The popularity of the books subsequently spawned numerous child-friendly television shows and computer games.
The family consists of Papa Bear, the woodworker father; Mama Bear, his homemaker (and sometimes small-business-owner) wife; and their three children: Brother Bear, Sister Bear, and Honey Bear. Stories are set in Bear Country, a society composed entirely of bears. Story lines typically follow the Bear family as they deal with topics relevant to both children and parents.
Each Bear's role in the family is well defined. Brother, as the older sibling, is controlling and protective of Sister and also more cautious in his manner. Sister, as the younger sibling, is more laid-back, energetic and free spirited. Mama typically is the source of wisdom and knowledge. Papa, while also being wise at times, is more bumbling and clumsy in his demeanor. Both Brother and Sister are susceptible to making "poor decisions", particularly in situations that are likely to be faced by children in their age (and sometimes gender-) groups. Sister has, at times, been portrayed as "the more responsible one"; however, the Bears overall are quite malleable, and character traits tend to be fairly unique to each given story. One of the upshots of this is that readers can generally read the books in any order they choose; there is little "backstory" beyond the family itself (and even in this case, there is some flexibility -- in the earliest stories, Sister had yet to be born, and her arrival was the subject of an early Bears storybook).
The inspiration for the characters came when the Berenstains' sons, Leo and Mike, were young, and their parents decided to try their hands at creating children's books themselves. This book became The Big Honey Hunt, which was published in 1962 by Dr. Seuss's Beginner Books imprint.
Evolution of characters
The bear family in The Big Honey Hunt consists of Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and son Small Bear (later Brother Bear). They began their own line of books about the bears in 1974 with The Berenstain Bears and the New Baby which added daughter Sister Bear to the family and changed Small Bear's name to Brother Bear. In 2000, baby sister Honey was introduced in The Berenstain Bears and Baby Makes Five, after having dealt with Mama Bear's pregnancy in the previous book The Birds, the Bees, and the Berenstain Bears. Between the two books, there was a contest for readers to name the baby.
- Papa Q. Bear, the patriarch of the Bear family. He is a carpenter and loves to fish, eat, and just be with his family. Is often portrayed as clumsy and bumbling, though well-meaning.
- Mama Bear, Papa's wife. She likes to make quilts, work in the garden, and take care of her family. She is gentle and always wants to settle things peacefully, though she has been known to lose her temper. Is strongly against guns and gambling, as some of the books have indicated.
- Brother Bear, the older of Papa and Mama's cubs. Brother is eight years old and in the third grade. He likes sports and is always willing to help a friend in need, though occasionally he needs help adjusting his viewpoint. In earlier books, he was referred to as "Small Bear."
- Sister Bear, the oldest of Papa and Mama's daughters. She is six years old and in first grade. While she likes to play dolls and have tea parties for them, she also is quite athletic, as she joined Brother on the Little League team once. She is best friends with Lizzy Bruin and, to a lesser extent, Queenie and Babs Bruno.
- Honey Bear, the youngest of Papa and Mama's cubs.
- Too-Tall Grizzly, The school bully who works with Brother sometimes and normally thinks that playing tricks on older people is fun. He has an older sister named Too-Much and his father is Two-Ton, the local junkyard owner.
- Queenie McBear, Too-Tall's on-and-off girlfriend and friend of Brother and Sister. Although originally a bully to Sister, she is now friendly to all the cubs at school. She is also the most flirtatious of all the cubs.
- Fred Bear, Brother and Sister's cousin and friend, frequently known as Cousin Freddie. His father and Papa Bear are brothers. Likes to read the dictionary for fun, though can be cowardly sometimes. Also owns a hound dog named "Snuff."
- Lizzy Bruin, One of Sister's best friends.
- Bonnie Brown, Originally introduced in the Big Chapter Book series, she is a part-time model who attends Bear Country School and becomes friends with Brother and Sister. She was Brother's first crush and still is at times, or vice versa. A very caring and sweet cub, she is the niece of Squire and Lady Grizzly.
- Raffish Ralph, a Bear Country crook, typically working as a con man, who also goes by the name Ralph Ripoff. Though he is scheming and underhanded, he has a somewhat cordial relationship with Papa, Brother, and Sister.
- Farmer Ben, local farmer, neighbor, and family friend. Though good-hearted, he is not afraid to lose his temper when he feels things are unfair or not to his standards. He once hired Brother and Sister, along with their friends, to help with chores when he and his wife were about to lose their farm.
- Mrs. Ben, Farmer Ben's wife. It is hinted that she often tells Farmer Ben what to do.
- Squire Grizzly, the richest bear in all of Bear Country and a friend to Papa. Papa often does woodwork for the squire in "Grizzly Mansion," the squire's home. He has a touchy relationship with Farmer Ben over who owns the land by the property fence.
- Lady Grizzly, Squire Grizzly's wife. She is also a friend to the Bear family, though it is hinted that she wishes they were more in their "class" of people.
