Farewell, Jan Berenstain

Jan and Stan Berenstain in 1999. (Gian Luiso - AP)
On Valentine's Day I interviewed Mike Berenstain, son of authors and illustrators Stan and Jan Berenstain, for one of my clients, Moda Fabrics. I'll admit that I was not a huge fan of the Berenstain Bears, but my kids loved them and I had several of their books memorized because the demand to read them again and again was so high.

I was delightfully surprised by my interview with Mike, a soft-spoken man who is passionate about his work. Since his father Stan died in 2005, Mike has co-written and illustrated Berenstain Bears books with his mom and just two weeks ago they were working away. So I was so very sad to learn that Jan passed away Friday, but glad to know she was drawing right up to the end. Mike told me that when people asked her when she'd slow down she'd say "Maybe I should retire and take up painting."

Mike Berenstain, with his mom Jan
My favorite part of the interview was when Mike described Stan and Jan thusly: "My parents weren't conventional thinkers, they were artists who came from poor, working-class backgrounds. Like many people of that time, they were self-invented, people who were interested in art, culture, music, and history." When I asked him about the morals they imparted to readers through the Bears' tales Mike told me "They didn't go to a lot of authorities, but came up with their own way of giving advice in the form of a story. They had their own distinctive Stan-and-Jan way of approaching things."

I love knowing that Stan and Jan Berenstain were rebels of a sort, not following a traditional path but trusting their own instincts and making a living with their art and humor (they did illustrations and cartoons long before the first Berenstain Bears book came along in 1962). What a legacy they've left—to their two sons who grew up in a house where the norm was that everyone drew and wrote stories—and to children who, whether their parents like it or not, often ask to hear those gentle tales read again and again.

(You can read the Moda profile here.)
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