Why Bears?

Treehouse and familyBears have been a staple of children’s books ever since Goldilocks decided to engage in a little illegal entry at an inadequately secured home in the woods.

Children’s book bears have ranged from the large and lumbering to the cute and cuddly.

The Berenstain Bears fall somewhere in-between. They are big – at least as big as people – and burly – they definitely weigh in on the “fully-packed” side. But they are friendly and funny. They have no fangs (just ask their dentist) and their claws have dwindled a little more than toenails. They walk on their hind legs, wear clothes, live in houses – albeit tree houses – and engage in wide range of human activities. They drive cars, play soccer, eat pizza, go to school and watch too much TV.

But, still, why bears?

The fact is that bears are a natural stand-in for people. They are something like people but not too much like them. They have rounded heads with eyes in front, they sometimes stand on their hind legs and they manipulate things with hand-like paws. We often say of large burly people that they are “bear-like.”

But bears are definitely animals. They have none of that unsettling mixed identity of monkeys or apes. Bears have their own distinct lineage. They are analogous to human beings without being like them.

Children are fascinated by large, powerful animals like bears. But they are threatened by them, as well. The role of bears as semi-human children’s book characters may help reassure children about their own position in the food chain.

Our contribution to the literary bear clan first appeared in the 1962 book, The Big Honey Hunt. This was an easy-to-read book devoted to slapstick comedy and rollicking adventure. The only thing on our bears’ minds, back then, was honey and their principal message was “watch out for angry bees!”

At first, they were a threesome – Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Small Bear. They received their official name, the Berenstain Bears, from editor, Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss).
“It’s a vaudeville act,” he explained. “Like Murgatroyd’s Mules or Dugan’s Dogs.”

The Bears continued in this happy-go-lucky existence until 1974 when The Berenstain Bears and the New Baby appeared. The baby was Sister Bear. Small Bear graduated to Brother Bear.

In year 2000, with the birth of third cub, Honey Bear, the family group was complete. By the way, some folks assume that our bears’ last name is “Berenstain” as in “Papa Berenstain,” “Mama Berenstain,” etc. But “Berenstain” is actually our family’s last name. We always try to make it clear that they are the bears and we are the people!

www.berenstainbears.com

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Excerpts from an interview with Stan and Jan Berenstain by Scholastic students – Part 2

Over the years, a number of questions have been asked many times about the Berenstain Bears. The following answers from Stan, excerpted from an interview with Stan and Jan a number of years ago, might answer some you have had …

New Baby1) Have you had an adventure like those of the bears in your books?
Yes, I can think of a number of books. The Bike Lesson is based on my attempt to teach our first son, when he was about five or six, to ride a bike. There are many others. The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor is based on our experience taking our two sons to the doctor. Many of our books are based on real experiences. One of our books is called The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby. That was based on our experience becoming new parents. We already had one son and the other one was on the way. Our son noticed that Jan’s lap had gotten a lot smaller. After the baby was born, he sat on his mother’s lap again and said, “Momma, you’ve got your lap back,” and that’s in that book. So the answer is that most of our books are based on experience – some more than others.

2) Are the little bear characters anything like you were when you were a kid?
I think so. Sister Bear likes to jump rope and is a lively little girl, just like Jan. I was an avid model airplane builder when I was young, and that’s one of Brother Bear’s hobbies. I think Brother Bear is a better athlete than I was as a child, although I was very enthusiastic. So yes, I think they are like us. I don’t think it was any grand plan, but it’s just worked out that way.

Mama's New Job Cover3) Where did the idea come from for Mama’s New Job?
That book is about ten years old. Many of the people we work with, editors and so on, are working mothers, so we’re very aware of that. About that time, feminism was very much in the public eye, and we read a statistic that about half of all the mothers in the United States had jobs as well as being wives and mothers. We thought it was an important subject, and we gave it a shot.

No Girls Allowed4) What gave you the idea to write the book No Girls Allowed?
That’s a good question. Jan, when she was a little girl, was about the only girl who lived on that street. She had two brothers and they did their best to shut her out. But Jan, being a very spirited girl, didn’t let them. So that’s where that came from.

