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The Crab and the Bears

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One of the biggest — and most unseen — influences on Chester the Crab are a bear family and the husband and wife team who wrote them. I was sad to hear of the recent passing of Jan Berenstain, who wrote with her husband Stan more than 300 books that sold more than 260 million copies.

Their partnership reads like a storybook itself. Stan and Jan Berenstain were both born in 1923 in Philadelphia and met at the Philadelphia College of Art. In World War II Stan was a medical assistant in the Army, and Jan worked in an airplane factory. They married after the war and worked together as artists and writers, making cartoons for popular magazines. They began writing stories about a funny bear family to please their two sons.

As a young reader I loved “The Big Honey Hunt” and “The Bear Scouts.” Long before I laughed at Homer Simpson’s bumbles, I laughed at Papa Bear’s. The Berenstain Bears stories weren’t as daring as other works for children — you don’t hear many people of my generation reminisce about the Bears the way we do about Dr. Seuss books or classic Sesame Street or the Schoolhouse Rock videos. The Bears had a gentler vibe, a more wholesome worldview — that must have come from Stan and Jan.

Of course I went back to those childhood favorites to read to my sons when I became a parent. But by the 1990s, Stan and Jan were also writing Bear family books that spoke directly to me as a parent. They got me out of a lot of jams with their a series of Berenstain Bear books based on real world family problems. “The Berenstain Bears and The Truth” and “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV” were reference books in our household! Whenever we hit a parenting problem, we went looking for Stan and Jan’s advice. Because it worked. How beautiful to wrap nonfiction info into a gentle, funny, warm story about a bear family.

That’s why Chester isn’t that crabby. Chester’s voice is mine, not some spiced up snarky thing that I’m hoping will compete in the big media swirl of kidstuff. I’ve tried to present info in a funny, earnest, quirky way through Chester and just assumed that he would find his audience of people who could understand that you don’t have to be snotty to be cool.

I hope that on some afternoons after school Brother Bear and Sister Bear are reading some Chester Comix up in their room in their big treehouse down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 13th, 2012 at 9:27 am and is filed under Author's Purpose. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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Chester crab comics