Berenstain Bears 'have helped so many children through so many challenges'

Berenstain Bears co-creator Jan Berenstain has died at the age of 88.

Jan and Stan Berenstain, the co-authors and co-illustrators of the Berenstain Bears, based their books on their children and grandchildren. Mel Evans/AP

Jan Berenstain, co-creator of the beloved children’s book empire, the Berenstain Bears, has died. She was 88.

With her husband, Stan, Berenstain created a lovable bear family living in a multi-story treehouse, which spawned a “bear country” empire complete with books, videos, and TV shows, based on the homespun advice and old-fashioned humor doled out in her books. The simple, un-sophisticated stories dealt with perennial parenting issues like resolving fear of the dark, dealing with bullies, visiting the dentist, and controlling candy consumption.

"Those bears have helped so many children through so many kinds of challenges that kids face, in such a cheerful and kind of energetic way," Donna Jo Napoli, children's author and a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We're very lucky to have them."

The Berenstain’s own story is as sweet as their characters’. Berenstain met her husband Stan in a first-year drawing class at the Philadelphia Museum of Industrial Art in 1941. They married, Stan joined the army and when he was discharged, they collaborated on cartoons that honed their homespun humor. Inspired by their love of Dr. Seuss books, they decided to collaborate on a children’s book featuring a human-like bear family, a practical Mama Bear, a bumbling Papa Bear, Brother Bear, and Sister Bear. They wrote and illustrated the stories, which were based on their own Berenstain children, and later, grandchildren, to address common childhood concerns. Their first book, “The Big Honey Hunt,” was published in 1962. Since then, more than 300 titles in 23 languages have been released and some 260 million books have been sold. The books have been spun off into a PBS series, theme-park attractions, toys, clothes, e-books, apps, a video game, even an off-broadway musical.

Since her husband and co-author Stan’s death in 2005, Berenstain continued to produce books with her son Michael. He will continue to run the enterprise with his brother, Leo.

Happily for children everywhere, the Berenstain Bears live on. The brothers have plans to publish 19 new Berenstain books this year alone.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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