, and they published the Bike Lesson in 1964.

The Rest Is History

From then on, Stan and Jan Berenstain worked mainly, but not exclusively, on the Bear books. The couple published hundreds of titles together and were married for 59 happy years.

When Stan died of cancer on the 26th November 2005, Jan continued to collaborate on children’s books with her son Mike. She died of a stroke on 24 February 2012 and both sons are now ensuring the family legacy lives on into the future.

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