The Berenstain Bears …

Adapted and excerpted from Stan and Jan Berenstain’s Down a Sunny Dirt Road: an Autobiography, published by Random House in 2002.

Once it was decided that a bear series was a good idea, the editorial process went reasonably smoothly.  In The Bike Lesson, our second bear book, Papa brings home a two-wheel bike and proceeds to teach Small Bear how to ride it.  After each demonstration of bike-riding technique (Papa teaches by bad example), Papa says, “That is what you should not do.  So let that be a lesson to you.”

Ted produced the finished book at our second celebratory lunch.  The cover looked like it was supposed to.  There was Papa riding downhill with Small Bear hanging on for dear life against a background of 90 percent magenta, with the book’s title in big yellow letters.  But something new had been added.  In a dropped-out white box, it said, “ANOTHER ADVENTURE OF THE BERENSTAIN BEARS.”  We were puzzled.  It was very nice.  But we didn’t quite get it.  We asked Ted what it meant.

“You know,” he explained, “your bears are a vaudeville troupe like Murgatroyd’s Mules and Dugan’s Dogs.”  Though, goodness knows, Ted could be difficult and quirky (and would be again), he was also capable of remarkable acts of generosity.  It never would have occurred to us to name the bears after ourselves.  After all, we were the Berenstains and our bears were the Bears.  Ted’s generosity and marketing savvy in eponymizing our bears (eponymous [adj.]: giving one’s name to a place, tribe, creature, or other entity) were what put our funny bears on the road to becoming what is known in the larger world as a “property.”

And that wasn’t all.  He sharpened and shortened our byline from “Stanley and Janice Berenstain” (which it was on Honey Hunt) to “Stan and Jan Berenstain.”  “Hey, that’s what you call each other,” he said.  “Besides, it rhymes.”

So Dr. Seuss not only named our bears, he renamed us.

The Bike Lesson was published in 1964.

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