Monday, March 19, 2012

Berenstain Bears: Zondervan, Peppa Pig, In Memory of Jan Berenstain

Fifty years of bears and graces

Annie Ho (
Mar 18, 2012

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Even those who have not read any of the stories in the Berenstain Bears series will easily recognise this family of bears from Bear Country. 

With 300 books written over a span of 50 years, they are a little hard to miss. The family started out in 1962 as Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Small Bear, with Small Bear renamed Brother Bear when Sister Bear was introduced in 1974 in The Berenstain Bears' New Baby

That was the book my daughter wanted to hear over and over when her own baby sister came home from the hospital. The simplistic presentation of a mother's pregnancy and a family's preparations to welcome a new baby helped me explain our new addition to our elder daughter, who was at that time not yet three.
She especially enjoyed the illustration of Small Bear peering into the cradle to see the new baby, only to have baby "pop him on the nose with a tiny fist". We gleefully recreated this scene by tapping our daughter's nose with our newborn baby's fisted hand. Soon, she would take the baby's hand and hit her own nose while shouting "Pop!" at every opportunity. It felt like months before she tired of this little gag.
Authored by Stan Berenstain and his wife, Jan, and later joined by their writer/illustrator son Mike, the series' focus is on values education. 

Values education broadly encompasses themes of moral, spiritual and social development, and this series uses Brother and Sister Bear's experiences to impart knowledge on how to behave and interact with others.
The stories cover everything a child could encounter in his or her daily life, from visiting the dentist to doing chores to getting a bad report card. 

Together, the Berenstain Bears tackle important issues in stories to which many children can relate. 

Needless to say, the topics have changed with the times, recent stories being about having trouble with the computer and eating out at a restaurant. Interestingly, the tone has also changed. 

The first book, The Big Honey Hunt, published in 1962, described Papa Bear and Small Bear's adventure to collect their own honey rather than heed Mama Bear's advice to go to the honey store. 

The titles increasingly focus on family values. At times, I even suspect that the story came about after the authors decided on the lesson to be learned. 

The latest two titles were released in January: The Berenstain Bears All Things Bright and Beautiful, and The Berenstain Bears and the Easter Story. Both were published by Zondervan, an evangelical publisher of bibles and Christian books that has published almost 40 titles of the series since 2008.

In our home, the only other Berenstain Bears title that we have is Too Much TV. I would gladly add to our collection, but my daughter doesn't care to participate in a programme in which I attempt to instil good behaviour using the Berenstain Bears as my preaching aid. In addition, my husband is unimpressed with how Papa Bear watches too much TV along with the children and gets scolded by Mama Bear along with them. 

According to my husband, father characters that always play the incompetent buffoon like Papa Bear and Daddy Pig (from my daughter's favourite animated show Peppa Pig) should be banned from our home.
My husband can go on and on about the need to find better role models in children's books while holding a remote control with his eyes fixed on the TV. By teasing my husband like this (and in print, no less!), I have firmly wedged myself into the role of the sensible one around here, like Mama Bear. 

Today's column is in memory of Jan Berenstain, who died on February 24, at the age of 88.

Annie Ho is a board governor of Bring Me A Book HK (, a non-profit organisation devoted to improving child literacy

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