Monday, March 5, 2012

J-Speaks: The Passing of Iconic Co-Author of Legendary Child Series

From my earliest years of life, I have found memories of children’s book series that taught about the facts of life. From the basic fundamentals like how to clean my room to the valuable life lessons like not talking to strangers and the importance of hard work. This series was also about the value of family and the importance being a close loving unit. The co-authors of this series of children’s book have charmed young children and their parents for half a century. Two Fridays ago the co-author of these books and the creator of the series passed on.

Jan Berenstain, who with her husband Stan Berenstain wrote and illustrated The Berenstain Bears books passed away back on Feb. 24 from a stroke. She was 88 years gold. Jan’s husband Stan passed away from cancer back on Nov. 26, 2005. 

The couple, who are both natives of Philadelphia, PA, is survived by their two sons Leo and Michael and four grandchildren.

This series of children’s books, which would later be turned into cartoon series for television was the gentle tales of Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Brother Bear and Sister Bear that was inspired by the two sons of Jan and Stan Berenstain and later their four grandchildren. Each story addressed concerns of everyday life and offered guidance on everyday matters like a visit to the dentist, dealing with peer pressure, consequences of lying to others, throwing tantrums in public places or the importance of not polluting our planet.

As the world evolved, the series began to focus on current tribulations that kids face today like online safety, cell phone usage, video game systems and childhood obesity.

Jan Berenstain, who was Janice Grant when she was born on July 26, 1923 in west Philadelphia and attended Radnor High School. She met Stan on their first day of classes at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art in 1941.

They got married on Apr. 13, 1946 after Stan returned home from World War II serving as a medical illustrator at a stateside Army hospital. Jan during that time worked for the Army Corps of Engineers as a draftsman as well as a riveter building Navy seaplanes.

Before they began The Berenstain Bears series, the Berenstains produced periodicals.

In 1951, the Berenstain’ Baby Book was published by the couple which dealt with topics of pregnancy and how to raise a young child. While there was a great deal of practical advice, the book also contained a great deal of humor and was a reminder of how not to take every situation of raising a child too seriously.

Five years later, the Berenstains produced a cartoon series It’s All in the Family that ran in McCall’s and Good Housekeeping magazines for 35 years. Each issue centered on a situation like the daughter for the first time preparing, cooking and serving her family a meal or the preparation, rehearsal and the performance of the youngest child’s Christmas pageant. With each issue, the drawings of It’s All in the Family were a stand-alone panel with a caption gag instead of a one panel sequential strip. Individual panels though in order depicted a completed arc from the preparation, completion and aftermath of that issue’s family experience.

Six years after introducing Its All in the Family, the Berenstains created the first of their signature children’s book series The Berenstain Bears in 1962 with the first book entitled, “The Big Honey Hunt.”

With the assistance of Theodor Geisel, then head of Beginner Books at Random House, who is known as Dr. Seuss, created an iconic franchise that has published over 300 books in 23 languages, a television series, toys and stage productions. It also gave Jan Berenstain a chance to be immortalized by her alma mater when she was inducted into the Radnor High School’s Hall of Fame on Oct. 20, 2006.

To understand the kind of impact this series of children’s books has had on our society, about 260 million copies of Berenstain Bears books have been held in a young boy’s or girl’s hands and their parents since the first books were published with the help of Geisel.

“It’s a wonderful to do something you love for so many years,” Jan Berenstain said to the Associated Press in 2011. “Not everyone has that.”  

Stan and Jan Berenstain continued creating hundreds of books until Stan’s passing in 2005 from aforementioned cancer seven years ago.

Michael, the youngest of Stan and Jan Berenstain, is a writer/illustrator who collaborated on the books with his parents and continued to work with his mother on new projects before her passing focusing on promoting Christian religious practices. Stan Berenstain was Jewish and Jan was an Episcopalian.

The eldest son Leo takes care of the business side of the family’s business.

“Everyday she was very productive,” Michael Berenstain said of his mother’s work as an author. “She was working on two books and had been doing illustrations until the day before she passed away.”

To be a great story teller whether it be with a book in your or from watching something on the television set, you have to strike a cord with your audience. You have to produce something that will make that person or in this case a child think. Allow them to see something in a way that will make them be better. More than anything that will teach a lesson that has a long lasting impact.

Jan Berenstain and her husband Stan produced books that gave lessons on life, the importance of a sense of self and the power we have of making this world a better place while having a sense of humor.

“They say jokes don’t travel well, but family does,” Jan Berenstain told the Associated Press back in 2011. “Family values is what we’re all about.”

Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of the Obituaries Nation section in the Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 edition of Newsday and

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