The Berenstain Bears have been children’s favorites since the first title was published in 1962. The son of the original cartoonist took over the franchise in the 1980s. Mike Berenstain is a Christian, and he brings out explicit Christian themes in one line of the books published by Zondervan. Go here for those titles.
A Jewish dad writes about why his four-year-old loves the Bears in the New York Times Magazine. He was taken aback by the Christian titles, though he doesn’t mind them too much. Read what he says after the jump.
From Saul Austerlitz, How the Berenstain Bears Found Salvation – The New York Times:
My 4-year-old son is obsessed with the Berenstain Bears. When bedtime rolls around, I no longer ask him what book he wants to read, but which Berenstain Bears book he would like. And who could blame him? Stan and Jan Berenstain’s 50-year-old series, with its family of bears living in a big tree house down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country, covers the waterfront of possible toddler experiences: everything from “Trouble at School” to “Too Much Birthday” to “Messy Room” to “Go to the Doctor.” And for that reason, the books are easily deployed by scheming parents like myself to inoculate against potentially unsettling changes that might frighten a 4-year-old. When my wife and I were set to take a child-free overseas trip, we read and reread “Week at Grandma’s” with my son as preparation; when summer rolled around, we pulled out “Go to Camp.”
If my 4-year-old is any indication, young children are continually concerned about changes to their perceived order: Where is Mommy tonight? Why is there no school today? Where did my toy go? The Berenstain Bears are always facing up to new challenges, but their lives — in that big tree house down the sunny dirt road — never change much. This familiarity is essential to the books’ sitcom-like appeal; the stories start with a necessarily brief outburst of chaos, but order is always restored to Bear Country by the end. Parents know best, children always heed their lessons and everything is in its right place. Family values literally reign triumphant, with the books an ongoing celebration of the value of family.
This warmth and good humor have captivated generations of young readers since the first volume, “The Big Honey Hunt,” was published in 1962. Small changes would occasionally take place in Bear Country — a baby cub, Honey Bear, was introduced in 2000’s “And Baby Makes Five” — but consistency had always been crucial to the Berenstain Bears’ appeal.
So I could practically hear a needle scratch when I opened up some newer editions my son had received as a gift, and I discovered that the Berenstains’ concerns had turned from the mundane to the theological. The new volumes, “The Berenstain Bears: Do Not Fear, God Is Near” and “The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School,” had a markedly different cast than my son’s old favorites. Even those without explicitly religious titles are still larded with Bible thumping. In my son’s new favorite volume, “The Berenstain Bears Show Some Respect,” the bears get snappish with one another during a search for the ideal picnic spot, as the cubs talk back to Mama and Papa, and Papa Bear, in turn, speaks disrespectfully to his father. Gramps grows frustrated and, in an impassioned monologue, makes reference to scripture: “You know, us old folks know a thing or two. As the Bible says, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’”