For more than 40 years, Stan Berenstain and his wife Jan entertained millions of children while teaching them how to read.
Stan and Jan were in their teens when they met in a drawing class at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. A warm friendship and a mutual love of art soon developed into a blossoming romance, but World War II put their relationship on hold.
Stan attended engineering school at the University of Maine, then served in a field artillery unit and as a medical artist at an Army plastic surgery center. At the same time, Jan worked as a riveter in an aircraft factory and produced engineering drawings for military contractors. Once Stan’s three-year tour of duty ended in 1946, the couple wed and began collaborating on cartoons and submitting them to magazines. Soon they were regular contributors to Collier’s, Good Housekeeping, McCalls, The Saturday Review and The Saturday Evening Post.
An editor at a New York publishing house saw their cartoons and asked the Berenstains if they’d like to do a book. Inspired by the birth of their first son, the couple published the “Berenstains’ Baby Book” (1951). It attained modest success and led to the publication of several family humor books.
The husband-and-wife team then pitched a book to Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), the editor of Beginner Books. With Geisel’s editorial guidance, Jan and Stan authored “The Great Honey Hunt” (1962), the first book in the Berenstain Bears series. Later stories, which featured the domestic adventures of Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister and Baby Bear as they did chores, visited the dentist, dealt with bullies, attended school and learned the value of sharing, captured the imaginations of generations of children. Stan and Jan Berenstain wrote and illustrated more than 250 books about the Berenstain Bears family, then expanded their literary empire to feature the Bear family in countless DVDs, a public television program and a Christmas musical.
The Berenstains sold nearly 300 million Berenstain Bear books and received numerous awards for their contributions to children’s literature, including the Ludington Award and a Children’s Choice Award. The couple’s sons, writer Leo Berenstain and illustrator Michael Berenstain, now help in creating the series. The couple’s life together was also chronicled in the 2002 memoir, “Down a Sunny Dirt Road.”
Stanley Melvin Berenstain died on Nov. 26 of complications of cancer. He was 82.
Watch a Video About Stan and Jan Berenstain
Watch an Interview With the Berenstain Family
Listen to a Tribute From NPR