Jan Berenstain Dies at 88; Created Berenstain Bears

28 Feb

“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.


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