In 1952, Stanley and Janice Berenstain published Tax-wise: A Pictorial Romp through the Tax Form. Little did they know that their gift for caricature and storytelling would develop into a beloved franchise of anthropomorphic bears. Stan died in 2005, but Jan and son Mike Berenstain carry the ursine torch into the 21st century. And just in time for the season of fright and identity, The Berenstain Bears Go on a Ghost Walk is available in interactive apps for iOS and Android platforms.
The Berenstains got their first break from Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, who in 1957 was editor for a Random House series of children’s books. Geisel encouraged Stan and Jan to find another power animal as he thought the bear market was overcrowded. Luckily for generations of children, they stuck to their furry guns.The Bears have come a long way since 1962, when Stanley and Janice Berenstain published Big Honey Hunt. The characters have transformed in much the way the Simpsons have changed over the duration of their hundred-year television reign. The lovable bear family have now entered the digital world, but despite the electronic format, the artwork retains visible cross hatching and other lines that endearingly remind you of the craft that goes into the drawings.
The Berenstain Bears Go on a Ghost Walk finds papa bear hard at work — and at play — preparing the kids for a school ghost walk, starting with pumpkin harvest time. But idyllic scenes of pumpkin farms are too sedate for papa, especially at this most frightening time of the year. After carving out pumpkins to make jack-o-lanterns, papa demonstrates his signature Falstaffian over-enthusiasm, taking a garbage-can full of pumpkin innards to fashion a meaty costume for himself. Alas, the children are too frightened by the vision of the pumpkin monster and run to mama.
This incident serves an important triple purpose. It demonstrates to kids that papa loves them in his clumsy fashion; it shows bumbling fathers that a little too much enthusiasm can be overwhelming, but that things will turn out right in the end; and it shows humans of all ages that bears are a force to be reckoned with, and not to be taken lightly whether or not they are enrobed in fresh pumpkin meat.
Oceanhouse Media developed the electronic edition of Ghost Walk from the Harper Collins original, and the iPhone app that I tested is well-designed for interaction with little fingers. Readers can choose if they want the book to be read to them by an enthusiastic maternal stand-in, or if they want to read the book themselves. For the adventurous reader who may struggle with harder words like “misshapen” and “festooned,” touching individual words allows them to hear the words again. Touching specific areas of the art work provide instant identification of characters like “mama” and “papa,” as well as environmental details like “sky” and ”grass” as well as seasonal signifiers like “ghost” and “black cat.” Children of all ages will enjoy the interactive features of these classic characters updated for the technological age. Parents will nod their heads at the perpetuation of gender stereotypes.