I was sad to hear the news yesterday that Jan Berenstain, co-author of the legendary series of Berenstain Bears books, has passed away. But after 300 books and 88 years of extraordinary life, I guess it was time for Jan to say goodbye.
If you're a parent, it's extremely likely that you have heard of the Berenstain Bears series. The gentle stories followed the lives of the Berenstain bear family, Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Brother Bear and Sister Bear, addressing themes commonly faced by young children: making friends, visiting the dentist, welcoming a new sibling and cleaning their rooms.
It's hard to imagine a wholesome family values topic that the Berenstain Bears series did not cover. But I'm sure it's not hard to believe that my favorites were those that tackled environmental issues. "The Berenstain Bears Don't Pollute (Anymore,)" "The Berenstain Bear Scouts and the Coughing Catfish" (Bear Scout Chapter Books), and "The Bears' Nature Guide" were obvious favorites. But I can also remember sprinklings of eco-messages — such as a scene in which Papa Bear plants a tree to replace one that he had chopped down to make furniture — in many of the Berenstain titles.
I have always loved that taking care of the planet was as fundamental to Berenstain Bears books as doing chores or being kind to others. The message was clear: preserving and conserving natural resources is the right thing to do.
About 260 million copies of Berenstain Bears books have been printed since the first title, "The Big Honey Hunt," was published in 1962 with the help of Theodor Geisel, (aka Dr. Seuss) who at the time was a children's books editor at Random House.
Jan's co-author and husband, Stan Berenstain passed away in 2005, but, according to their son Mike, Jan had continued working and writing up to her death.
Thank you Jan and Stan Berenstain for 50 years of teaching kids how to brush their teeth, give a speech, and enjoy the natural world. And for 50 years of bringing children and parents together through the magic of story time.