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Berenstain Bears Co-Creator Has Died

Doylestown remembers Jan Berenstain, of Solebury, who died Friday after a stroke

Mama Bear has died.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Jan Berenstain, co-creator of the Berenstain Bears book series with her late husband Stan, died Friday, Feb. 24.

Their son, Mike Berenstain, said she suffered a stroke on Thursday and died the next day without regaining consciousness, according to the AP story.

Together, the Berenstains wrote and illustrated the children's book series The Berenstain Bears, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. They lived in Solebury Township, in Bucks County, for years.

Throughout those years, they were an integral part of the literary and artistic community in Central Bucks County.

The library at Groveland Elementary is named the Berenstain Library, in their honor.

And when Ellen Mager was asked to decorate a Christmas tree for the annual display at the Pearl S. Buck house, she chose a Berenstain Bear theme.

"The theme was 'Treasures of Bucks County,' and I did the Berenstains, with Mama Bear sitting on the top of the tree," said Mager. "They were just really good people."

Mager has run the Doylestown children's bookshop, , for almost 30 years. Throughout nearly three decades, the Berenstain Bears books have remained consistent, popular sellers, Mager said.

The stories and themes in the books spoke to children and their parents in a unique way, she said.

"There was something special about what they did," Mager said. "They had a family unit that worked out all kinds of problems, but you didn’t think of them as bears. They were a family, and you could relate to that."

Pat Achilles would agree.

When she learned Monday that Jan Berenstain had died, the Doylestown woman went to her bookshelf and pulled out a Berenstain book. Like so many parents across the country and, indeed, the world, she had plenty to choose from.

"My kids read them all," said Achilles. As an illustrator herself, she also had a professional appreciation for the Berenstains' work. "Kids really identified with the characters, and the drawings were fun and easy to relate to, full of action and expression, which is what kids of that age go for."

The varied topics and dozens of book titles gave children and their parents a wide range of stories to choose from.

"They were so prolific," Achilles said. "They tackled every problem a kid from the age of 3 to 10 would encounter. I really admired them for that, even before I learned that they lived here. That’s another great thing for Bucks County, to have that dynasty here."

Achilles never knew the Berenstains, but Mager did. The bookseller first met Stan Berenstain in 1983, shortly after she had opened her shop in a "tiny little place" on State Street. 

"He walked in and said, 'Do you know who I am? And I had to stop myself because I almost said, 'Yes, you're Papa Bear,' " Mager recalled Monday. "He stayed for over an hour, just talking about authors and illustrators."

Born Janice Marian Grant in Philadelphia in 1923, Jan met Stan Berenstein in 1941, according to their website. They married after World War II, and had two children, Leo and Mike.

They began careers as magazine illustrators and decided to try a children's book. Under the tutelage of Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, their first book, "The Big Honey Hunt," was published in 1962. More than 250 million copies of their books have been published over the years.

Their son Mike went on to become an illustrator, as well, and joined the family business. He illustrated many of his parents' books and worked with his mother on recent releases.

Stan Berenstain died in 2005 at the age of 82. When Mager learned Monday that Jan Berenstain had died, one thought occurred to her.

"The first thing I thought of was, she’s back with Stan," Mager said. "I really didn’t think of them separately. I thought of them together. That’s just the way  it was."

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