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Once upon a time, in Mrs. Sweeneys first year drawing class at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, a lantern-jawed exotic named Stan admired the drawing of a brown-haired, blue-eyed girl named Janice . . . and it was kismet! It also heralded the birth of one of the great collaborations in all of childrens literature: Stan and Jan Berenstain, creators of the Berenstain Bears.
This enormously readable account tells of the early years before they met, their courtship (briefly interrupted by World War II), married life, and their first fateful meeting with Theodor Seuss Geiselthe editor-in-chief and president of Beginner Books.
It was this fateful meeting that led to the publication of The Big Honey Huntthe book that launched
their careers as childrens book artists and introduced to the world what would quickly become Americas first family of bears: the Berenstain Bears. You'd think that Jan and Stan Berenstain's true calling was the whole bear thing (Bears in the Night, The Big Honey Hunt, etc.). But after spending even a couple minutes reading their absorbing and often hilarious autobiography, you'll wonder why they don't do more memoirs.
Taking turns with chapters like "Stan Meets Jan" and "Jan Meets Stan," the Berenstains share some of the most minute and telling details that contributed to their uniquely successful career and marriage (which long ago passed the 50-year mark). We hear about 5-year-old Stan's "cat period" (quickly eclipsed by his "zeppelin period," after spotting the Graf Zeppelin sailing over Philadelphia's "el"); a third-grade dance performance by shy "Janeece" as the Red-Breasted Robin (Jan's teacher never pronounced her name correctly); the couple's budding romance at art school and its interruption by the draft (followed by some funny WWII recollections from Stan); their struggling early success at the Saturday Evening Post and Collier's (where they became famous for their "moppet mob scenes"); and their momentous first meeting with Theodor ("Dr.") Seuss Geisel, which led to some surprising consternation--"Our modest dream of a doing a funny book about a family of bears who lived in a tree was turning into a waking nightmare."
Even though the Berenstains have kindly written to a preteen level, teens and grownups should still find Down a Sunny Dirt Road highly readable. And die-hard fans of the Bear family will especially enjoy the comprehensive bibliography--who ever knew about The Berenstain Bears and the Drug-Free Zone? (Ages 10 and older) --Paul Hughes
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