55 Years of the Berenstain Bears and the making of “The Big Honey Hunt”

September 28 Marks the 55th anniversary of the first Berenstain Bears book, The Big Honey Hunt published in 1962. Below is one of the first sketches of the Bears, found in the archives 5 years ago while getting ready for our 50th Anniversary.  First bear

The Bear family has gone through lots of changes since 1962, but the Berenstain Bears have remained a well-known and treasured staple of children’s literature for over half a century!

Stan & Jan Berenstain were published comics well before they entertained the concept of creating children’s books. The idea evolved gradually, but their first thoughts are explained by Stan & Jan in their autobiography Down a Sunny Dirt Road published in 2002. (all additional quotes are also pulled from this text)

Down a Sunny Dirt Rd“We knew from our first noodlings that our book would be about bears – a family of bears. We knew that they would live in a tree. We don’t know how we knew, but we knew. We knew we’d have three characters: a bluff, overenthusiastic Papa Bear who wore bib overalls and a plaid shirt and was a little like Stan, a wise Mama Bear who wore a blue dress with white polka dots and a similar polka-dotted dust-cap who was very like Jan, and a bright, lively little cub who was a lot like Leo. Michael, not yet one, didn’t make the cut.”

 

Jan, Mike, Leo, and Stan in studio 1952

Jan, Mike, Leo, and Stan in their studio (1952)

 

After an awkward meeting with publishers, financial, and contractual worries, Stan & Jan eventually ended up at Random House. It was there that Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was running a new division for the publisher, “Beginner Books”, modeled after his own easy-to-read children’s books. Ted became Stan & Jan’s editor and with his help they started the tumultuous journey of crafting the first Bears book.

“It also became clear as we worked with Ted (we eventually did 17 books with him) that although he accepted certain broad, general ideas about story construction – that a story needed a beginning, a middle, and an end, for example – he wasn’t an editor in any conventional sense of the term.”

After multiple re-writes, story boarding, meetings, and notes, Stan & Jan refined their concept and came up with The Big Honey Hunt.

big-honey-hunt-1st-edition

“We went home and started from scratch. Our new story told about the Bear family’s waking up to an empty honey pot one morning. Papa and Small Bear take the empty pot and set out in search of honey. A bee flies by. Papa and Small Bear ‘follow that bee to its honey tree.’ But when they get there, the bees rise up and chase Papa into a pond. On their way home Papa and Small Bear buy some honey at the honey store, which was what Mama wanted them to do in the first place.”

 

After the success of the Big Honey Hunt, the Berenstains went on to publish 17 more books with Dr. Seuss as their editor, and the series about the Bear Family became known as the “Berenstain Bears”. Stan & Jan later moved on from the “Beginner Book” format of rhyming couplets and one syllable words to the 8″x8″ format which allowed longer stories with more complicated plots. From there the Success of the series boomed and there have been over 350 Berenstain Bears stories published since, not including TV Specials, TV series, games, toys, and more! Following the death of Stan Berenstain in 2005, their younger son, Mike took a more active role from illustrating to writing the  Bear books along with his mother, Jan. After Jan’s death in 2012 Mike has continued to write and illustrate the Bear books, now published through Harper Collins and Zondervan.

On our social media sites we have been going through the archives for our “Berenstain Bears 55 Countdown” , posting images from Berenstain books and sketches from each year starting at 1962 and ending at present day. Scroll through below to see selections and notice how the Bears gradually changed in appearance, as they grew from a family of three to five.

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We thank you so much for your support and appreciation of the Berenstain Bears. We especially love hearing stories of parents passing down their favorite books to their kids, and even grand-kids! There would be no anniversary to celebrate without readers like you, so… Happy Reading!

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Fun Facts …

Did you know Dr. Seuss named The Berenstain Bears?

SeussTed Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, was Jan and Stan’s editor for their first books. Stan and Jan explain in their biography Down a Sunny Dirt Road: “When Ted showed us our second book, the cover looked like it was supposed to. There was Papa riding downhill with Small Bear hanging on for dear life, 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.

The Bike Lesson“You know,” he explained, “your bears are a vaudeville troupe like Murgatroyd’s Mules and Dugan’s Dogs.”  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. And that wasn’t all.  He sharpened and shortened our byline from “Stanley and Janice Berenstain” (which it was on our first book The Big Honey Hunt) to “Stan and Jan Berenstain.” So Dr. Seuss not only named our bears, he renamed us.”

 Do you recognize the voice of Brother Bear and wonder who it is?

MichaelIt’s Michael Cera – Michael is a Canadian actor best known for his roles in Arrested Development, Youth in Revolt, Superbad, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Juno. He was the voice of Brother Bear in the 2003 television series.

Do you know two women who voiced Mama Bear?

RuthRuth Buzzi – Ruth is an American comedienne and actress in theater, film, and television. She is best known for her performances on the comedy-variety show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In from 1968 to 1973. Ruth also played many other roles including Freaky Friday, Cactus Jack, and Sesame Street.  She was the voice of Mama Bear in the 1985 television series for which she was nominated for a daytime Emmy.

CamillaCamilla Scott – Camilla hails from Toronto, Canada. She is known for her work in 3 Men and a Baby, Tommy Boy, Due South, and Guiding Light. She performs regularly in theaters in both Ontario and New York and performed in: Mamma Mia!, The Pajama Game, Three Days of Rain (also co-produced this show), Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Crazy for You, Shenandoah, and Evita.  Camilla was the voice of Mama Bear in the 2003 television series.

Did you grow up singing the theme song from the Berenstain Bears= television show?

Somewhere deep in Bear Country lives the Berenstain Bear family.
They’re kind of furry around the torso. They=re a lot like people, only moreso.
 The bear fact is that they=re just like you and me.
The only difference is they live in a tree.
The Berenstain Bears.
 When things go wrong as things might do,
The Berenstain Bears will find a way through.
Mama, Papa, Sister and Brother will always be there for each other.
The bear fact is that they can be sweet as honey.
Sometimes you’ll find they might be just plain funny.
 The Berenstain Bears. The Berenstain Bears.
 

Do you know who performed the song?

LeannLeanne Womack – Leanne is an award-winning American country songwriter and singer.  She has won Country Album of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year and known for many, many songs including I Hope You Dance.

www.berenstainbears.com