The Berenstain Bears Books by Janice and Stanley Berenstain: A Children’s Book Series Overview
Article By: Lauren McKeithen
Berenstain Bears Series Stats
Authors: Janice and Stanley Berenstain
Over 300 books in series
Berenstain Bears Series Overview
The Berenstain Bears is a children's literature series created by Stan and Jan Berenstain and continued by their son, Mike Berenstain. Mike assumed partial authorship in 2002 and full authorship in 2012 following Jan's death. The books feature a family of humanlike grizzly bears who generally learn a moral or safety-related lesson in the course of each story. The main characters of each Berenstain Bear story are the parents, Mama and Papa, and three children, Brother, Sister, and Honey.
Since the 1962 debut of the first Berenstain Bears book, The Big Honey Hunt, the series has grown to over 300 titles, which have sold approximately 260 million copies in 23 languages. The Berenstain Bears series has also expanded to more than just the books, including two television series and a wide variety of other products and licenses. While enjoying decades of popularity and receiving numerous awards, the series has been criticized for its alleged sweet tone and methodic storytelling.
Stanley Berenstain and Janice Grant met in 1941, on their first day of drawing class at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, where they were instantly drawn to each other. After being separated during World War II, during which Stan worked for the Army as a medical illustrator and Janice worked as a riveter, they were reunited and married in 1946. While originally working as art teachers, the Berenstains pursued a joint career in cartooning and slowly found success working together on illustrations, humorous sketches and cover art for publications including The Saturday Review of Literature, Collier's, McCall's, Good Housekeeping, and The Saturday Evening Post. In 1951, they published Berenstains' Baby Book, a amusing how-to aimed at adults and based on their experiences raising their infant son Leo in downtown Philadelphia. Nearly two dozen other books followed; described by Stan as "cartoon essays," the titles included Marital Blitz, How To Teach Your Children About Sex Without Making A Complete Fool of Yourself and Have A Baby, My Wife Just Had A Cigar!
In the early 1960s, the Berenstains wanted to start books writing for young children. For their first children's book, they chose to cast bears as the main characters, primarily because the animal held wide appeal and the fact that bears were easy to draw. Stan also observed that female bears are "terrifyingly good mothers" while the males are "lousy fathers.”(The Berenstains denied that their last name had anything to do with the decision.) In their 2002 memoir, they said that they knew from the start that their book would "have three characters: a bluff, overenthusiastic Papa Bear who wore bib overalls and a plaid shirt and...a wise Mama Bear who wore a blue dress with white polka dots...and a bright, lively little cub." The Berenstains' first bear story, titled Freddy Bear's Spanking, arrived on the desk of Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, who had found impressive success in 1957 with The Cat in the Hat and was now editor of a Random House series called "Beginner Books". Geisel took on the manuscript, but spent the next two years challenging the Berenstains to make enhancements to the writing and structure and to connect with their characters on a deeper level. He asked questions such as "What kind of pipe tobacco does Papa Bear smoke?" and urged them to analyze the relationship between Papa Bear and Small Bear, to which Stan responded, mystified, "Well, he's the father, and he's the son"; however, Jan attributed the inspiration for the characters' dynamic to the 1931 film The Champ.
The book was finally published in 1962 under the title The Big Honey Hunt, with no plans to bring back the bears in a sequel. Geisel suggested that the Berenstains feature a different animal in their next story, as "there are already too many bears... Sendak’s got some kind of bear. There's Yogi Bear, the Three Bears, Smokey Bear, the Chicago Bears... for your next book you should do something as different from bears as possible." With this idea in mind, they had started work on a new project featuring a penguin when Geisel called and told them: "We're selling the hell out of the bear book." The second bear book, The Bike Lesson, appeared in 1964, featuring the names Stan and Jan Berenstain instead of Stanley and Janice; Geisel had changed the credit without consulting them. Geisel was also responsible for adding the name "Berenstain Bears" to the covers of succeeding books.
Over the next several decades, Stan and Jan collaborated on hundreds of books from their home studio outside Philadelphia. After developing a storyline together, one of them (usually Stan) would develop a first draft, which the other would then cultivate into an 1100-word manuscript. They also worked together on the illustrations. In 2002, the couple released a memoir of their career titled Down A Sunny Dirt Road. Their sons Leo and Mike also entered the family business after making their own ventures into children's publishing as an author and illustrator, respectively. In the 1990s, the men worked on the Berenstain Bears "Big Chapter Book" series (published under the names Stan and Jan Berenstain). Following Stan's death from lymphoma in 2005, Mike collaborated with his mother on writing and illustrating Berenstain Bears segments, while Leo has been involved with the business side of the franchise. Jan Berenstain died in February 2012 following a stroke. Mike Berenstain continues to write and illustrate new books in the series.
The Berenstain Bears series had sold over 240 million copies by 2003. Of their books, 35 are in the Publishers Weekly top 250 titles of all time, and 15 are in the top 100 children's paperbacks. The series has received praise and awards for its contributions to children's literature as well as criticism for promoting outdated gender roles, simplistic and unrealistic messages, and not keeping up with the times. The Berenstain Bears franchise eventually moved past books and started to include television specials and an animated series that aired on PBS. Moving even more into modern times, the Berenstain Bears also had their own series of video games; majority of the games were learning games about learning at home and “life lessons.”
The Berenstain Bears is a series that is near and dear to my heart because whenever I got in trouble when I was younger, my parents would make me read a Berenstain Bears book that was similar to my situation and after that, they would explain to me why what I did was wrong. In a way, the Berenstain Bear books taught me the difference between right and wrong and taught me a lot of life lessons that I still hold with me today. The Berenstain Bears children’s book series is a very popular series sold by The Book Bundler. It is a good series to reinforce life lessons with children, such as how not to talk to strangers or teaching them to have manners. This series is especially good if you have a child that is just learning how to read.
The Berenstain Bears Series List
- The Big Honey Hunt
- The Bike Lesson
- The Bears’ Picnic
- The Bear Scouts
- The Bears’ Vacation
- Inside, Outside, Upside Down
- Bears on Wheels
- The Bears’ Christmas
- The B Book
- Bears in the Night
- The Berenstain Bears’ Nursey Tales
- The Bears’ Almanac
- The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby
- He Bear, She Bear
- The Bear Detectives
- The Bears’ Nature Guide
- The Berenstain Bears’ Science Fair
- The Spooky Old Tree
- The Berenstain Bears Go to School
- The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor
….and many more!
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Farhi, Paul; Keyahias, Lisa. "The New Children's Books: Grimmer than Grimm."The Washington Post, 2019-09-12, p. C05
Mehren, Elizabeth. "The Bear Facts." Los Angeles Times, 2019-12-09.
Bartlett, Jaye. "Mike Berenstain talks about the Berenstain Bears' 50th anniversary."The Celebrity Cafe, 12-09-2019