The Big Honey Hunt
|Author||Stan and Jan Berenstain|
The Big Honey Hunt is a children's book by Stan and Jan Berenstain, the first in the long-running Berenstain Bears series. It was first published in 1962 by Beginner Books, an imprint of Random House co-founded and managed by Dr. Seuss. The book introduces a family of anthropomorphic bears comprising Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Small Bear (later renamed Brother Bear).
At the beginning of the book, around the Berenstain Bears' table, Mama Bear announces that they are out of honey and tells Papa Bear to go get some more. He agrees and takes their son, Small Bear, along with him. However, he ignores Mama Bear's advice to go to the store to buy the honey and tries to collect wild honey instead. To that end, he and Small Bear follow around a bee as it flies from tree to tree. At each tree, Papa Bear declares that he is sure there is honey inside of it, but instead variously encounters an owl, a porcupine, and a family of skunks. When they do finally find a tree full of honey, it is protected by a swarm of bees. The bees chase them down to the river, where the bears jump in to avoid them. After the bees leave and the bears exit the water, Papa Bear gives up and decides to buy the honey from the store, as Mama Bear originally suggested.
Stan and Jan Berenstain, a husband and wife team from Pennsylvania, were already successful illustrators and cartoonists by the time The Big Honey Hunt was published, with their work appearing in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Good Housekeeping throughout the 1940s and 1950s. By the early 1960s, partly influenced by their son Leo's love for Dr. Seuss books, the Berenstains decided to create books for young children. For their first book, they decided to use bears as the main characters because they were widely popular and were easy to draw. According to their other son Mike Berenstain, Stan and Jan based their family of bear characters partly on themselves and their two sons. For the relationship between the father and son in particular, they used the 1931 film The Champ as a reference.
They decided to publish their first book with Random House, under the banner of Dr. Seuss' Beginner Books label. They took their first effort, Freddy Bear's Spanking, about a small bear who tries to avoid a spanking from his parents by suggesting a list of other punishments, to their first meeting with Seuss. Seuss praised the basic premise of the book but criticized many aspects of its execution. He became their first editor, and they spent the next two years revising their book to suit Seuss' rigorous standards. Freddy Bear's Spanking slowly became The Big Honey Hunt, and in the process, the Berenstains began to develop a formula for writing and illustrating children's books. According to their 2002 memoir, Down a Sunny Dirt Road, this included "easy words, short sentences, word/picture clues, rollicking rhythm, resolute rhyme... shameless slapstick and outrageous jokes."
Style and themes
Like later books in the series, The Big Honey Hunt focuses on a family of anthropomorphic bears: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Small Bear, who was later renamed Brother Bear when Sister Bear arrived in 1974. The Berenstains described the characters thusly: "a bluff, overenthusiastic Papa Bear who wore bib overalls and a plaid shirt and... a wise Mama Bear who wore a blue dress with white polka dots... and a bright, lively little cub." Like other Berenstain Bears books, especially other early books in the series, The Big Honey Hunt features Papa Bear ignoring the advice of the wise Mama Bear, getting into trouble, and finally relenting. The book, like other early Berenstain Bears books, focuses primarily on the relationship between father and son while Mama Bear plays only a secondary role. Later books began to focus more on other relationships, especially after the introduction of Sister Bear.
The book's visuals also differ from later books in the series, particularly in character design. In The Big Honey Hunt and other early Berenstain Bears books, the bears have larger and more pronounced ears and noses, thicker eyebrows, and lighter fur than their later redesigns. The plaid shirt Papa wears under his overalls is red and white instead of yellow and black.
Publication and legacy
The Big Honey Hunt was published in 1962 by Beginner Books, an imprint of Random House co-founded and edited by Dr. Seuss. Initially after its release, Stan and Jan proposed creating a series based around their bear characters to be published by Beginner Books, but Seuss encouraged them to do something different. So they began work on a book about a penguin, which they worked on for a few months. In the mean time, however, Random House salesmen had been marketing The Big Honey Hunt and it had been selling well. So Seuss suggested turning the book into a series, which spawned The Bike Lesson, and later hundreds of other books featuring the Berenstain Bears.
The book was originally published with the authors' full names, Stanley and Janice, printed on the cover, but Seuss shortened their names to Stan and Jan in later editions, saying, "That's what you call each other. And that's what I call you. Besides, it fits on one line." The pair used the moniker "Stan and Jan Berenstain" throughout the rest of their career.
In 2002, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the book's original publication, the Berenstains published an edition with an updated cover. In 2012, another update of the cover added a "50th anniversary" logo but left the cover art unchanged from the 2002 edition.
- Bartlett, Jaye. "Mike Berenstain talks about the Berenstain Bears' 50th anniversary". The Celebrity Cafe. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- Mehren, Elizabeth. "The Bear Facts." Los Angeles Times, 2 February 1995.
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- Berenstain, Jan. "The Bear Beginnings". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
- Drasek, Lisa Von. "CHILDREN'S BOOKS; Pursued by Bears". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
- Asim, Jabari. "Bear Necessities." The Washington Post, 2002-11-24, p. BW06.
- Shattuck, Kathryn. "For Young Viewers; The Family Next Door: Furry and Full of Fun." The New York Times, 5 January 2003.
- Morgan, Judith (1995). Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel. Random House. pp. 215–216.