Jan and Stan Berenstain (Wikimedia
Anyone who has ever read to a young child knows this truth: their tastes are not the same as ours. The book that we find mildly cute is the book that a three-year-old will want to hear over and over and over. Simple rhymes and silly characters don't engage adults for long, but they make kids deliriously happy. And that's why the Berenstain Bears have captivated generations of children.
Creators Jan Berenstain, who would have turned 90 years old today, and her husband Stan, were mentored by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, and went on to write dozens upon dozens of tales about the family of bears living "in a big treehouse down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country." When they weren't writing about bears, the husband and wife team wrote a pile of other books as well, from parenting advice to cartoon books for adults, and they created the comic It's All in the Family that ran in McCall's and Good Housekeeping. But by far, what they're best known for is bears.
The Berenstain Bears were initially Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Small Bear before their family grew to include Sister Bear and Honey Bear (and a name change for Small Bear, who became Brother Bear). Their tales generally center on a lesson Papa wishes to teach his little bears, with the situation escalating into a Papa-caused crisis. Mama eventually fixes things, and the bears are happy again. The pattern repeats itself throughout the many books, and many adult critics have blasted the series for being overly formulaic: predictable and syrupy-sweet. Of course, if there are two things children like, they are routines and sweets. The very elements that make adults chafe at having to read the books over and over are the same ones that make children crave them.
When Jan Berenstain died last year, and when her husband Stan died in 2005, there were critics who memorialized them with harsh words about their most famous books. But anyone who really remembers what it's like to be a little kid knows – what the Berenstains created was just right.
Written by Linnea Crowther