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!


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!