Beloved children’s book author and illustrator, Jan Berenstain died Friday, February 24 after suffering a stroke. She was 88.
Born Janice Grant in Philadelphia on July 26, 1923, she met Stan Berenstain in a first year drawing class at the Philadelphia Museum of Industrial Arts when they were both eighteen. They married in 1946 and began collaborating on cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers magazines.
By 1956, they were the parents of two boys, Mike and Leo, and began drawing a monthly feature for McCall’s magazine called “It’s All in the Family.”
In the 1960’s, inspired by their sons’ love of Dr. Seuss stories, they decided to try writing and illustrating a children’s book. They took the story about a family of lovable bears to Random House, whose editor-in-chief and president of Beginner Books was Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss himself.
Geisel provided important input. He told the Berenstains that to sharpen their characters they should base them on actors. The basis for Papa’s personality became Wallace Beery, the down-on-his-luck boxer in the classic movie “The Champ”, and Brother was based on Beery’s son in the film, Jackie Cooper.
Their first Berenstain book, The Big Honey Hunt, was published by Geisel in 1962.
Together, Jan and Stan Berenstain became one of the most successful husband-wife teams in children’s literature. Naming the bears after themselves was not the couples’ idea. When Geisel accepted their second book, The Bike Lesson, for publication, he added a line to the cover: “Another adventure of the Berenstain Bears.”
The books became preschool staples, with more than 300 titles published in 23 languages. More than 260 million copies have been printed. The Berenstain books offer parents and their young children guidance, comfort and humor in dealing with the everyday problems of life.
Both Jan and Stan were accomplished illustrators and worked together on nearly every book. After Stan’s death in 2005, Jan began collaborating with their son, Mike, also an illustrator.
She was productive every day and was illustrating right up until the day of her stroke.
Mike and his brother Leo, a writer, will continue the family tradition. Nineteen new Berenstain books will be published this year.
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