Stan Berenstain, who with his wife, Jan, churned out more than 250 books showing how the warm and fuzzy Berenstain Bears - Mama, Papa, Brother and Sister - confronted and learned from life's little crises, died on Saturday in Doylestown, Pa. He was 82.
The cause was lymphoma, Mrs. Berenstain said.
The Berenstain Bears hail from the mythical land of Bear Country and for more than a generation have helped children just shy of reading age glimpse the connection between stories and pictures, both of which the human Berenstains amply provided. As children matured, the books became wordier, although the couple, both trained as artists, hardly stinted on pictures of cuddly bears riding bicycles, stealing watermelons, having bad days and debating the existence of God.
The stories often center on the young bears' anxiety about new experiences, like having a baby sitter or visiting the dentist for the first time. Happy endings and a clear moral are de rigueur.
Sales of the bear books (each carrying the admonition "Buy them all!") are nearing 300 million, with spinoffs ranging from television shows to amusement park rides to McDonald's Happy Meal promotions to video games to musicals.
"The Berenstains have the extraordinary ability to communicate universal experiences and uplifting messages," wrote Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., which in 2003 had an exhibition on the couple's work.
In what might be seen as a tribute to the Berenstain Bears' ubiquity, critics for years have commented on the ursine clan's adherence to gender stereotypes, including Mama Bear's ever-so-brief fling at working outside the home, only to retreat to the cubs.
Papa Bear's bumbling incompetence, compared with Mama Bear's warm, wise effectiveness, has spawned particular ire.
"He is often wrong but never in doubt," as the Berenstains' Web site says.
Charles Krauthammer, in a 1989 column in The Washington Post, referred to "the postfeminist Papa Bear" as "the Alan Alda of Grizzlies, a wimp so passive and fumbling he makes Dagwood Bumstead look like Batman."
In 1998, Mary Jo Kochakian, a columnist for The Hartford Courant, wrote, "You have to wonder, doesn't Stan Berenstain have any self-respect?"Mrs. Berenstain explained in an interview yesterday that her husband was comfortable with the depiction of Papa, which was at least half his idea.
"Nobody likes making a mother the fall guy," she explained. "Papa Bear has broad shoulders."
Stanley Melvin Berenstain was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 29, 1923, and early on demonstrated an artistic flair by painting a huge, utterly unappreciated boxing mural on the living room wall. He met Janice Grant at a drawing class at what was then the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, where they admired each other's drawings.
Mr. Berenstain spent World War II working as an artist in the Army, doing detailed drawings of new plastic surgery procedures for facial wounds. He picked up spending money by drawing cartoons in his spare time and selling them to magazines. He returned to marry Miss Grant, who had been working as a riveter, on April 1, 1946.
They developed a thriving enterprise by cooperating on cartoons and cover illustrations and selling them to magazines like Colliers and The Saturday Evening Post. They did a long-running family humor feature for McCall's, and later for Good Housekeeping, called "It's All in the Family." When their first son, Leo, was born, they prepared a book called "Berenstains' Baby Book," the first of around 70 cartoon-centered books, Mrs. Berenstain said.
In the early 1960's, Leo and his younger brother, Michael, introduced their parents to books by Dr. Seuss for young children. They decided to do something similar that would feature bears, not least because they seemed pretty easy to draw. They took the book to Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dr. Seuss himself, who was then editing books for very young readers at Random House.
He peppered them with questions like "What kind of pipe tobacco does Papa Bear smoke?" But he bought their first children's book, "The Big Honey Hunt." He also shortened their names to Stan and Jan because they rhyme and fit on one line, and it was he who named the Bears after the Berenstains.
In addition to his wife and two sons, both of whom live near their parents' home in Bucks County, Mr. Berenstain is survived by four grandchildren and his sister, Aline Smith.
The Bears also live on: Mr. Berenstain's wife and sons plan to keep producing books through the family corporation, Berenstain Enterprises.
Mr. Geisel once paid Mr. and Mrs. Berenstain a high compliment, although they did not learn about it until after his death in 1991. The Morning Call, an Allentown, Pa., newspaper, reported in 2002 that the messenger was Chuck Jones, who helped create Bugs Bunny.
"You know what Ted said about you?" he told Mr. Berenstain. "He said you can draw anything."