The Berenstain Bears’ Storybook Bible

We are very excited to announce the new Berenstain Bears Storybook Bible. Join Papa, Mama, Brother, Sister, and Honey Bear as they read favorite Bible stories together and imagine what it would have been like to see Adam and Eve in the garden, watch Noah build the ark, and listen as Jesus tells a parable to the people.

Enjoy watching this short video clip … 

Zondervan image

Mike Berenstain was interviewed about the Storybook Bible by Care Baldwin from CHRI Family Radio.  You can listen to the interview here.

Storybook Bible

The Storybook Bible is part of the Berenstain Bears Living Lights series published by Zonderkidz and is available in bookstores and through our on-line store.

Mama’s White Polka Dot Dress

Recently several fans have asked why Mama is wearing a vest in recent Berenstain Bears’ stories.   Mike Berenstain provided the following answer:

My mother, Jan, began putting the vest on Mama in about year 2000.  She said she was fed up with painting all those white polka dots on Mama’s dress in every book and wanted to reduce the number by covering up some of them with the vest.  We’ve kept the vest ever since as a standard part of Mama’s costume.

Mama - smallMama 4 - small

And now you know why Mama wears a vest!

One Title – Two Covers

A Facebook follower recently asked, “why the cover art for The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear changed from the original version and if other Berenstain Bear books have had more than one cover art?”

Original cover published in 1984

Original cover published in 1984

Mike Berenstain provided the following answer:

The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear, first published in 1984, is the only title in the First Time Book series which was ever given a new cover.  This was a consequence of that peculiarity of the publishing business—the system of “returns.”

Unlike most other consumer products, books are typically sold to bookstores and other accounts on a basis that copies unsold after a given period may be returned to the publisher for credit toward future orders.  This practice was started during the Great Depression when book sales were languishing and publishers offered inducements for larger orders.  It has persisted even though it long since ceased to make any real economic sense. 

The greatest problem with the system is that it encourages publishers to promote, and booksellers to demand, over-optimistically large orders for books that it is believed will be popular—the theory being that, if they don’t sell them all, they can always be returned.  When this happens books that experience large returns can be unfairly stigmatized as not living up to expectations even though they may have sold quite well by any other standard.  This is what happened with the Santa Bear title.

After it was published in 1984, it sold very well during subsequent holiday seasons. It was viewed by its publisher, Random House, as a reliable seasonal standby. Then, during one holiday season in the early 1990’s, it was decided to market it as their lead promotional Christmas children’s book. It was shipped to the stores in record numbers. Though it sold just as well as in previous years, there were many copies left unsold from the massive distribution program. These copies became “returns.”

The redesigned cover

The redesigned cover

Concerned that this mismanaged marketing effort would depress sales in future years, Random House pulled the book out of distribution for several holiday seasons, then asked Stan and Jan to create a new cover for its re-release.  It has been a bestseller in every holiday season since.

Our 50th Anniversary in Review

During 2012, our blog has reflected on the Berenstain Bears and their creators Jan, Stan, and Mike Berenstain as they marked their 50th Anniversary.  It has been fun to look back through all those years of art files and reminisce about the many, many adventures the Berenstain Bears have had down a sunny dirt road in Bear Country.  It was also a very difficult year, as we lost our dear Jan in February.

First bear

In reviewing the files, the very first Berenstain Bear sketch was found, as well as the art work that led up to the first Berenstain Bears’ book – The Big Honey Hunt.  This title was published in 1962 as part of Random House’s Beginner Books series with editor Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). 

Big Honey Hunt - 1st edition

Finding the lost manuscript for what was originally written to be the second book in this series – Nothing Ever Happens at the South Pole – and seeing it published during the 50th year was very special for Jan.  She took great delight in bringing the early sketches from the manuscript to life.

Nothing Cover with 50 - small

The early readers were followed by the First Time Reader series, the first of which was The Berenstain Bears and the New Baby, published in 1974.

New Baby

It was interesting to discover that many children, now-grown-up from the 1980s had no idea our sweet little Honey was born in The Berenstain Bears and Baby Makes Five in 2000.

Baby Makes Five

To celebrate our very special anniversary, HarperCollins Children’s Books and Random House Children’s Books worked with Jan and Mike to document the creation of the Berenstain Bears.  These phenomenal interviews were filmed just 3 weeks before Jan’s death.  If you haven’t had time to watch the five short video interviews, you can find them on the video link on the Berenstain-ology tab of the Parents Den on our website. 

