Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jan Berenstain R.I.P.

Jan Berenstain, who with her husband Stan created the popular series of "Berenstain Bears" children's books, passed on 24 February 2012 at the age of 88.

Jan Berenstain was born Jan Grant on 26 July 1923. It was on her first day at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art that she met Stan Berenstain. At the time they were both 18.  During World War II Miss Grant served as a draftsman in the Army Corps of Engineers and as an aircraft riverter. Mr. Berenstain served as a medical illustrator in an Army hospital. Following World War II they married in 1946. It was also following World War II that the Berenstains started submitting gag cartoons to such publications as Colliers and The Saturday Evening Post. Eventually they would illustrate covers for Colliers.

The Berenstains published their first book in 1951. The Berenstain's Baby Book was written for parents who were either expecting or already had a baby. From 1953 to 1956 they produced the comic strip Sister. From 1956 to 1989 the Berenstains produced the cartoon It's All in the Family for McCall's. Both It's All in the Family and their earlier cartoons would be collected into books. It was in 1962 that they published their first "Berenstain Bears" book, The Big Honey Hunt.  Their first editor at Random House was none other than Dr. Seuss himself, Theodore Geisel. The Berenstains credited him with achieving the style of the books, which consisted of simple language and simple illustrations. In all over 300 "Berenstain Bears" books would be published.

The Berenstain Bears would expand beyond the printed page. In 1985 a Christmas special was produced, The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree. This would be followed by four more specials and two regular television series. A feature film is still in pre-production.

There can be no argument that with her husband Stan Berenstain, Jan Berenstain created one of the most successful children's book franchises of all time. With over 300 copies in print, the "Berenstain Bears" books have sold literally in the millions. Their success is perhaps threefold. First, as Theodore Geisel directed the Berenstains, the text and illustrations are very simple. This made the "Berenstain Bears" books very easy to read for beginning readers. Second, each book dealt with basic life lessons, such as being kind to others or keeping one's room clean. There can be no doubt that this made the books popular with parents. Third, the stories in the books are all told with a very gentle sense of humour. I have to confess, both as a child and as an adult I have never found any of the "Berenstain Bears" books to be overly preachy.

While best known for the "Berenstain Bears," it must be kept in mind that Jan and Stan Berenstain were not only children's books authors. They were also  very prolific cartoonists. Indeed, It's All in the Family ran in McCalls  for decades. Jan and Stan Berenstain's cartoons were very funny. They often possessed a wry sense of humour and plenty of wordplay. I have to wonder that if the Berenstain Bears had no become a phenomenon that they would not have become better known as cartoonists. They actually did some of the best work in cartooning in the mid-20th Century. Regardless, as both children's author and a cartoonist for adults, Jan Berenstain will be remembered.

1 comment:

Alex Jowski said...

I did not know that Jan & Stan Bernstein had stuff other than the Bernstein Bears. Thank you!