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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


The Berenstain Bears Go Green

Stan and Jan were always concerned about conserving Mother Earth and eating healthy foods.  Over the years, they wrote a number of Berenstain Bears’ stories dealing with these topics.

As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, let’s all find at least one simple way to be green!  In the Berenstains’ newest book, The Berenstain Bears Go Green, Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister, and Honey are doing just that!


The Berenstain Bears live in a wonderful place filled with green grass, blue skies, and lots of furry friends. But on a fishing trip at the creek, the Bear family discovers the town dump is overflowing. It’s spilling garbage into the water!
Can the Berenstain Bears find a pollution solution before their beloved county is filled with garbage?
Published by HarperCollins in 2013.

Too Much Junk Food

In long-time favorite The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food, Mama Bear lays down the law when she notices Papa and the cubs are getting too chubby.
With the help of Dr. Grizzly’s slide show on how the body works, the Bear family makes a healthful adjustment in their diet and fitness habits.
Published by Random House in 1985.

Don't Pollute

When careless citizens pose a threat to Bear Country’s environment, Brother and Sister Bear form the Earthsavers Club. Their spirited ecological efforts deliver a timely message about the urgent need to mend our polluting and wasteful ways.
Published by Random House in 1991.

Two Earthsaver Calendars were published in 1992 and 1993 by Random House.

Calendar 1992

Calendar 1993

Grow It!

Inspired by their neighbor Farmer Ben, Brother and Sister decide, with Mama’s help, to plant seeds, cuttings, and tubers. The Do-It! section includes instructions for the propagation of numerous food plants in water and/or soil, plus some simple plant science.
Published in 1996 by Random House.

The Whole Year Through

The Berenstain Bears the Whole Year Through invited you to be an Earthsaver and showed you how, with fun activities you could do every month of the year.
Published by Scholastic in 1998.


Project Grows Now grandson Sam is following in Stan and Jan’s footsteps.  A graduate of Eastern Mennonite University with a B.A in Environmental Sustainability, Sam spent a season in NYC working on two urban farms studying the practices of city produce production. With a passion for building a community around youth-oriented agriculture, Sam helped found Project GROWS in the Harrisonburg, Virginia, area where he spends his days sheet mulching, harvesting, and teaching about sustainable farming. Project GROWS is a 10-acre, non-profit youth-oriented community farm with a mission of improving the overall health of children and youth in the tri-county area through community farming that includes hands-on experience, nutrition education, and access to healthy food.


To celebrate Earth Day and the release of The Berenstain Bears Go Green, watch our Facebook page from April 19-22 to enter our give-away.  Five lucky entries will receive a copy of the book signed by Mike Berenstain.


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.