The Berenstains’ A Book – Amazing!

From the art files, it is apparent Stan and Jan began work on the Berenstains’ A Book in about 1972.   This title was to be part of the Beginner Book series, of which Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was the editor.  No matter how they sketched the book for Ted, it seems they just couldn’t satisfy him.  There are at least seven different versions of the story in the files.

The first, dated February 10, 1972, shows Small Bear interacting with a variety of “A” words.


An ankle — An anthill

Asleep with an ankle on an anthill

Until the final sketch, showing the moral to the story:

– you should never fall asleep with an ankle on an anthill.

Following Ted’s rejection, the next version was dated March 17, 1972.  It begins with the following page:

A is for Ant

And ends with the rescue of Albert Ant who is caught in a spider web:

A is for Albert Ant – Albert Ant is why ants advanced across an apple, an acorn, an apricot, an ax, an angle worm, an alligator, an airplane, an avenue, apes’ apartments and Arizona!

The next version, dated April 13, 1972, begins with these pages:

A Book – April 13, 1972

Big A – Abner
Small a – apples

It contains all sorts of “A” words, as the previous versions do.  This version, however, has no story line, but is rather a collection of simple sentences all containing “A” words and shows the differences between upper and lower case “A.”

The next version, dated August 18, 1972, is titled “Aunt Ada’s Adventure: An A Book” which takes Aunt Ada on adventures all the way to Atlantic City and back again.

Aunt Ada’s Adventure: An A Book

Following this are several undated versions, all completely different:

The A Book
So long Pop! I’m going out to play! What? You didn’t have your lesson yet today.

We will start with some A words. I have many for you. A is for Apple. Applesauce too.

This version begins to resemble the final version of the Berenstains’ A Book:


and finally this version is the sketch version of the story as it was finally published:


Ironically, the Berenstains’ A Book was never published while Ted Geisel was at the helm of the Beginner Books series.  It wasn’t until 1997, twenty-five years after the first sketches for this book, that it was finally published by Random House as part of its Bright and Early Books series.  Amazing!

“The Bear Detectives” under inspection

Originally published in 1975,  The Bear Detectives was part of Random House’s Beginner Books series.  Jan and Stan’s art file for this book has a number of things of interest.

The cover went through a several drafts before the final art work was determined.

An early sketch when the book was first envisioned.

A later draft

Close to the final version.

The cover as it was printed.

All Berenstain Bears books begin with pencil sketches.  These are the sketches for the first 2 pages in the book:

Part of the first series of sketches for this book.

A final version of the first page of the story.

A final version of the second page of the story.

Here are those pages as they appeared in the printed book:

First page as it was printed.

Second page as it was printed.

In the early days of the Berenstain Bears books, they were printed by color separation.  In this process the original artwork is separated into individual color components for printing. The components are cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow and black, known as CMYK. By combining these colors, a wide spectrum of colors can be produced on the printed page.  Each color is printed separately.  When the colors are combined on the paper, your eye combines the colors to see the final image.

To create a piece of color art by this process, the artist had to first complete a line drawing in black ink.  This drawing was then printed on four separate pieces of illustration board in light blue.  Photographic film was not sensitive to this tone.  A similar principle was used in the “blue screen” process for special effects in films.  The artist then painted gray washes on the four pieces of board.  The darkness of the wash determined the darkness of each color.  A gray-percentage chart was provided as a guide.  Equivalent shades of gray and color were shown so the artist could judge how dark the gray tone should be.  Stan and Jan created all their children’s books, published between 1962 and 1975, by this exacting process.

What follows are the color separated pages that became the finished page at the end.

First step: line drawing in black ink.

The cyan layer

The magenta layer.

The yellow layer.

The black layer.

The printed pages as they appear in the book.

Remember Stan and Jan had to go through this process for each page in every book they created during that time.


When Stan and Jan began publishing the First Time Books series with Random House, each book included what they called a “four-liner” on the half-title page.  These catchy four-line poems first appeared in The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby.

“The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby” – 1974

Each book after that has included a different “four-liner.”

“The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers” – 1985

“The Berenstain Bears Go Out for the Team” – 1986

“The Berenstain Bears No Girls Allowed” – 1986

“The Berenstain Bears and the Mama’s Day Surprise” – 2004

Do you have a favorite Berenstain Bears four-liner?  Please add it to the comments below!

For the Berenstain Bears 50th Anniversary, Random House is republishing many of these old-time favorites with great sticker sheets included in each book.  They are available where ever books are sold.

The Pictureback Arrives

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

While the early 1970s saw the publication of The B Book, Bears in the Night, C Is for Clown, The Bears’ Almanac, and He Bear, She Bear, change was on the horizon.

“Although paperbacks had been a major and rapidly growing factor in the publishing business since the late forties, they did not become an important factor in the children’s picture book market until Ole Risom came from Golden Books to Random House and created the Pictureback line (a play on “paperback”).  The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby, an early Pictureback title, was an auspicious event for us for a number of reasons.  It was one of our first two paperbacks (The Berenstain Bears’ Nursery Tales was first), it brought Sister Bear into the family (changing Small Bear’s name to Brother Bear after that), and it gave us the opportunity to do stories about ordinary, everyday family experiences.

An event depicted in New Baby came directly from something that happened when Jan was pregnant with Michael.  Jan often took Leo onto her lap for book readings.  Over time Leo noticed Jan’s lap was getting smaller.  This provided an excellent opportunity to tell him why.  Leo, a model of generosity and equanimity, found the news both interesting and acceptable.  Shortly after Michael was born, Leo climbed onto Jan’s lap and was delighted to find that it had returned.  ‘Mommy,’ he said, ‘you got your lap back!'”

The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby, a First Time Book, was published by Random House in 1974.

1970 Brought Two New Titles

Do you remember Old Hat New Hat and The Bears’ Christmas?

While out shopping, the Bears look at frilly and silly hats, bumpy and lumpy ones in The Berenstain Bears Old Hat, New Hat.  See the development of pages 10-11 from the sketch (first image) to the version that was published (second image).

The sketch version of pages 10-11.

The published version of pages 10-11.

In The Bears’ Christmas, there’s a whole lot to learn one Christmas morning in Bear Country when Papa Bear teaches his son a thing or two about skiing, skating, and sledding. But in the end, it was “The very best Christmas we ever had!

Sketch for pages 56-57
(Pages 58-59 in final version)

Both titles were published by Random House in 1970. 

Book #7 – Bears on Wheels

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

Bears on Wheels was a highly unconventional counting book that begins with “One bear on one wheel” (a unicycle).

The story works its way through permutations and combinations of bears on wheels until all participants are unseated in a cataclysmic crash, leaving “Twenty-one on none.”

Bears on Wheels was published by Random House in 1969.

Book #6 – Inside, Outside, Upside Down

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

We were working on the text of The Bear Scouts, which would be our fourth bear book, when Ted called from La Jolla.  He was starting a whole new line called “Bright and Early Books.”  It would be much younger than Beginner Books – a reading-readiness line.

“We’re very excited about it,” he continued.  “There’s nothing like it on the market.  So put the scout thing aside and see what you can come up with for the new line.”

“And, oh yes,” he added in an aside that sent our hearts down into our shoes.  “Don’t do bears on this project.  We’ve got enough bears for a while.  Anyway, you can’t do bears forever.”

Ted’s excitement was electrifying, but the effect was short-circuited by his “don’t do bears” edict.  It was déjà vu all over again.  We had, in our innocence, thought we coulddo bears forever.  But maybe Ted was right.  Maybe we couldn’t.

Most of our story ideas are consciously thought up.  But sometimes ideas come unbidden.  The phrase “inside, outside, upside down” was such an idea.  But what was it?  What did it mean?  It would make an interesting title.  But where would the title take us?  Ted wanted something completely different, huh?  A whole new feel?  A whole new look?  We’d give him a look that would knock his socks off.

We noodled around until we found out what Inside, Outside, Upside Down was about.  It was about a red gorilla who sat inside a hollow tree, a crow wearing a magenta beret who was outside sitting on a branch, and a two-toed sloth who was hanging upside down on a limb.  Ted wanted different.  We’d give him different.  We took the red gorilla, the crow with the magenta beret, and the two-toed sloth and sent them on a topsy-turvy trip to town.  When they arrived, they proclaimed, “We went to town!  Inside, outside, upside down!”

We fetched it up to New York and set it before Ted.  “Wow!” he said as he leafed through it.  “Fabulous! —I love ‘em!  But I’ve been talking to the salesmen and they think that since your bears are so well established, we ought to have at least one bear book in the new line.  But this is a great concept.  Maybe you can convert it to bears.  What do you think?”  What did we think?  You know that song “I Think I’m Goin’ out of My Head”?  That’s what we thought.

We arrived home in a deep funk.  We remained so for most of the next day.  Jan came out of it first.  She wanted to be alone.  She took a pencil and drawing pad into the yard and sat at our weathered old picnic table.  By late afternoon she had penciled a whole new bear version of Inside, Outside, Upside Down.  In fifteen pictures and sixty-six words, she told how Small Bear goes into a box that gets dollied onto a truck and taken to town.  The box falls off the truck, whereupon Small Bear climbs out and runs home shouting, “Mama! Mama! I went to town inside, outside, upside down!”

Inside, Outside, Upside Down was published by Random House in 1968 – by 2002 it had sold 3 million copies.