Many of this year’s blogs were based on Jan and Stan’s Down a Sunny Dirt Road: An Autobiography, written in 2002.  While our blog will certainly continue, as we come to the final blog of our 50th year, we thought it only fitting to end with words from Stan and Jan:

A question we are often asked arises from the perception that at this point in our lives, we could easily retire.  The comment usually runs along the following lines: “I know what I would do if I were in your position.  I’d retire and travel.”  The answer to that question is twofold.  Why in the world would we retire?  We thrive on what we do and we’re going to keep on doing it, we say (only partially tongue in cheek), until we get it wrong.  As for travel–we do travel.  Extensively.  We go to a lovely, salubrious place where honeybees hum, where rainbow trout march rainbow skies, where the rivers run clean and the air is sweet, where there’s beauty around every bend in the sunny dirt road.  It’s a wonderful place.  It’s called Bear Country.  We go there every day.

New logo - no words

Celebrating 50 Years

       Our blog this year has reflected on the Berenstain Bears and their creators Jan, Stan, and Mike Berenstain as they mark their 50th Anniversary.

       In celebration of our anniversary, HarperCollins Children’s Books and Random House Children’s Books worked with Jan and Mike to document the creation of the Berenstain Bears.  Filmed just 3 weeks before her death in February 2012, Jan never saw the completion of the five videos.  Now, for the first time ever, Random House and HarperCollins have  released excerpts from this phenomenal interview for all to see.

       We are very grateful to Harper Collins and Random House for these wonderful and very timely videos of our beloved Jan Berenstain.

       The interviews are available on the Berenstain-ology tab of the Parents Den on our website: 

50th Anniversary Interviews

Team Berenstain – Part 4

Adapted and excerpted from Mike Berenstain’s Child’s Play: Cartoon Art of Stan and Jan Berenstain, published by Abrams in 2008.

The explosive popularity of television rang the death knell of the general interest weekly magazine.  Folks were not content to sit around reading when they could partake of the wild hilarity of Uncle Milty or Sid Caesar on the dimly luminous tube.  The Saturday Evening Post survived in truncated form by going from weekly to monthly publication.  But Collier’s went under at the end of 1956.

Surprisingly, Stan and Jan survived this catastrophic loss of their principle source of income quite nimbly.  One area of magazine publishing that continued to thrive in the new multimedia era was the venerable monthly woman’s magazine.  Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and McCall’s had been around since the turn of the century and were showing no signs of going the way of the buggy whip.  Stan and Jan shifted their focus to this alternate venue and thrived.

McCall’s quickly snapped up their new series, It’s All in the Family (no connection to the later TV sitcom), which graced its pages from 1956 to the new-broom regime of Shana Alexander in the early seventies when it migrated to Good Housekeeping, where it continued until 1988.  This feature, in fact, lasted so long that for the final few years of its existence it was ghost-written and drawn by Stan and Jan’s son Mike.

It’s All in the Family took the mom, the dad, and the daughter from Sister, bookended the girl between an older and younger brother, and settled them down in a Leave-it-to-Beaverish suburbia tailored to the traditionally domestic McCall’s.  These kids, by the way, had “real” names: Michael, Janie, and Billy.  They even had a last name: the Harveys.

This feature–seven panel cartoons or more on a single theme once a month for thirty-two years–became the background to the Berenstain family life while Mike and Leo were growing up.

Mike’s (temporary) obsession with dinosaurs, for instance, was immediately seized upon and turned into cartoons.

Dinosaurs; It’s All in the Family; McCall’s; January 1962

It was older son, Leo’s, attempts to master a two-wheeler that provided the model for Janie’s bike riding experiences–though, he, no doubt, dispensed with the stylish beret.

Two-Wheeler; It’s All in the Family; McCall’s; January 1959

But we haven’t touched Juniper Street or Wellington Road,
and there’s that whole new development down by the park.

Trick or Treat; It’s All in the Family; McCall’s; October 1957


And for the witch with the tallest hat.
Halloween Party; It’s All in the Family; McCall’s; October 1959

It’s All in the Family migrated from McCall’s to Good Housekeeping in the 1970s, where the feature was finally retired in 1988.

Of course, by then, the hugely popular Berenstain Bears children’s book series, which made its debut in 1962, had come to dominate the creative life of Stan and Jan.  The transition from cartoons about children to books for children was a natural one for Stan and Jan.  As parents themselves, they were interested and critical consumers of children’s books.

