The Berenstain Bears were created by husband-and-wife team Stan and Jan Berenstain, back in 1962. Over the years, the art style and stories evolved: the first few books are basically funny stories with a little lesson, and the art style is rough and simple; later books often were very focused on the lesson, to the detriment, in my opinion, of the story, while the art style grew more polished.
The difference between the earlier and later books is pretty stark. Look, for example, at the covers for The Big Honey Hunt and The Bear Scouts, and compared them to the covers of The Berenstain Bears and The Truth, The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food, and The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners. The covers of those two early books show Papa Bear and Small Bear (and, on The Bear Scouts, a few friends) happily engaged in some activity, enjoying themselves together. In the latter three, the most prominent image is Mama Bear, standing off to the left and glaring at her family. Why so mean-spirited? What happened to the simple joy in the early books? Sure, Mama had something of a resigned look on her face when Papa went off to do something foolish, but it was nothing like the cold glare she fixes on her children on the cover of The Berenstain Bears and the Truth.
Weirdly, though, these things are like a comic book cover proclaiming Batman is dead–they lie. Mama doesn’t get nearly as upset as the covers depict (though see my complaints about The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food). Why, then, must she look so horrible on the covers? It’s just not a pleasant thing to see.
I think it’s clear from what has come before that I prefer the older books to the newer ones. My instinctive reaction, for years, when someone mentions the Berenstain Bears was “that’s a great book series,” but really, I was only thinking of The Bear Scouts. I read that book many times when I was a wee thing, and it’s shaped my opinion on the books ever since–really, it has been the only book I had any particular opinion on. Sadly, upon reviewing the other books, they just don’t measure up to the standard set by the early ones.
Over two hundred books have been published, and I’ve read only a fraction of them. Those books that I’ve read and reviewed (listed in publication order) are:
- The Big Honey Hunt
- The Bike Lesson
- The Bear Scouts
- Inside Outside Upside Down
- The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby
- The Berenstain Bears and the Truth
- The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food
- The Berenstain Bears on the Moon
- The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners
- The Berenstain Bears and the Ghost of the Forest
- The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Vacation
- The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings