Author of Berenstain Bears Dies

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berenstain-bearsJan Berenstain, who with her husband wrote and illustrated the Berenstain Bears books, gentle best-sellers that enlightened preschoolers for half a century with simple lessons about kindness and tidiness, and reasons not to be afraid of the doctor, died on Friday in Solebury, Pa. She was 88.

Her death was confirmed by her publisher, HarperCollins.

With her husband, Stan, who died in 2005, Ms. Berenstain wrote more than 300 books, most of them offering moral lessons through the lives of a tidy nuclear family of plainspoken bears known as Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Brother Bear and Sister Bear.

Books featuring the Berenstain Bears (the authors toyed with penguins at first, but decided bears were more like humans) sold more than 200 million copies. The family also appeared in an animated series and more than 20 films.

The Berenstains’ ursine family most often confronted issues common to most families – the arrival of a new sibling, getting homesick at summer camp, the etiquette of trick-or-treating.

“Family values is what we’re all about,” Jan Berenstain told an interviewer last year.

More contemporary and quasi-political issues had arisen in recent years, though, including bullying, the dangers of online dating, and children bringing guns to school.

In a 1994 book, “New Neighbors,” the Berenstain Bears confronted racism in their very midst: Papa Bear, acting standoffishly toward the new neighbors, the Asian-looking Panda family, admitted to feelings of prejudice and learned the error of his ways. But by most accounts the books owed their popularity to their light humor and rock-solid simplicity. “Taking care of teeth is what bears want to do,” says Sister Bear in a typical Berenstain book finale. “They brush them and floss them, and visit the dentist, too.”

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.

“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.”

Jan Grant was born in Philadelphia on July 26, 1923, the daughter of Alfred and Marian Grant. She met Stanley Berenstain on their first day of classes in 1941 at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. They were both 18.

During World War II, while her future husband served as a medical illustrator in an Army hospital, she worked as a draftswoman in the Army Corps of Engineers and as an aircraft riveter. The couple married in 1946.

Ms. Berenstain is survived by their two sons, Leo and Michael, an illustrator who became a collaborator in the family’s Berenstain Bears enterprise, and by four grandchildren.

In an interview with Scholastic, the children’s magazine, Ms. Berenstain said she and her husband were always being asked why they had decided on bears rather than some other animal. Their standard answer was that “they stand on two legs, their mothers are very good mothers, and so on,” she said.

“One student asked why we didn’t use a fish,” she said, recounting a visit to a classroom. “And our answer was that they aren’t enough like people.”

Why not monkeys, then, asked another student.

“Because they are too much like people,” she replied.

{NY Times/Matzav.com Newscenter}

20 COMMENTS

  1. The series used to be great, but recently, when their son started becoming more involved, I’ve noticed that some of the stories and morals have been trending to the more outright christian.
    Her married name notwithstanding, Jan was Episcopalian

  2. what bde? kyko”h.
    taught morals? how by an entire book of misbehaving and casting dad as an oaf, then quick happily ever after on last page? we dont need such moral lessons. go read tales of tzaddikim, maggid series,/for kids, touched by a .. series, binyomin pruzanskys series, there is nop shortage of quality stuff from true torah perspective

  3. BD”E.

    A couple of generations of children have been entertained, enlightened, and sometimes reassured by her bear family – not to meantion the pleasure of the adults who were drafted to read them over and over again 🙂

    #3 – how do you mean? I haven’t seen the most recent ones due to a lack of small people asking me to read them out loud.

  4. This series of books always bugged me as a Father. They made the Papa Bear Father out to be a complete idiot and the only person with any sense wsa the Mother. I never liked them for that reason.

    With that said, I wrote a new one caled The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Yomtov for those three day Yom Tovim Shabboses.

  5. i once heard a shiur from a rav who said the berenstein bears are a TERRIBLE INFLUENCE on our kids lives. The main reason being, that the bears, which are representing humans oftern walk around naked in the books. Now , this might seem as a joke, but its a serious issue. These minor infractions influence our children in ways you cannot imagine!

  6. I’m surprised Matzav would print this as there were more than a few books that did not convey the message we try to teach our kids.
    One prime example are the books in which the father, “Poppa”, is portrayed as a bumbling fool, who is redeemed by his kids, etc.

  7. I like many of their books, but I did not like many of their books, as they tried to introduce solutions to problems that kids might have. If your kid does not have that problem, don’t introduce them to that bad behavior.

  8. It just happened to be that this Shabbos I was at the “out-laws” and happened to pick up one of her books, it bought back my Childhood memories and I had to read it from cover to cover!!!
    It should be a Zchus for her.

  9. what bde? kyko”h.
    taught morals? how by an entire book of misbehaving and casting dad as an oaf, then quick happily ever after on last page? we dont need such moral lessons. go read tales of tzaddikim, maggid series,/for kids, touched by a .. series, binyomin pruzanskys series, there is nop shortage of quality stuff from true torah perspective

  10. I’m really a Dr. Seuss fan but the Berenstein Bears, Curious George and Amelia Bedilia were all favorites growing up. Today these are classics compared to the junk out there.

    OIY DO I MISS MY CHILDHOOD!!!!

  11. The lady was not jewish, I believe the gentleman (who passed away a few years ago) was, or anyway he was of jewish descent.
    Personally I find these books both appalling and quite unintelligent. Don’t you have something else to read?

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