I, along with thousands of other grown-up kids, was saddened to hear about the passing this week of Jan Berenstain, the author and creator of The Berenstain Bears series. I grew up with Sister and Brother and Mama and Papa Bear, going with them to camp, to the dentist, to school, and on spooky trick-or-treating outings. When I was old enough to read, Stan and Jan Berenstain were almost a mythical part of that surrogate family to me, their names on the cover of each book, as bold and as large as the titles.
Just as the Berenstain Bears were a formative part of my childhood, they were also a formative part of my experience here at FableVision. One of the very first projects I worked on at FableVision was reinvigorating Berenstain Bears property by bringing it to life on the PBS Kids Play platform. PBS Kids Play is a subscription service developed by PBS Kids Interactive that offers an immersive experience with curriculum-based games for a variety of the PBS Kids properties. FableVision has been a longtime partner with PBS Kids Play, having produced immersive worlds and games for SuperWhy!, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Dinosaur Train and The Berenstain Bears. It was an honor and a great challenge to be the caretakers of the beloved Bears in this new interactive experience.
We wanted to stay true to the characters, the tone, the books and to the warm and inviting (and mostly wooden!) design of the world that existed in the books. As we dove into old Berenstain Bears books and DVDs to get inspired, many of us in the studio grew quite nostalgic. FableVision Creative Strategist, Leigh, recalls, "my mom saved all of my original Berenstain Bear books, and it has been so much fun sharing them with my daughter. When I read them to Lila, I instantly remember which pages/illustrations I loved and lingered over when I was a kid—like in the Bears Vacation, the underwater scene with the giant snapping turtle and shells. Now I love the cracked spines on the books, and the musty smell of the pages, and the cadence of the words when I read them out loud. And as a parent, I enjoy a whole 'second layer' of humor in the books that went over my head as a kid: the silly dad and the mom who is always right--some things never change (kidding!)." One of our interns, Diana, remembers reading the Berenstain Bears books at night with her brother before going to bed. She also recalls being excited to go to the library to borrow a Berenstain Bear book and the corresponding video tape.
Our lead artist on that project, Jim Fagerquist, did an amazing job of recreating locations from the books and in many times recreating new locations that fit into the Berenstain Bears world. And, as we always like to do at FableVision, we created story-based games that address the curriculum objectives of the show such as sharing, being fair, understanding family and being creative. In the end, the Berenstain Bears "world" consisted of the Treehouse, Papa's Workshop, The Schoolhouse, and the Theatre. We created 8 games based on story lines such as Sister and her friend putting on a play for Bear Country; Papa and Sister building furniture from found objects;Brother and Sister playing a game of guess who; Mama and Brother Bear cooking and baking for the family; and Sister and Brother planning a surprise party for Mama and Papa. We are proud of the work we did and so proud to be part of the legacy of the Berenstain Bears for a whole new generation of kids and families.
From FableVision to you, Jan Berenstain, thank you. Thanks for always telling great stories, for showing how to care for one another and for being a part of our family. You will be missed, but your Berenstain Bears will always live on.
Naomi Greenfield is the Director of Marketing and Creative Strategist at FableVision Studios.