Berenstain Bears are now looking for slightly older readers

November 02, 1993|By Paula Crouch Thrasher | Paula Crouch Thrasher,Cox News Service

After three decades of writing about the fun and foibles of a family of cartoon bears, author-illustrators Jan and Stan Berenstain have turned a page in the life of Mama, Papa, Brother and Sister Bear: Big Chapter Books.

In the new series for young readers ages 7 to 10, the Berenstains use humor to tackle serious themes such as young love ("New Girl in Town"),drug abuse ("Drug Free Zone"), women's rights ("Female Fullback"), the physically challenged ("Wheelchair Commando") and theft ("Innocent Until Proven Guilty"). Eight Big Chapter Books ($2.99 each from Random House) have been published since June.

The Berenstains' nearly 40 First Time Books published since 1981 have helped children ages 3 to 6 cope with new experiences with love and laughter. Along with the cubs, youngsters learn about good manners, visiting the doctor and dentist, behaving in school, telling the truth, getting over the "gimmes," the consequences of watching too much TV and eating too much junk food, and fighting pollution.

"Really," says Ms. Berenstain, during an interview with her husband from their Pennsylvania farmhouse, "the chapter books are first-time books but with the age up a little. Life is a series of first times."

The Bears were introduced in the early 1960s in the Beginner Booksseries founded by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, the Berenstains' editor for 17 years.

Then as now, the Bears are a typical middle-class American family -- only they never change clothes or wear shoes.

Why bears?

"When we were in art school," says Mr. Berenstain, "one of our weekly classes was a trip to the zoo. We decided to draw bears, partly because the cages were away from the other animals and we could be alone. Also, they do this circular walking, so we could catch them in different positions. And unlike other animals, they stand up."

Mr. Berenstain says many longtime Bears fans repeatedly asked them to write for a slightly older audience. Ultimately, what sold them on the idea were statistics that show that by the third- or fourth-grade, boys don't read as much as girls. "We think it's partly because there's not as much out there for boys to read," he says.

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