March 2nd, 2012

Crabapple in snow

Jan Berenstain (1923-2012)

I was sorry to find out today that Jan Berenstain had died within the last few days.  She and her husband Stan wrote and illustrated a bunch of children's books about the Berenstain Bears, a family of bears who find themselves in typical situations faced by many children.  They usually had some sort of moral or safety tip.  The books get mixed reviews from adults but they're pretty popular with kids. If you're about my age and were a kid in the 70s, you probably ran into Inside, Outside, Upside Down, The Bear Scouts, The Spooky Old Tree, or Old Hat, New Hat.  Some of the more recent books are The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies and The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food.  There must be 150 to 200 different titles.  

We haven't read a lot of them at our house because my kid wasn't a huge fan but I've been shelving Berenstain Bears books in libraries since 1983 and they are constantly being checked out.

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Regardless of their critical acclaim and my own take on their appeal, I think it is worth noting that the Berenstains created characters that have remained appealing to children since the 1960s, a considerable length of time.  The chronological list of their titles reveals a lot about changes in the way we've raised children over that time and what we've had to prepare them to deal with.  It's also an interesting view of how publishing trends have changed, particularly with the increase in religious or inspirational material and publishing houses dedicated to those works.  The Bears are probably a gold mine for sociologists and cultural anthropologists.  It will be interesting to see where they go from here.

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