5) How long have you been writing?
We’ve been writing pretty much since we were married about 54 years ago, but we weren’t writing for children. We were writing for adults. We’ve both been drawing since we were about 3 or 4 years old.

6) Do you both write and illustrate?
We both do both. That’s always been the case. We drew before we wrote. We met in art school. The writing followed the drawing, and we continue to do both. We think up an idea for a story first, then think up a cover and draw that first. Beyond the covers and titles, we write the story together, then rough out the pictures in a general way. I generally do the rough sketch, and then Jan does the beautiful drawing on art paper, then we share the job of coloring it.

7) What kind of tools do you use to illustrate your books?
We use pencils to begin with. We also use Flair pens, often different colors to color-code the layouts. Once we get past the layout stage, we use India inks and old-fashioned pens where you put the nib in the holder. We don’t like some of the new kinds of pens – partly because we’re old-fashioned and stuck in our ways, but partly because we think it’s important to be able to vary the weight of the lines and you can’t do that with the mechanical pens. For coloring, we use a liquid watercolor that comes in bottles, called Dr. Martin’s Dyes. They’re very clear, very transparent, very bright, and we love them dearly.

8) How long do you plan to continue writing Berenstain Bears books?
We’re going to keep on doing it until we get it wrong. That’s my standard answer.

Note:  Though Stan died in 2005 and Jan in 2012, their son Mike continues to create the delightful Bear adventures from his studio in Pennsylvania.

www.berenstainbears.com

Who is Bigpaw?

Great Bear1A reader recently asked if Great Natural Bear and Bigpaw were one and the same.  Mike Berenstain provided the following answer:

They didn’t start off being the same, but they became the same.

Great Natural Bear was introduced as a minor character in the Bears’ Almanac in 1973 to show a bear hibernating and doing other “natural” bear behaviors.

Big PawBigpaw was introduced later as the main character in the Thanksgiving TV special, The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw, and he began to appear in other books, especially the chapter books, as an ongoing character. Bigpaw looked and acted just like Great Natural Bear. Though it was never actually stated, it was assumed that Great Natural Bear was the same character as Bigpaw but with a different name. Great Natural Bear can be viewed as a “precursor” to Bigpaw.

http://www.berenstainbears.com

Excerpts from an interview with Stan and Jan Berenstain by Scholastic students

Professor_Actual_FactualOver the years, a number of questions have been asked many times about the Berenstain Bears.  The following answers, excerpted from an interview with Stan and Jan a number of years ago, might answer some you have had …

1)  Why did you decide to give the Bears your name?
That wasn’t our decision. The first book we did was called The Big Honey Hunt. We didn’t call them the Berenstain Bears. Our editor was Dr. Seuss. When we did the second book, it was called The Bike Lesson, and Dr. Seuss put on the cover The Second Adventure of the Berenstain Bears. So it was Dr. Seuss who named them, not us.

2)  Is Bear Country based on a real town?
Well, in a funny way it is and it isn’t. We started doing the Bear books and created the look of Bear Country before we moved to our present home.  The funny thing is where we live now looks exactly like Bear Country.

3)  What made you decide to use a tree house for the Bear’s home?
I wish I had an answer for that! It just seemed as inevitable as the sun coming up in the morning. When we decided to do a children’s book, it never occurred to us to have them live anywhere except a tree house. We get a lot of mail that says something like “I wish I could go to Bear Country and live in a tree house with the bears.”  I guess it’s every child’s fantasy.

4)  How old are the Berenstain Bears?
Mama is 27 and Papa is 29. Sister Bear is in first grade, Brother Bear is in third, and our new little Honey is about 18 months old. They won’t ever get older!

5)  Why won’t the Bears grow older?
Stan: Because the books are written for children who are about the same age as Sister and Brother Bear. And we think they’ll be more interesting and more fun for our audience. We also do Berenstain Bears Chapter Books, and there are older cubs in those books.