- Grizzly Gramps and Gran, Papa Bear's parents. Gramps likes to build ships in a bottle and complain about the government. Gran likes to plant flowers and tell other bears fortunes' for fun.
- Mayor Horace J. Honeypot, The mayor of Bear Country, known for numerous spoonerisms.
- Professor Actual Factual, The community intellectual, always pictured as slim and bespectacled. A good friend of Brother and Sister, he is also the purveyor and owner of the Bearsonian Institution, Bear Country's museum.
- Ferdy Factual ("Nerdy Ferdy"), nephew of Actual Factual and an unusually intelligent cub. Though he took a while to adjust to life at Bear Country School, he is now close friends with Brother, Sister and their friends. Occasionally, he even stands up to Too-Tall.
- Trudy Brunowitz, a similarly nerdy female cub and Ferdy's friend.
- Harry McGill, the first disabled cub in the series, making his debut in 1995 in the Big Chapter Book Series. He is smart and is good friends with Ferdy and Trudy. After standing up to Too-Tall, he eventually became his chess buddy. Helps new cubs adjust, especially after his first experience in Bear Country School.
- Bertha Broom, a muscular female cub who is athletic and kind but also quite feminist in her beliefs. One of the few cubs to stand up to Too-Tall on a regular basis besides Brother. The heavyweight on Bear Country School's wrestling team, as well as fullback on the football team.
- Milton Chubb, probably the largest cub in school and in the third grade, Milton was the brunt of teasing when he first arrived. He is now on the wrestling team and is good friends with all the cubs, especially Bertha, his secret "crush."
- Skuzz, the second-in-command of Too-Tall's gang. He wears a crown-like hat and is just as ruthless as Too-Tall.
- Smirk, the silly one of Too-Tall's gang, though not nice. He wears a beanie-like hat and likes to build model airplanes in his spare time.
- Dr. Gert Grizzly, Beartown's doctor. She is kind and wants everyone to adopt a healthy eating style. Was once tricked by Raffish Ralph's friends Captain Billy while raising money for a new hospital wing.
- Babs Bruno, the daughter of Beartown's police chief, Chief Bruno. A feminist and aspiring poet, she is good friends with Queenie and Bertha. She also occasionally hangs out with Sister and Bonnie.
- Vinnie, the dim-witted one of the Too-Tall gang. He wears a snowcap on his head similar to a skater, though only for looks. He does not get many jokes told by the rest of the gang and is often the one that Too-Tall teases when no one else is around.
- Barry Bruin, Lizzy's older brother. He is also one of the few continuity problems in the series as Lizzy did not have any other siblings when she first moved to Beartown. He loves to tell and play jokes but is always willing to help a friend out.
- Teacher Bob, the third-grade teacher in Bear Country School. Easygoing but firm. Most of the main cub characters, including Brother, Cousin Fred, Queenie, and Too-Tall are in his class.
- Teacher Jane, the first-grade teacher in Bear Country School. Also the Bear Scouts' troop leader. Sister and Lizzy are in her class. Very gentle and soft-spoken.
- Chief Bert Bruno, the police chief of Beartown and the father of Babs. He often calls on the Bear Detectives to help him solve local crimes, though he worries that they may get hurt while dealing with criminals. His assistant deputy is Officer Marguerite.
- Officer Marguerite, Bear Country's main police officer. Though she is not the only officer on the police force, she is the only one currently mentioned in the books.
- Kendall Bear, the local fashion designer and art teacher in Bear County School. Obviously unhappy with her backwoods surroundings, she often compared Bear County to her old home back north, often negatively.
- Tuffy, a bear that beat up Sister Bear in the book The Berenstain Bears and the Bully. She beat up Sister when she was playing tag with Lizzy and Queenie at the playground. Has not appeared in any other books.
- Mrs. Smith, a teacher who holds the Talent show in the poem book "The Berenstain Bears and the Talent Show."
- Dr. Bearson, a dentist who Sister thinks will yank out her tooth with Yankers because of a Sarcastic joke by Brother. Brother also thinks that Bearson's drill is big as Papa's. Appears in "The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist". Has not appeared again.
- Two-Ton Grizzly, Too-Tall's father and the strongest bear in Bear Country. Owns "Parts R Us," Bear Country's local junkyard. He is married to his wife, Too-Too. Besides Too-Tall, they also have a daughter, Too-Much, who is a teenager and works in the local bar.
- Teacher Harriet, one of Bear Country School's two fourth-grade teachers. Bermuda is in her class.
- Mr. Smock, Bear Country School's new art teacher. Queenie developed a crush on him. His favorite food is honey-cured salmon.
- Fred Furry, owner of Beartown's only theater, the "Bearjou."
- Gil Grizzwold, a character who does not speak much but appears in certain books. He appears to be good friends with Ferdy and Harry, but does not talk much with Brother or Sister.
- Mervyn "Bullhorn" Grizzmeyer, the school's coach and vice principal. A no-nonsense, strict disciplinarian, he is constantly keeping Too-Tall in line. Dictator-like, even setting up a strict dress code that failed after a few weeks, he is not afraid to put anyone in line, even Papa Bear.
