Jan Berenstain, co-creator of the Berenstain Bears family (Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Brother Bear, and Sister Bear) with her husband Stan, suffered a stroke on Thursday, February 23, 2012 and died the next day at Doylestown Hospital in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the county seat of Buck County in Philadelphia. She was eighty-eight years old.
Born Janice Marian Grant in Philadelphia on July 26, 1923, she met Stanley Berenstain(1923-2005) in 1941 when they were both eighteen-year-old students at the Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art, now the University of the Arts in Philadelphia (UArts), from which they both graduated in 1945. Jan was Episcopalian, Stan was Jewish.
During World War II, Jan Grant worked as a draftsman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and as a riveter for U.S. Navy seaplanes. After Stan Berenstain returned from service as a medical illustrator at a stateside U.S. Army hospital, the couple wed in 1946.
They supported themselves as newspaper and magazine illustrators and magazine cartoon makers before they developed the children’s book series. According to their son Michael Berenstain, who graduated from UArts in 1973, they began to make spot illustrations for the Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin’s book review section in 1946 or ’47. They produced “All in the Family” for McCall’s and Good Housekeeping for thirty-five years.
The Berenstain family moved to Elkins Park in 1950 after the births of sons Leo and Michael. They lived in that unincorporated northern suburb of Philadelphia until 1976. Work on their children’s book series began when they started to illustrate bedtime stories they told their boys, much as The Hobbit began as a bedtime story J.R.R. Tolkien told his children and the first Babar story Histoire de Babar (published in English-speaking countries as The Story of Babar) began as a bedtime story Cecile de Brunhoff told her children before Jean de Brunhoff wrote it down and illustrated it.
Under the guidance of Random House editor Theodor Geisel, who published his own children’s books under the nom de plume Dr. Seuss, the Berenstains published the first of the Berenstain Bears books in 1962, The Big Honey Hunt. This year, the Berenstain family, their publishers, and bookstores are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of that book and the launch of the franchise.
Geisel edited a total of seventeen Berenstein Bears books. He also shorted Janice to Jan and Stanley to Stan. At his suggestion, as they worked on their second book, they inserted the name “Berenstain Bears” into the title, said Mike Berenstain explained. Thus, The Bike Lesson became The Bike Lesson: Another Adventure of the Berenstain Bears.
Over the course of decades, they published 300 titles in twenty-three languages. There have also been an animated TV series, an Off-Broadway musical, theme park rides, and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. They also wrote books on parenting, including How to Teach Your Children About Sex Without Making a Complete Fool of Yourself and Have a Baby, My Wife Just Had a Cigar!
Stain Berenstain died in 2005 at the age of eighty-two. In recent years, Mike Berenstain helped his mother write Berenstain Bears books. Jan Berenstain is survived by two sons, both of whom have worked for Berenstain Enterprises, and four grandchildren.