6)  Why are the pictures in The Big Honey Hunt different from the other books?
Stan: That is a very good question. The answer is that we really didn’t know how to draw the Bears in the beginning. In addition to that, our editor was Dr. Seuss, and he wanted the Bears to be as funny and comical-looking as possible.

7)  Why do you start all of your books with a rhyme on the first page?
Jan: Well, the first book we did with a rhyme in it was The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby, and I thought it would introduce the story nicely and set the scene.  Stan: It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it still does.

8) Out of all the characters in all your books, is there one who has become your favorite?
I guess my favorite is Papa Bear because to a great extent he’s based on me. He tends to get carried away, as I do. He tends to be a little bit clumsy, as I am. And he has very good intentions, as I do. Now I’m only occasionally as foolish and accident prone as Papa Bear is capable of being, but I do have my moments. I bet you Jan would say Mama Bear, because Mama Bear is based on Jan. Mama Bear is warm and wise and almost perfect, like Jan. I think they are like terrible exaggerations of the two of us.

Note:  Though Stan died in 2005 and Jan in 2012, their son Mike continues to create the delightful Bear adventures from his studio in Pennsylvania.

www.berenstainbears.com

Original article

The Diary of a Christmas Special … How the Berenstain Bears Got on TV

Christmas Tree TV ShowNovember 13, 1978We fly from Charlotte, N.C., the last stop on a Fall promotion tour on behalf of our Berenstain Bears books to meet with a leading animation producer / director.  Object: to try to persuade him to produce a Christmas special about our eponymous bears.

He is tanned, gracious and charming, and assures us that Christmas is a waste of time. The networks have so much Christmas stuff that it’s almost impossible to get a Christmas special on. He suggests that a less competitive holiday would be more appropriate for our bears – Father’s Day, for instance.

He shows us some character sheets for animated specials he has on this Christmas.

November 14 – We ponder less competitive holidays – Father’s Day, Columbus Day, Arbor Day (the bears live in a tree), but visions of sugar plums persist on dancing in our heads.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been stymied or side-tracked in our attempt to get our bears on TV. At various times various networks and producers have variously said, “Animation’s too expensive,” “We’re overstocked right now,” “Who needs more bears on television? We’ve got Yogi, Pooh, Gentle Ben, Grizzly Adams, The Chicago Bears, The Bad News Bears …”

November 15 – We get back to the real world of writing and drawing Bear books and contributing our long-running “It’s All in the Family” (people) feature to Good Housekeeping.

November 19 – As we work on The Berenstain Bears’ Activity Book, the twenty-fourth Bear book in our series, we continue to hear strains of Jingle Bells and Deck-the-Halls in our collective heads.

A Christmas story line begins to generate. We see funny overconfident Papa and his bright helpful little cubs off in the woods. Papa’s carrying his trusty ax. Where’s Mama?

December 5 – The Christmas specials season kicks off. The tanned Hollywood producer is right. The networks have animated specials coming out of their ears – there’s Snoopy, The Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman – Christmas specials as far as the eye can see. There is no room on the networks for our bears.

December 8 – Our Christmas story continues to percolate.  Of course, Mama is back in the tree house. Papa and the cubs are out searching for a Christmas tree. Not just any tree, but a really special tree – “Why, bears will come from near and far,” brags Papa, “to see how Christmasy we are!”

December 14 – Since Christmas specials tend to come in bunches we catch some non-animated Christmas shows — a beautiful musical presentation from the First Baptist Church of Dallas starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, a wonderful Gift of the Magi.  The credits indicate they are produced by The Cates Brothers. We had some dealings with Joe Cates some years ago on a non-bear project that never got out of the woods.  Well, somebody’s getting Christmas shows on the air.

December 20 – More story elements materialize. We hear bits of dialogue – Mama Bear saying, “Buy our tree down the road from Grizzly Gus. He is sure to have the right tree for us!”

