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Friday, February 11, 2011

The Berenstain Bears Stay Relevant After 50 Years

I recently read an article in The Washington Post online about the real Berenstain family. Husband-wife couple Stan and Jan Berenstain wrote the Berenstain Bears books for fifty years (Stan died in 2005 at the age of 82), and now their son Mike is taking up the family business. They write and illustrate in the same studio, located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (which serves as the inspiration for Bear Country—fun little fact for you).
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(*Photo of Jan Berenstain working in her studio*)
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I loved our Berenstain Bears books growing up. They were an institution in my home and I feel lucky to be the daughter (there are 3 of us) who inherited them. That said, they seem a little different as I’ve gotten older. It’s been interesting to watch the series evolve.
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They started with Brother and Sister Bear going to the doctor and dentist and to school for the first time, having a babysitter, spending a week at Grandma’s, learning about Santa Bear and strangers and new pets…and then there was a shift as they got older.
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There were sibling fights and and lies and best friend spats and peer pressure and stealing. With the environmental movement came Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore). There’s one book where Mama Bear has a mental breakdown in the car from trying to shuttle everyone around to activities. I’m sure it’s true to life, but somehow the magic of Bear Country was lost to me when I read that one. There are also books about online safety and childhood obesity. Which is…good, right? I mean, if the kids can relate, then I suppose that’s great.

As a former teacher for little ones, I can tell you that the kids still love the new books, but me? I get a little nostalgic for the older books (but I’m a nostalgic kind of gal in general who—shhhh—still kind of wishes she had her 1979 Buick Park Avenue with a CB radio, 8-track player, baby-blue interior, and a V-8 engine…and I drove that to high school in 1998).
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Part of me wonders what it would be like if Frog and Toad were still having new adventures. Would they be talking about the dangers of internet stalkers or Facebook bullies?
Frog & Toad Fight Amphibian Obesity

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Overall, I say kudos to the Berenstains for “keeping it real” and staying relevant. It’s a reminder to me that, as writers, part of our research is to study the classics (just the other day, Writers House agent Steven Malk tweeted that “everyone should read The Great Brain series” from the 1970s), but we’re very much encouraged to keep up with what’s been published in the last five years. This gives us guidelines to see what publishers are buying and distributing. The Berenstain Bears are simply adapting to the market’s needs. I just don’t like seeing Mama Bear all stressed out.

Did any of you read those books as children, or read them to your kids now? Just wondering if you’ve noticed the shift in subject matter and if it strikes a chord with you.

Happy Friday! On Tuesday, I’ll be using my leftover Valentines heart candy to attempt to write, *gulp*, a silly poem. We’ll see what phrases I end up with (I’m guessing a lot of “Hugs” and “Be Mine”).

26 comments:

  1. Bucks County? Really? I never knew that! I hear Bucks is so beautiful and I have an old co-worker who lives there.
    I love these stories. It was great learning more about the family behind them!

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  2. My kids never took much to Berenstein Bears because they were always too agenda-driven. But still, I think it is amazing that the couple worked together on this well into old age. I hope I can still be writing at age 82!

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  3. Hiya crusader,

    I like your post, and look forward to getting to know you better.

    Hope you have a great day,

    Steph

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  4. I didn't have the Berenstain books as a child, but I did have an 8-track in a car when I was a teenager. That was a long time ago!

    Glad to meet you, fellow crusader.

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  5. I remember those books!
    Oh, thank you! How old is your daughter? I love Charlie and Lola too, maybe she would like Clarice Bean too?

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  6. I remember these books....

    I always like them!

    Nice to meet you, fellow crusader.

    Michael

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  7. i LOVE the berenstain bears!!! i think i might of had one when i was a kid, but i read them to my sons all the time! berenstain bears and little critter rock my socks!!! :)

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  8. I love the Berenstain Bears and so did my students. Those books were well worn in the library! Loved this post, it brought back nice memories.

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  9. I loved the Berenstain Bears too but I didn't keep up with them as they evolved. It is amazing how they worked together for so long on this series. I remember how sad it was to hear Stan Berenstain died.

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  10. Oh yay I think I would be really turned off it Frog & Toad started talking about today's issues! Some classics must just remain classic! I only have the older Berenstain Bear books, though I've thought about getting more for my girls, we have a similar sounding last name (Berendsen!)

    BTW, so glad to see you are also a Crusader!

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  11. Thanks for posting Steven Malk's comment. I loved the Great Brain series when I was a kid, and I should probably read those books again.
    Oh, and I love the Frog and Toad books!

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  12. I LOVE the BBs. I read them as a kid, I read them as a parent, and as a school psychologist, I often use them with my elementary kids.

    But I hear you, I have a fondness for the older stuff.

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  13. I vaguely remember the Berenstain Bears...and I don't know how or why!

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  14. That's wild the bears are still going. Didn't know they were named after the authors. And sadly, I never read those books as a kid.

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  15. It's such a fuzzy line, isn't it? Staying current versus being too real? I have read that breakdown one and that one didn't bug me too badly, but then, I never grew up with them. I think though, the technology stuff would bug me. It just doesn't GO with them.

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  16. There's something great about the classics. My kids actually loved Frog and Toad as well the Bears. I think it takes a special kind of talent to be able to write those kind of books. Something I look up to.

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  17. We have several of the bear books in my home- I remember reading them when I was young as well as frog and toad. sighs- the joys of childhood. Thanks for posting this I learned something new!

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  18. I grew up on teh Berenstain Bears books as well. I didn't realise they were that old!!

    Hi from a fellow Crusader :)

    Lyn
    W.I.P. It: A Writer's Journey

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  19. My favorite Berenstain Bear was Bears in the Night. I loved reading that one allowed to my children when they were young. They would always pretend to be scared, even though I'd read it to them 100X. :-)

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