Growing up in a Jewish household, I hated the fact that everyone else (translation: the three non-Jews in my class) got to celebrate Christmas with trees and stockings. We had Chanuka, which was pretty sweet but not quite the same, mainly because school wasn’t canceled and there were no movies based on it (this was pre-Adam Sandler). But being Jewish felt like belonging to a secret, members-only club, and it was fun to spot other members hiding in broad daylight, blending seamlessly into the mainstream culture. I always felt like the Berenstain Bears were just such Jews. They had tons of books, and, like my essentially secular family, weren’t religious or big-nosed, or money-grubbing, or Math nerds. They were just like every other bear family on the block, only they happened to be Jewish. And every kid – not just Jewish ones – read their books. Turns out I was wrong. The Berenstain’s are actually evangelical Christians.
First the Insane Clown Posse, now The Berenstain Bears. Who’s next, Larry David?
The Berenstain Bears are the brainchild of husband and wife Stan and Jan Berenstain. Stan was Jewish and Jan was not. Stan died a few years ago, and now it seems that Jan has gone all rapture on us with “The Living Lights,” a series of Bear-books featuring such titles as, “The Berenstain Bears Say Their Prayers,” “The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School,” and “The Berenstain Bears: God Loves You.”
This news makes me sad for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that now Jewish kids can’t include the Berenstain’s in their secret club. But it also makes me sad for another reason, which is the existence religio-political indoctrination in mainstream children’s books. Sure, children’s books have changed a lot since the old days, and there are many books out there about tolerance and diversity. But walk into a Barnes & Nobles and look around. There are tons and tons of kid’s books about Jesus and God and prayer. Not that there shouldn’t be Christian kid’s books. There should, but they should be shelved in the Religion section. The Berenstains should be about overcoming your fear of the dark, not eating junk food (remember when Sister got fat?), and learning to say ‘please.’ They shouldn’t be about God.