- Mr. Herbert Honeycomb, the principal of Bear Country School. He appears to be laid-back but in charge, since most of the discipline is set out by Mr. Grizzmeyer. In "The Berenstain Bears and the Bully," it is said he is very strict about fighting.
- Miss Glitch, Bear Country School's other fourth-grade teacher and also the English teacher. She is similar to Mr. Grizzmeyer in personality and ways and loves poetry and classical music. While she means well, she often serves as nemesis to Brother, Sister, and their friends.
- Miss Honeybear, the kindergarten teacher at Bear Country School. Only appeared in one book.
- Sister's jumprope friends, named Anna, Millie, and Linda. They have appeared in a few books, but do not appear to be major characters in any plot so far.
- Bermuda McBear, Queenie's older cousin who is in the fourth grade, though her actions appear to be more teenage-oriented. A bigger flirt than Queenie and object of attention for the boys in the school, along with Bonnie.
- Biff Bruin, Lizzy and Barry's dad, who runs the pharmacy in Beartown. His wife is never mentioned other than a few select books.
- Willie and Min Bear, Fred's parents. Not active in any plot but appear in a few books.
- Mr. Kusler, a neighborhood bear, has a mullet.
- Miz Mcgrizz, a woman who the cubs believe to be an evil witch, but who turns out to be friendly when they trick or treat at her house. Appeared in "The Berenstain Bears Trick or Treat." In the episode Miz Mcgrizz is named "Witter Jones".
- Kitten Salesman, a salesman whose job is to sell toy "Kitty Cats" that "sticks out its tongue when you squeeze them" that won't last long and once they are gone, they would not refill, to get lots of money. He gives some to Brother and Sister and forces their parents to buy them.
- Space Grizzlies, toy action figures and a TV show that Brother was really obsessed with. Mama thinks they're fine but is annoyed with the obsession. Papa and Sister both don't like them in the book, but in the episode Papa liked them...and the TV show. Brother got to see the movie but it causes a Bad Dream.
- Bigpaw, a giant of a bear, a throwback to prehistoric cave bears. Lives in a cave and hibernates.
Berenstain Bears media
Over 300 Berenstain Bears books have been published since 1962.
The Berenstain Bears have appeared in three animated series.
The following NBC Holiday specials were produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s:
- The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree (aired December 3, 1979)
- The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw (aired November 20, 1980)
- The Berenstain Bears' Easter Surprise (aired April 14, 1981)
- The Berenstain Bears' Comic Valentine (aired February 13, 1982)
- The Berenstain Bears Play Ball (aired May 6, 1983)
This series was produced by Southern Star Productions in 1985, and featured two 11-minute stories per episode. While the first story to be shown was usually an adaptation of one of the books, a new story would make up the second half of the program. Some of these new stories prominently featured a villain in the form of Archweasel McGreed, who was out "to take over Bear Country lock, stock, and honeypot." Unlike most of the characters from the books, McGreed was created entirely for the cartoon, but managed to find his way into several novel books. FremantleMedia was licensed the 1985 TV series.
They have appeared in a variety of software.
- The Berenstain Bears' Camping Adventure, (1993, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear)
- The Berenstain Bears On Their Own, and You on Your Own, (CD-i)
- The Berenstain Bears: Learning At Home, Volume One, (Compton's New Media) (1993, PC)
- Extreme Sports with the Berenstain Bears (Sound Source Interactive), 2000, Game Boy Color.
- Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree, (Namco) (2005, Game Boy Advance).
USA Today and The Hollywood Reporter report that Shawn Levy, director of both Night at the Museum films, will direct the feature film adaptation of The Berenstain Bears as a hybrid of CGI and live action that will place the Berenstain family in the modern world. Release is planned for 2012.
Over the years, the Berenstain Bears books have been the subject of much favorable comment from education professionals and the reading public.
"The Berenstains have the extraordinary ability to communicate universal experiences and uplifting messages," -Laurie Norton Moffat, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.; NY Times, November 30, 2005
"They were able to take the real issues of children's lives and make them entertaining and not preachy," -Ilene Abramson, director of children's services at the Los Angeles Public Library; LA Times, November 30, 2005
"Among the generation of children growing up in the '70s and early '80s, The Berenstain Bears books are spoken of like zen koans, or like biblical allegories." -Aemillia Scott, Flak Magazine Online, November 30, 2005
Conception and creation
The authors have in the past stated that the parent bears merely reflected their own personalities. "Papa and Mama are roughly modeled after us," Stan Berenstain said in a 1991 Philadelphia Inquirer article. "I'm not quite as dumb as he seems to be sometimes, and Jan is not quite as wise and patient as Mama, but she is Mama."
Notes and references
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- Berenstain Bears launches on YTV, Fall 2006
- Official site
- PBS Kids: Official Siteit:Gli orsi Berenstain