Your Christian Fiction Information Source

Saturday, December 10, 2016
Jan and Mike Berenstain

Jan and Mike Berenstain

In 1962, Stan and Jan Berenstain introduced the first Berenstain Bear books. Their son Mike grew up watching his parents work together with these lovable bears—and eventually started drawing and writing about them too. Stan died in 2005, and Jan died in 2012—but Mike continues the family tradition.
Berenstain Bears: Everyday Spirituality

Berenstain Bears: Everyday Spirituality

(November 2010)
By Ben Avery
In 1962, a book titled The Big Honey Hunt introduced the world to the Bear family. Some 50 years—and more than 300 books—later, the Berenstain Bears are still encouraging kids to read and teaching families how to deal with everyday issues. And, since 2008, the Berenstain Bears have encouraged families to deal with spiritual matters as well.

Bear Country’s many inhabitants were created by Stan and Jan Berenstain, who met each other in art school. They found inspiration for their family-focused work in their two sons, Mike and Leo.

But they also inspired their children, their youngest son Mike Berenstain recalls. “Obviously, growing up with my parents, I saw the whole process. They talked about it the whole time. In high school I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t know what kind.”

Mike went to the same art school as his parents and eventually figured out what he wanted to be: an author and illustrator of children’s books. After getting a job as a designer for the children’s book department of a major publisher, he started getting freelance illustration jobs. “I did a lot of books about dinosaurs and fantasy books. I was a bit of a jack of all trades.”

In the mid-1980s, the Berenstain Bears books were becoming so popular that Stan and Jan Berenstain started to feel overwhelmed. “There was a huge wave of demand for the paperback books,” Mike says. “They asked me for help and I started helping them more and more. We were doing all the illustrations together.” Mike even helped his father with some of the writing. This continued until 2005, when Stan Berenstain passed away. “After my father passed away, I began doing all the writing. My mother and I still do most of the illustration together.”

As an adult Mike became a Christian. “I wanted to incorporate that into my work. Our most enthusiastic feedback came from readers with traditional family values, and many of them are Christians. We moved from Random House to HarperCollins, and part of HC publishing group was [Christian imprint] Zondervan and that was intriguing to me.” As early as 2004, Mike began speaking with his parents and HarperCollins about doing a parallel series to be published by children’s imprint, Zonderkidz.

Finally, in 2008, The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule appeared. “We always try to think of a subject that families deal with. For example, in The Joy of Giving, they witness the gift of the Magi in a church pageant and relate that to Christmas giving and the origin of Christmas giving.”

In nearly 50 years of publishing, much has changed—but the primary emphasis of the books has not.

“The books people have come to appreciate are the books that deal with everyday life,” Mike says. “Readers identify with those books and love them and we want to serve our audience in that respect, providing them books that help in child rearing.”
—Ben Avery


fiction book trailer