The Shmooze

The Berenstain Bears Get Biblical

By Michael Kaminer

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We’d always assumed the Berenstain Bears — the cuddly, anthropomorphic ursine stars of bestselling kids books — were sort of Jewish. Maybe it was the name, given by series creators Stan and Jan Berenstain, whose kids now keep the franchise going. There’s even been serious investigation of the Semitic-bear issue on web sites like Jew or Not Jew.

Alas, The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog pops that balloon. While the blog reports that (Jewish) Stan and (Episcopalian) Jan “resisted religious elements in their books for children,” son Mike is taking the series in a decidedly goyish direction. Indeed, Berenstain the younger has launched a new series of Berenstain tales as part of the “Living Lights” series published by Zonderkidz, a division of Zondervan, a Christian publisher based in Michigan.

“Over the years, my parents and I often heard from Christian families how much they appreciate the values-based themes of our books,” Mike Berenstain told Christian Book Previews, according to the New Yorker. “By dealing with religion through the fun and laughter of the Berenstain Bears, we hope to nurture these families in their goal of raising children secure in their faith.” The result: “The steadying influence of trusty humanist values and good cheer” in the books has been replaced by a decidedly Christian, Bible-quoting worldview. “I’m faced with the unthinkable: Would these once agnostic Reagan-era bear creatures now vote Tea Party in the next election?” asked writer Ian Crouch.

A reader claiming to be Mike Berenstain responded with an online comment that the books “are not about politics or do they espouse a social agenda. My own Christian faith naturally informs the series.”

The Jewish bear question isn’t just academic. More than 250,000,000 copies of Berenstain books have been sold; a Berenstain Bears app is currently the top-selling at the iPhone App Store, the New Yorker reports.


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