Yesterday I heard the news that Jan Berenstain had passed away at the age of 88, and I was overcome with the all too familiar rush of sadness that occurs when I hear about the passings of people who shaped my childhood. Jan, along with her husband Stan who passed away in 2005, wrote and illustrated the hugely popular children’s book series The Berenstain Bears, a series that I devoured as a child. As an adult, I still fondly remember and appreciate the life lessons that can be found within the world of the Bear Family who live down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country.
The Berenstain Bears are a family consisting of Mama and Papa Bear, and their children named Brother, Sister, and Honey Bear. Over the years, their books have chronicled many adventures, social issues, and life lessons, and they have been published all over the world, bringing their messages of family, awareness, and acceptance to children of all ages and backgrounds. Their stories may be simple and formulaic, but the love that binds this family together is evident on every page, and as they navigate the speed bumps and curveballs that life throws at them, I always delighted in reading how these characters would ultimately come together, and be stronger for it in the end.
Stan and Jan Berenstain created a world where is was okay to make mistakes, because there is always a lesson to be learned from them, and unique among the books I read as a child, their stories were told from the perspective of both the kids and the adults. I can remember on more than one occasion, when as a child I connected a lesson I had read in The Berenstain Bears, to why my parents were at that particular moment thoroughly exasperated with me. To this day, if I come across one of these treasured books, I will stop and read for five minutes to see what the Bear Family are discovering next.
As much as I was saddened by the news of Jan Berenstain’s passing, I know that her and her husband’s legacy will live on through the millions of children they reached with their books and the lessons contained within them. The stories of the Bear Family that the Berenstains leave behind ensure that future generations are in good hands.