December 22 – We are in New York seeing our publisher. On the way home we stop at a newsstand, but instead of picking up our usual couple of magazines, something impels us to buy Variety, the show biz weekly. We are startled to find among the arcane headlines about “Boff Grosses” a large Cates Brothers ad announcing their five new Christmas specials.

December 27 – We write Joe Cates seeking his advice. He may not do animation, but he sure does Christmas specials. Perhaps he could advise us. A short meeting. A few minutes of his time. Wouldn’t even have to be in his office. Could be in an anteroom, a hallway.

January 15, 1979 – We don’t hear from Cates.

January 30 – We still don’t hear.

February 7 – We still don’t hear. We forget about television.

February 8 – Letter arrives from Joe Cates (delayed because of being missent to our old address). The letter is brief and cordial. It says: “Notwithstanding the fact that my kids have about fifteen of your books and I have gone nuts reading them over and over, why not an animated Cates Brothers/Berenstain Bears Christmas special? Stop by and we’ll talk about it.”

February 12 – We arrive at Cates’ office. Mr. Cates is out of the office and will be a little late. We are conducted into Cates’ inner sanctum and asked to wait. Awards and testimonials stud the walls — Emmies, Peabodies, signed pictures of half the stars of the TV firmament smile down at us. We feel like a couple of kids on the White House tour. Cates arrives, greets us and says, “Well, this is going to be a very relaxed meeting.” We look quizzical.  “Because,” he continues, “I just sold a Berenstain Bears Christmas special to the network.”

February 20 – April 8 – A great deal happens over the next few months. We write the script and song lyrics for The Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree. Arrangements are made with Perpetual Motion Pictures, a leading producer of animated commercials, to create the film. Perpetual’s prexy, Buzz Potamkin tells us how many individual animation drawings it will take to produce the film. We faint. (20,000 drawings!).  Director Mordi Gerstein tells us he will need model drawings of the bears — front, side and back views — and of the other characters as well. We draw perpetually for three weeks. Back views of the bears are especially challenging (we’ve never seen them from the back before). Emmy award-winning conductor/composer Elliot Lawrence performs the music he has composed on a tinny piano in a raspy voice. It’s beautiful.

We worry about how Mordi and his animation group will draw our bears. Will they come out looking like the Michelin Man or the Hawaiian Punch person? Associate producer Jere Jacob reassures us on this and many other scores. “Not to worry. They are great bear drawers.” She’s right, on this and many other scores. Auditioning voices: we listen to eight Papas, six Mamas and four-and-twenty Sister and Brother Bears in six hours. Actors are selected. Two days in the space station atmosphere of a high-powered sound recording studio: sound engineer Bob Lifton laughs at two of the show’s ninety-seven jokes. Since he does sound for Saturday Night Live this is considered a good omen.

June 15 – The first seven-second bit of animation is ready. It’s our bears! They walk! They talk! They move! We play it over twenty-seven times …

November 10 – Somehow the thousands of drawings, the myriad vocal and musical effects it takes to make one twenty-six-and-a-half minute animated special have come together — and The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree is done … If you want to find out how the bears discover the true spirit of Christmas (after running afoul of an angry skunk, a roaring blizzard and an ax-wielding eagle), just tune in and see “’how Christmasy” it all turned out.

By Stan and Jan Berenstain

http://www.berenstainbears.com

We Get Questions …

QuestionsOver the years, a number of the same questions have been asked many times.  The following answers from Mike Berenstain might help address some you have had …

         1) Why don’t the Bears have regular names like Bob or Betty or Sally – why just Mama, Papa, and so on?

      I could answer that the bear family is a family of symbolic Everybears – ursine stand-ins for the typical American family.  But the real reason is that when the characters were created in 1962, it was for the limited vocabulary Beginner Book line and it was felt that Mama and Papa would be easy to read.

       2) Why do the Berenstain Bears always wear the same clothes?

They are bears, not people, and bears always wear the same clothes.  Just go to the zoo sometime to check this out.

         3) How long does it take you to do a book?

This question tends to come from kids who are considering creating children’s books as a career and are concerned that it may take up too much of their spare time.  The answer is … as long as it takes.

