Most of us have the Berenstain Bears to thank for helping us through childhood issues such as fear of going to the doctor, dealing with bullies, and resolving sibling rivalries. In the 50 years, 300 titles, and 260 million copies, our endearing ursine family has been a part of many story times and childhoods. This past Friday, half of the husband-wife team of this successful children’s literature, Jan Berenstain, died in Solebury, PA, after suffering a stroke. She was 88. Her husband, Stan, passed in 2005 at the age of 82.
Born Janice Grantin in Philadelphia, Mrs. Berenstain met her future husband in an art class at the Philadelphia Museum of Industrial Art in 1941. She completed her studies at the Philadelphia College of Art as Mr. Berenstain served as a medical artist in the Army during World War II. They were married in 1946 and began their collaboration on cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers. It is said that Mr. Berenstain contributed the humor and she for the heart-warming stories. By 1956, the team published monthly cartoons in McCall’s magazine called “It’s All in the Family.”
After much encouragement by their two sons, the Berenstains submitted their first children’s book to Theodore Geisel, better known to many as Dr. Seuss, who at that time was editor in chief and president of Beginner Books, a division of Random House. It was our introduction to the warm Mama Bear, the comedic Papa Bear, and the rambunctious siblings Brother and Sister Bear. Geisel also suggested the characters be named after them.
After Mr. Berenstain’s death, Mrs. Berenstain continued her literary collaboration with her son Mike, who will run the family enterprise with his brother. Nineteen new Berenstain books are scheduled to be published this year.