Their professional interest was aroused, as well, when many former cartoonists came into prominence in the children’s book field during the early sixties.  Most prominent of all was Theodor Seuss Geisel, also editor and publisher of the new Random House Beginner Books line, an outgrowth of Geisel’s groundbreaking early reader, The Cat in the Hat.

And, “the rest is history” as they say.  As the Berenstain Bears celebrate their 50th Anniversary during 2012, you can read how this loveable family of bears who live down a sunny dirt road began in “How it all started”

Team Berenstain – Part 3

Adapted and excerpted from Mike Berenstain’s Child’s Play: Cartoon Art of Stan and Jan Berenstain, published by Abrams in 2008.

At the same time Stan and Jan were laboring over their larger cartoons, they continued to produce a flood of regulation-size gag cartoons chiefly, now, for Collier’s.  They began to focus their efforts on a tomboyish, wise-cracking little girl they thought of, simply, as “Sister”―a cartoon everyone could connect with.

People sometimes ask, suspiciously, where the idea of naming the Berenstain Bears by their family roles, “Papa,” “Mama,” “Brother,” and “Sister,” came from.  They seem to assume it has some subversive ideological import relating to their origin in the turbulent 1960s.  But the truth of the matter is that came out of the innocent world of 1940s American family magazines―a world where kids were generically dubbed “Butch” or “Skip” or “Sis”―just another average all-American kid.  The humor of the Sister cartoons could be sweetly cute and charming.  But it could also verge into the slightly edgy and subversive.

My ears are killing me!
Sister; Collier’s
; March 1951


We were going to make you something real nice but there were too many hard words.
Sister; Colliers
; 1949-1952.

Stan and Jan’s ever-rising professional profile drew the attention of an editor at Macmillan.  Since they were so good at creating cartoons about kids, he wondered, why not try their hands at a book on the subject, as well?  Dr. Spock’s Baby Book was, of course, the Bible of child-rearing in the early Fifties and seemed a natural target for a disrespectful spoof. Thus the Berenstains’ Baby Book was born, soon to be followed by a sequel, Baby Makes Four, and several other childrearing-themed books.

Much of the humor of these books centered on straightforward satire of the “by-the-book” and “he’s-just-acting-out” school of parenthood.  Stan and Jan were particularly adept at mimicking the pompously professional jargon of the early self-help tomes.

“Back to the sea!!!” shouted the brave puppet.
Berenstains’ Baby Book
; 1951.


… Thiamin, Thinness, Three month colic, Throat infections’ … there it is! “Thumb sucking!”
Baby Makes Four
; 1957.

Sister, the on-going panel cartoon they had produced for Collier’s, was the nucleus of the project.  It was popular―a book collection was published in 1952―and many of the gags had already taken on a sequential form similar to that of a comic strip.  Why not, schemed Stan and Jan, extend this successful magazine cartoon into a daily newspaper comic?

So, the intrepid couple set to work.  The Register and Tribune Syndicate picked up the new strip for 1953 and 1954.  The strip version of Sister highlighted the tomboyish, mischievous aspect of the character who was, in some ways, a female sibling of Dennis the Menace.

Sister, Daily Strip

Sister, Daily Strip

In the Sister Sunday features, Stan and Jan were able to loosen up with some elaborate and ambitious comic art.  They were also able to explore more complex subject matter and follow up on their baby book successes by offering a little parenting advice.

Though similar in some ways to Dennis, Sister did not resemble the Menace in the extent of its newspaper distribution.  The plain fact was that, in spite of all their efforts, it was not paying off.  After about seven hundred drawings, Stan and Jan decided the newspaper business was not for them.  They fled, sweat-soaked and ink-stained, not much richer but a little wiser, back into the welcoming arms of Collier’s, who happily, reintroduced their work in the original format they had pioneered: full-page feature cartoons.

Don’t miss Part 1 and Part 2 of Team Berenstain.

Stay tuned for Team Berenstain – Part 4

Team Berenstain – Part 2

In  Down a Sunny Dirt Road: an Autobiography, Random House, 2002, Stan and Jan Berenstain describe an early professional breakthrough.

“Shortly before the turnaround in our magazine cartoon fortunes, we took a job teaching a Saturday morning children’s art class at Settlement School, a well-known institution in South Philadelphia.  Working with kids, age five to eleven, was more like herding cats than teaching.”

“But teaching that class took us back.  It reminded us of ourselves when we were kids.  We began drawing upon our own childhood experiences for cartoon ideas.  Kid jokes became our strongest suit.”

“Our cartoons were so small in print, though―about four by three inches.  Not only that, they appeared in the back of the book and were limited to black-and-white.  Why couldn’t cartoons be big-space features and appear in the front of the book?  And color would be fun.  With the headlong optimism of youth, we began noodling around with a whole new kind of cartoon.  It would be about our new specialty: kids.  It would occupy a full page and be in full color.  It would show at least a hundred members of the skinned-knee set engaged in every kind of activity known to the schoolyard: kids running, jumping, fighting, wrestling; little girls with holes in their socks strutting past little boys, who were stopping off all the outlets in the bubbler fountain except one, which arced like a geyser onto other little girls swinging on railings.  It would be a mad, multitudinous moppet mob scene, the apotheosis of childhood, a modern counterpart of Brueghel’s Children’s Games.”

“We worked it up and sent it off to Gurney Williams, Collier’s cartoon editor, who snapped it up and published it under the title Recess―in front of the book and in full color.”

Recess: the Berenstains’ first full-page, full-color cartoon in Collier’s, 1948. It recalls the many forms of play and mischief they participated in during their days in Philadelphia-area elementary schools and contains no fewer than 209 (count ‘em) figures, all but eight of them depicting children at play.

Moreover, Williams wanted more.  He urged them to create a sequel, immediately.  This became Freeze ― a winter version of children at play: skating, hockey, sledding, skiing, snowball fights―you name it, it’s in there.

Freeze, Collier’s, December 1948.

Freeze was followed by Gymnasium, which was followed by Saturday Matinee.  For many it summed up a whole era of popular culture and one that was soon to disappear―the world of that afternoon-long, multilayered entertainment extravaganza, the Saturday matinee.  Stan and Jan again produced a crowd scene of tots on the rampage.  They drop things off the balcony, they take good aim with pea-shooters and squirt guns, they blow bubbles, climb on seat backs, play the kazoo, drip ice cream and, in the left foreground engage in something resembling major combat.

There are a few oases of peace in the theater, as well.  One with a personal connection is the little boy in the front row, right, standing on his seat calmly sucking a lollipop while observing the chaos around him.  This is a portrait of their son, Leo, who had just turned one.

Saturday Matinee, Collier’s, March 12, 1949.

Stan and Jan continue …

“We could hardly believe it when Collier’s ran our Saturday Matinee as a cover.  The response was remarkable.  Saturday Matinee struck a chord deep in the hearts of everyone who had ever tormented ushers, whistled through candy boxes, and dropped water bombs from the balcony.  Thousands of letters poured into Collier’s editorial offices in New York, paeans of praise were read into the Congressional Record, Newsweek came to interview us in our ramshackle apartment over the Woodland Army and Navy Store.”

“We were twenty-four.  We had gone from being a couple of struggling cartoonists too dumb to come in out of the rain―or at least too dumb to realize that toothpaste and burnt-lamb-chops were what magazines wanted―to being cover artists for one of the world’s leading magazines.”

Over the next two years, Stan and Jan produced ten Collier’s covers and one more interior full page. One of them, Art Museum, was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of a world exhibition of cartoon art.

The scene and collection depicted in Art Museum is an amalgam of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, two of Stan and Jan’s favorite places. The scene approximates the grand hall of the Philadelphia Museum with its large Calder mobile. The Lachaise sculpture is in the Met collection, as are other depicted works. Velázquez’s Court Jester with Glass of Wine is in neither collection, nor is the portrait of Gurney Williams, Collier’s humor editor, which they incorporated into the painting.

If you missed Part 1 of Team Berenstain, you can read it here.

Part 3 is now available.

Team Berenstain

Adapted and excerpted from Stan and Jan Berenstain’s Down a Sunny Dirt Road: an Autobiography, published by Random House in 2002 and from Mike Berenstain’s Child’s Play: Cartoon Art of Stan and Jan Berenstain, published by Abrams in 2008.

Long before Stan and Jan Berenstain began to think about creating a family of bears as the subject of a series of children’s books, they were artists.  Jan wrote, “Meeting for the first time at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts), we both were surprised and bemused that we would meet at all.  We came from different high schools – city and suburban. Our backgrounds were different – Jewish and Protestant.  But we thought of ourselves as, simply, American and, primarily, as artists.”

