Thursday, December 01, 2005

Berenstain Bears Creator Dies

Washington Post — Stan Berenstain, who taught generations of children to read with the Berenstain Bears series of books he launched with his wife, died Nov. 26 from complications of cancer at his home in Bucks County, Pa. He was 82.

Beginning in 1962 with the first title in their series about a lovable family of bears, "The Big Honey Hunt," the Berenstains found a formula that drew millions of young readers and propelled their books into one of the most successful franchises in children's literature. In the past 43 years, the husband-and-wife team wrote and illustrated approximately 250 books about the bears.

More than 260 million copies have been sold, and the Berenstain Bears have also branched out into two television series, videos, stage musicals, toys, cereal and other products. Mr. Berenstain and his family managed the entire enterprise by themselves until 1997, when they hired an employee to run the computer.

Pitched primarily toward children between the ages of 4 and 8, the books introduced vocabulary words and gentle moral lessons to their young readers. The bear family originally consisted of a father, mother and one son, but over the years the den expanded with another male and female cub. (The girl bear, always wearing pink polka-dot dress, liked to play with her "Bearbie" doll.) The family lived in an idyllic five-story treehouse.

Stanley Berenstain was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 29, 1923. He met his wife, Janice Grant, on the first day of drawing class at the old Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) in 1941. They often went to the zoo for drawing exercises, where they sometimes sketched pictures of bears.

Mr. Berenstain served in a field artillery unit in World War II and, later in the war, became a medical illustrator. After their marriage in 1946, the Berenstains embarked on a joint career as cartoonists, eventually becoming regulars at the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's and the Saturday Review.

In 1956, they began a popular cartoon called "It's All in the Family," featuring seven captioned drawings on one page, which ran in McCall's and Good Housekeeping magazines. Their first book, called "The Berenstains' Baby Book" (1951), derived from their experiences raising their first son.

After an agent suggested that they give children's books a try, they struck on the idea for a family of bears, but it took two years of tweaking before they could please their editor at Random House, Theodore Geisel -- better known as Dr. Seuss. Geisel edited the first 17 books in the series, advising the Berenstains about drawing, character and rhyme.

In the years since that initial effort, the Berenstains have never run out of topics for their bears, ranging from bad dreams and teasing to jealousy, fear of the dark and even the question of God. They launched spinoff books for children from 9 to 12 and a series in which their cubs are detectives or "Bear Scouts." The two subjects that never entered the child's dreamland of Bear Country were divorce and death. "We take what we do very seriously," Mr. Berenstain told The Post in 1996. "But we can't solve all the world's problems in 32 pages."

Survivors include his wife of 59 years; two sons, writer Leo Berenstain and artist Michael Berenstain, who will continue the family enterprise with their mother; a sister; and four grandchildren.

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My friend Terri brought this recent death to my attention. It made me very sad. I remember loving the Berenstain's work long before I even knew about The Berenstain Bears series of books. I used to read their earlier comic series It's All in the Family, which was originally printed in issues of McCall's (later renamed "Rosie" by that self-centered bitch Rosie O'Donnell, when she bought out the magazine).

My favorite of the Berenstain series was always the Halloween or "spooky" stories! I loved those. Sigh. Good library memories. R.I.P. Stan. My condolences, Jan.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Nathan said...

Awww.... I loved Berenstain Bears :(

Yep, the Halloween one was my favorite too. I know how much we both love Halloween.

Rest in Peace

Thursday, December 01, 2005 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Kirkkitsch said...

Nathan-
Yeah, it's always sad to me when some influential icon from my childhood passes away. I guess it's because you know it's the end of an era, in a way.

I also loved The Spooky Old Tree...I think that may have been one of the first Berenstains book I ever read.

Thanks for commenting. :)

Friday, December 02, 2005 9:08:00 AM  

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