Stan Berenstain

Co-author of the Berenstain Bears children's books
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Stanley Melvin Berenstain, children's writer and illustrator: born Philadelphia 29 September 1923; married 1946 Janice Grant (two sons); died Doylestown, Pennsylvania 26 November 2005.

The co-creator of one the most successful ever publishing series for small children, Stan Berenstain, with his wife Jan, wrote and illustrated over 200 books featuring the famous Berenstain Bears. Never aiming to be a great writer or artist, he concentrated on creating homely images in picture books that were to play an important part in early education in Britain as well as the United States.

Born in Philadelphia, Stan Berenstain always enjoyed sketching as well as reading. He met his wife in 1941 in the first-year drawing class at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. Described years later as a "lantern-jawed exotic" in the couple's joint autobiography Down a Sunny Dirt Road (2002), Berenstain was soon called up for the US army, so interrupting a relationship that had become close. Serving in the field artillery, he was chosen to be the medical artist at an army plastic surgery centre in Indiana.

After three years, he returned home and to marriage with Jan in 1946. They had both experimented with drawing cartoons during the war, and after a year managed to get some accepted by The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. A New York editor who enjoyed their work suggested they write and illustrate a book. The result was Berenstains' Baby Book (1951), all about raising a child and based on experience with their first son, Leo.

The next step was to submit an easy-to-read idea to Beginner Books, a division of Random House presided over by Theodore Geisel, better known as the self-styled Dr Seuss. Why not have a book built around a bear family living deep in bear country? Geisel agreed, and the result was The Big Honey Hunt (1962). This featured a cast of humanised bears, fully clothed in bright colours and walking on their hind legs. Living in diminutive houses or converted trees, they went about their suburban way in a state of continual well-being. Now living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the Berenstains could take some of the detail in their pictures directly from the attractive scenery surrounding them. With stories often told in rhyming verse using a restricted vocabulary, books in this series proved popular with parents and infants alike, offering help through the first stages of reading.

In 1974 the Berenstains started their own line of "First Time" books, still concentrating on everyday experience from going to school to learning how to ride a bike. Whenever the couple thought they had run out of subjects to do with the challenges of ordinary family life, they would then think of five or six more. Never afraid to preach as well as teach, some of their titles speak for themselves: The Berenstain Bears go to the Doctor (1981), The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food (1985) and The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers (1985).

Many more new series followed, with the Berenstains now up there in terms of sales with their popular rivals Richard Scarry and Dr Seuss. There was also a television series, with books also starting to appear on video and DVD. Their son Michael, a successful writer/illustrator of children's books himself, joined in the family venture, producing numerous large picture books, one of which - The Berenstain Bears Save Christmas (2003) - was made into a musical.

Despite upheavals in society over the last four decades, little changed in the safe and sanitised surroundings of bear country as depicted by Stan Berenstain and his wife. As he put it himself in an interview in 2002: "Kids still tell fibs and they mess up their rooms and they still throw tantrums in the supermarket. Nobody gets shot. No violence. There are problems, but they're the kind of typical family problems everyone goes through."

Sticking to this tried and amply tested formula saw Stan Berenstain through many years of productive work.

Nicholas Tucker

Comments