          4) How do you draw the same picture over and over again in all those books so many times?

This comes from children who are under the impression that we draw all the printed copies of our books by hand.  They have never seen the huge commercial printing presses on which children’s books are printed.  I usually tell the children who ask this that we just Xerox them.

          5) Why did you decide on using a bear family as the central characters in your books?

There is a tradition of bears in children’s books and, also, they are animals that naturally stand up.  They look good in clothes and seem almost human when the humorous illustrator works with their facial expressions.

       6) Why don’t you do some books about some characters besides the Bears?

It’s a good question.  We certainly do seem to have gotten stuck in a rut!

          7) One question came from a particularly observant youth who pointed out that in The Berenstain Bears and the New Baby, it says Papa Bear hollowed out the family’s tree house from an oak tree.  But in The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day, the family purchases and moves into an already existent tree house.

We gave this one to my mother, Jan.  Her answer was, I thought, resourceful.  She explained that the Bears did, indeed, move into the tree house as shown in Moving Day, but Papa then expanded it by carving out sections of the trunk previously unoccupied.  You can see why my mother was the brains of the operation.

www.berenstainbears.com

Cubs and Reading

Reading posterAdvice from Stan and Jan Berenstain

1.         Advantages of an Early Start

How soon should a child be introduced to the book experience?  As soon as the child will sit still for and take obvious pleasure from the experience.  Of course, this varies from child to child, but a surprising proportion of pre-tots as young as six months is willing and able to enjoy being read to.  At this earliest stage, reading may mean no more than commenting on the illustrations in a simple picture book.  The early introduction of the book experience is not only advantageous to your child but to you as well.  What’s in it for your youngster – in addition to the warm, enclosing creature comfort of Mommy’s or Daddy’s lap – is a beginning knowledge of the cognitive connection between symbolic information (pictures and words) and objective information from nature (trees, flowers, and pussycats).  The earlier books become a pleasurable part of a child’s life, the more likely he or she is to develop that uniquely beneficial life practice: the book habit.

The advantage to parents of the early introduction of the book experience: getting the load off your feet for as long as your youngster will sit still for being read to.

2.         Book Selection

The short answer to the question “What kinds of books are likely to encourage children to become readers?” is “All kinds.”  A longer answer could include a proviso that commonsense “age and stage” considerations should always apply: a Three Little Pigs which a child accepts with equanimity at two may give that child the screaming meemies at three.

While the broad range of children’s books — board books, storybooks, nursery rhymes, and tales — are all helpful in preparing a child for reading, it is the easy-to-read category which has specific application to that learning-to-read process.  This general category falls into two subgroups:

                        1)  Simple not-quite-storybooks, often in rhyme and usually humorous, with bold pictures closely related to relatively few large-type words.  This type of book is most helpful at the earliest stage of learning to read, when the young aspirant to literacy needs all the help he or she can get from the clues provided by rhyme and close connection between words and pictures.

                        2)  Simplified storybooks (or works of nonfiction) in which pictures predominate and large-type text relates closely but not necessarily directly to the pictures.  This type of book is most useful for the child who has acquired some beginning reading skills: some phonics knowledge and some word recognition experience.

3.         Follow the Child’s Lead

Every child has his or her own temperament, which gives rise to a complex of tendencies, predilections, and interests.  Within reason these should be respected, not ridden roughshod over.  Children very early adopt favorites – favorite activities, favorite toys, favorite books, and favorite types of books.  While it’s certainly appropriate to offer a child a balanced diet of books, it’s neither fair nor appropriate to shut down on his or her special enthusiasms.  If you hear yourself saying, “But, darling, you already have seven dinosaur books.  How about this nice butterfly book?” just remember that five-foot shelf of Agatha Christies you’ve accumulated over the years – and bite your tongue.  How about digging down a little deeper and buying your budding reader the dinosaur book and the butterfly book?

Copyright © 1978 by Stanley and Janice Berenstain

www.berenstainbears.com