With 300-plus titles in print and more than 260 million books sold, the Berenstain Bears are bound to come up in conversation. Here’s how to steer a predictable discussion about teamwork and manners to one on sex and panda discrimination.
1. Creators Stanley Berenstain and Janice Grant grew up in the same neighborhood in West Philadelphia, but they didn’t meet until their first day of art school.
2. During World War II, Stanley served in the Army. He and Janice stayed in touch by sending each other hand-drawn cartoons.
3. Although they’re remembered for their bear adventures, the Berenstains also illustrated humor books for adults, including How to Teach Your Children About Sex Without Making a Complete Fool of Yourself.
4. The Berenstains knew about teamwork. They wrote together, drew together, and colored the art together. That’s cooperation!
5. The Berenstains created their bears after reading a New Yorker profile of a Random House editor named Theodor Geisel who was starting a line of children’s books.
6. Yup, that's Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel.
7. Geisel sensed their potential immediately. He closed his first meeting with the couple by saying, “Berenstains, I can’t tell you how happy I am to be working with you. I just know we’re going to get a wonderful book.”
8. He also changed their names. The couple had always been Stanley and Janice, but Geisel shortened their names to Stan and Jan to get that cute, Seuss-like rhyme.
© Random House Children's Books
9. Stanley and Janice initially planned to follow up their first book with one about penguins, but when The Big Honey Hunt sold well, Geisel convinced them to stick with bears.
10. Why bears? According to Stanley: “Bears can stand up on their hind legs like people, and they look good in clothes.”
11. For the record, the Berenstains had zero interest in drawing monkeys.
12. Stanley called Mama and Papa Bear “terrible exaggerations” of himself and his wife. “[Papa] tends to get carried away, as I do ... tends to be a little bit clumsy, as I am. And has very good intentions. Mama Bear is warm and wise and almost perfect, like Jan.”
13. The Bears have tackled some hard-hitting issues over the years, including peer pressure, stranger danger, and cyber crime. In The Berenstain Bears’ New Neighbors, Papa must overcome his mistrust of the—er—pandas who move in next door.
14. The Berenstains’ son Mike inherited their love of drawing. He began working on the books in the 1980s and took over the franchise with his mother when Stan passed away in 2005. Jan died in February 2012.
This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Get a risk-free issue!