Berenstain discusses family values apparent in ‘The Berenstain Bears’

By: Carolyn VanBrocklin

“The Berenstain Bears” series has chronicled the “foibles, worries and joys of family life” since 1962,said David Cooper, Dean of the School of Education as he introduced Michael Berenstain, son of Stanand Jan Berenstain.

Berenstain explained how his own family’s daily life influenced the fictional stories in a lecturesponsored and organized by the School of Education.

The Berenstain Bear family. Image from Atomic Popcorn.

But first, why bears?

“Bears are the traditional staple of childrens’ books,” said Berenstain.

In literature, bears in books range from large and lumbering to cute and cuddly. The Berenstain bearsare somewhere in between, a stand-in for people, he said.

This allowed the Berenstains to address family subjects, themes and values.

“It was never my family’s intention to take on the role of do-it-yourself family counselors,” Berestainsaid. “But now we’re stuck with it.”

Readers like the books because they teach valuable lessons and there is appeal in how these lessons arepresented, he said.

Many readers assume there is a connection between the Berenstain bears and the Berenstain family,Berenstain said. When people ask him if he inspired the character Brother Bear, he replies that he hasan older brother, so that must make him Sister Bear.

But Mama Bear’s gentle wisdom and Papa Bear’s bumbling father-figure were drawn from Berenstain’sparents, he said.

Stan and Jan Berenstain came from working-class family backgrounds and shared a love of art. Theymet on their first day of drawing class in college and after getting married, Stan Berenstain envisionedthe two of them working together on cartoons.

The early “Berenstain Bears” books were usually full of wild and funny adventures; Papa Bear andBrother Bear go hunting for honey and must run from a swarm of bees. They encounter a toothed seacreature while scuba diving and “they get into traffic accidents,” said Berenstain while showing a pictureof the Bear family falling off a multi-rider bike.

“The Berenstain Bears” evolved after the arrival of Sister Bear, which opened the way to many value-driven stories.

The bears learned not to eat too much junk-food, went to camp and dealt with issues concerning familyand friendship. All of these stories and lessons were inspired by everyday family life.

Berenstain’s presentation coupled images of his children playing soccer, selling lemonade and playing
doctor with similar illustrations from the books.

His mother influenced his artistic inclinations and today he helps her write and illustrate new BerenstainBears books.

“My parents set a remarkable example of how to be full-time Creators, with a capital C,” Berenstainsaid.

Today, the Berenstains have published over 300 books and sold more than 260 million copies, but familyis still the center of their enterprise. Berenstain said he cannot pick a favorite book, that they all madehim nostalgic for his childhood.

The audience echoed Berestain’s nostalgia.

“Oh, I remember that one!” whispered the audience members at every image from one of “The Berenstain Bears” books.

Originally published on The Pendulum.