Soon after Stan and Jan were married on April 13, 1946, they set up housekeeping in a run-down, ramshackle, hot-in-the-summer, cold-in-the-winter, crooked apartment over the Woodland Army and Navy Store on Woodland Avenue in extreme south-western Philadelphia.

Stan’s early notion that doing cartoons for magazines would be a great way of making a living turned out to be a snare and a delusion.  “We continued to sell occasional cartoons to The Saturday Review of Literature, but we had no success in selling to ‘the majors.’  The major magazines that used cartoons were The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, This Week (a Sunday supplement), Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion, and others.”

“But try as we would, we couldn’t break into the majors.  Working together, one of us on one side of the drawing table and one on the other, we cranked out twelve to fifteen cartoons a week and sent them to a succession of magazines.  We had as many as nine batches of cartoons in the mail at any given time.  Week after week after week, we’d send them out, and week after week after week, they’d come back rejected.  And every week we studied the cartoons in The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s and tried to figure out what we were doing wrong.”

“We had been submitting batches of cartoons every week for a year to about a dozen magazines without a single sale.  We decided (at least Stan did) to break through the anonymity of the U.S. Postal Service and seek a face-to-face meeting with John Bailey, the cartoon editor of The Saturday Evening Post.”

“’Berenstain, let me ask you a question,’ Bailey said after listening to our sad story.  ‘Do you ever look at our magazine?’”

“’Of course.  Every cartoon, every week.’”

“’That’s surprising.  Because every week I get a batch of cartoons from you – and I like your stuff, it’s pretty good – and every week your cartoons are about cultural stuff like art, music, history, science.  But The Saturday Evening Post isn’t about such things.  It’s a family magazine about ladies’ stockings hanging on the shower rail, kids stealing cookies out of the cookie jar, taking the dog to the vet.  Sure, our readers have heard of Picasso and Freud, but they’re not interested in jokes about them.  What they’re interested in is jokes about themselves … Well, does that make any sense to you?’”

“’Yes, it makes a lot of sense.  Thanks for letting me come down to see you.’”

“So we set to work doing cartoons about getting the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube, ladies’ stockings hanging on the shower rail, kids stealing cookies out of the cookie jar, taking the dog to the vet – and we began to sell to the majors!”

“After failing to sell a single cartoon in our first year of weekly submissions, we proceeded to sell a total of 154 cartoons in our second year.  We had six cartoons in one issue of The Saturday Evening Post – a record.”

These cartoons struck some kind of a nerve.  First the Post, then Collier’s, and then a host of other magazines began snapping them up.  Everyone from The New York Times to Successful Farming were suddenly featuring Stan and Jan’s work.

You can read Team Berenstain – Part 2 by clicking here and Part 3 here

The Berenstain Bears and Baby Makes Five

In The Big Honey Hunt, Brother was called Small Bear.  But after Sister arrived in The Berenstain Bears and the New Baby, Small Bear became Brother Bear.

Published by Random House in 1962.

Another cub was added to the family in The Birds, the Bees, and the Berenstain Bears.

The cover states: “Help Us Name the Baby! Contest details inside.” Published by Random House in 2000.

The title page to “The Birds, the Bees, and the Berenstain Bears” hints that there is a new cub about to arrive!

The story focuses on the experience of Mama’s pregnancy as seen by Sister Bear.  The baby is born at the end of the book.  But Papa and Mama, in their excitement, forget to tell Brother and Sister the new baby’s name or whether it’s a boy or a girl.

“But what about whether the new baby was a girl or a boy? And what about a name for the new baby? Look inside the back cover and see how you can join the fun and excitement and help name the new baby – and win valuable prizes doing it.”

A contest at the end of the book invited readers to guess whether the baby was a boy or girl and to name the baby.  The winner received a complete library of autographed First Time Books, Berenstain Bears home videos from Columbia TriStar and CD-ROM games from Sound Source Interactive.

Inside back cover featured the contest, prizes, and how to enter.

The Berenstain Bears and Baby Makes Five begins with the results of the contest:  “The Bear family, who lives in the big tree house down a sunny dirt road, has a new member: a baby girl named Honey.  What fun!  What excitement!”

Published by Random House in 2000.

And so, our dear little Honey was born into our Berenstain Bears family!