This was particularly jarring for me because I had always assumed that, given their surnames, the bears were, well, Jewish (and probably secular, considering they never really brought it up). As a parent, I took it for granted that the moral framework of contemporary children's books, when it made an appearance, would remain disengaged from any actual dogma. So, when had the Berenstain Bears found Christ? And why?

The Berenstain Bears franchise currently belongs to Mike Berenstain, who has written the books for the past decade. Berenstain was a grade-schooler when his parents, Stan and Jan Berenstain, professional cartoonists, first learned of a new children's-book imprint at Random House started by Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. The two decided to pass along an idea for a book about a family of bears that runs into a series of comic mishaps while on a quest for honey. This became "The Big Honey Hunt," published in 1962.

Geisel encouraged the Berenstains to avoid being pigeonholed with their bear characters. "He said, 'No, that's the worst thing to do,'" Mike recalls. "'You'd be typecast. Everybody has a bear. There's Yogi Bear, Sendak has Little Bear, there's the Chicago Bears.'" But brisk sales of "Honey Hunt" caused Geisel to change his mind, and he convinced the Berenstains to resurrect the bear family. They handed in the manuscript for the second book, "The Bike Lesson," soon after that. When it was published, much to their surprise, they found that Random House had given the bears their family name. A dynasty was born.

The Berenstain Bears books that followed were intentional throwbacks, reflecting not the tumultuous America of their time — we never saw "The Berenstain Bears Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out" — but of an imagined, idyllic past. "They were creating, at that time, a kind of archaic, genteel, old-fashioned, exaggeratedly rustic Americana world," Mike Berenstain says. This is apparent even in the Berenstains' taste for oddball euphemisms; they refer to dog poop as "calling cards."

Mike Berenstain became a designer at Random House and then a children's-book writer and illustrator for about 10 years before being called in by his overworked parents to help out with the family business in the mid-1980s. Stan died in 2005, and after that, Mike was left in charge of the writing; his mother continued to co-illustrate the stories along with Mike until she died in 2012. Mike took over as sole author and illustrator, and the books began to reflect more of his own personality, even as he served as the faithful executor of his parents' vision. This led to a disconnect between his family's stolid, universalist postwar morality and his own.

Stan Berenstain had been born to a secular Jewish family in West Philadelphia, and Jan Berenstain, née Grant, was Episcopalian by birth. Mike and his brother were not raised in any particular religious faith. "They taught me morals and traditions and ethics, but not a particular spiritual identity," he says. Mike didn't find religion until he enrolled his children at Quaker schools near his suburban Philadelphia home, which led him to the Presbyterian Church and a mature religious faith of his own.

In 2006, Mike Berenstain, with the agreement of his mother, approached HarperCollins with an idea for a new book series. They had noticed an unusual volume of letters and emails from devoted Christian readers, writing to share their appreciation for the timeless values of the Berenstain Bears books. A light went off: How about an entire series for religious readers?

The resulting books, published as part of the Living Lights series by HarperCollins' Zondervan imprint, best known for its wide-ranging collection of Bibles, were intentionally cordoned off from the original Berenstain Bears series. They were primarily marketed to Christian bookstores and school associations, and promoted to faith-based outlets and Christian bloggers. Nonetheless, the Zondervan titles often occupy the same bookstore and library shelves as the other Berenstain Bears books; ours came from my sister-in-law, a public-school teacher, who purchased them from a decidedly secular website.

Not only did sales of the Living Lights series avoid cannibalizing sales of the more traditional Berenstain Bears line, as some at HarperCollins worried; overall sales for the Berenstains' books have actually increased by 30 percent since the series began. Annette Bourland, Zondervan's senior vice president and publisher, told me they had found an eager audience in the "home-school community."

As an observant Jew, I may not have particularly wanted to read to my son about attending Sunday school, but there was hardly anything to take offense at in the new Berenstain Bears adventures. Still, to be perfectly honest, its Bible-quoting characters unwound some of the lingering sentiment I'd felt for the Berenstain Bears, who appeared to me to have abandoned their universalist appeal. Their stories were no longer about milestones and stumbling blocks in every young child's life but took a more narrowly targeted approach that left some out even as it pulled others in.

Even knowing Mike Berenstain's reasoning — his faith, finding a bigger audience — it was hard not to see the Bears' conversion as another means of escape from the changing world they had always sought to escape. In the 1960s, Bear Country was a refuge from tumult; basically, it was the suburbs. Now religion was the refuge, a cloak for the bears' deliberate and unfashionable fustiness. But was there any need for such a justification?

Ultimately, bedtime stories serve twin purposes. To children, they're entertainment; to parents, a soporific. "Show Some Respect" stayed in regular bedtime-reading rotation in our household, my discomfort with its Christian themes outweighed by its uncanny ability to speed the progress from bath to bed to blissful (parental) immersion in "Catastrophe." My son, though, could not have cared less that the Berenstain Bears were quoting from the Bible, any more than he would have noticed references to the Quran or "The Communist Manifesto." He was just glad that the Bears had found a place to have their picnic — and that they always would.

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