Philadelphia native Jan Berenstain, writer and illustrator with her husband Stan of the preschool Berenstain Bears books and cartoons that have appealed to the young (and young at heart) for 50 years, died Friday. She was 88.
A longtime resident of Solebury in southeastern Pennsylvania, she suffered a severe stroke Thursday and died without regaining consciousness, son Mike said.
The Berenstain Bears inspired several animated productions, including TV specials that she and her husband created and wrote. The first, the NBC special The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree, was produced in 1979. Four other NBC seasonal specials, produced by Joseph Cates Productions, Perpetual Motion Pictures and Buzzco Productions, followed: The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw (1980), The Berenstain Bears’ Easter Surprise (1981), The Berenstain Bears’ Comic Valentine (1982) and The Berenstain Bears Play Ball (1983).
As well, the Bears gave birth to two Saturday morning cartoon series on TV. The first, which Jan Berenstain co-wrote, came from Southern Star and Hanna Barbera Australia, running for 28 episodes on CBS from 1984–85.
A season of PBS daily shows was created in 2002, produced by Canada’s Nelvana Limited and Agogo Entertainment. Jan Berenstain was executive producer of several episodes.
The human Berenstain family inspired the tales of Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Brother Bear and Sister Bear, and dealt with children’s concerns. The stories offered advice about dealing with visits to the dentist, summer camp, peer pressure, or a new brother or sister.
The Big Honey Hunt, the first Berenstain Bears book, was published in 1962. Over 300 titles have been released in 23 languages, most recently in Arabic and Icelandic.
Around 260 million copies of Berenstain Bears books came out since Theodor Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss), then a children’s books editor at Random House, helped the earliest books get published.
“They say jokes don’t travel well, but family humor does. Family values is what we’re all about.” Jan Berenstain told the Associated Press last year.
Born on July 26, 1923, Janice Marian Grant met Stan — also 18, and also a native Philadelphian — on their first day at art school in 1941. Five years later, they married; they had two sons.
Son Mike, an illustrator, worked with his mother on the Berenstain Bears books in recent years. Writer Leo Berenstain, his older brother, works with the business aspect of the franchise.
Until her death, Jan Berenstain worked at her home studio in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia. The area helped inspire the books’ setting.
“It’s wonderful to do something you love for so many years,” she told AP in 2011. “Not everyone has that.”
Jan Berenstain was predeceased by her husband in 2005. She is survived by her sons and four grandchildren.