It Runs in the Family

Big feet…musical talent…dimples…these are all things you might inherit from your parents.  But what if your parents are authors of a classic children’s book series?  Until recently, I didn’t realize just how many series actually run in the family.

Take the Eastman family, for instance.  P.D. Eastman was a protégé of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) — in fact, Eastman and Geisel were army buddies, having been assigned to the Signal Corps Film Unit together.  Eastman went on to write many books for children in his own distinct style, under the Dr. Seuss brand of Random House, including a series of books about two loveable canines: Fred and Ted.

You know how it goes.  Fred is a big dog.  Ted is a small dog. Fred likes the color green, prefers spinach over beets, and tends to do things the hard way. Ted likes the color red, prefers beets over spinach, and tends to do things the easy way.  A classic case of “opposites attract.”

Eastman’s son, Peter,  took the helm as dad got older, and he has since written several more Fred and Ted stories…not to mention, he’s also become an award-winning television director and animator. 

bigdog              fredandted

Peggy Parish was known best for the children’s book series and fictional character Amelia Bedelia.  Amelia was, of course, extremely literal-minded, and as a household servant and cook, she got herself into all kinds of conundrums that left readers in stitches.  Simple instructions to “run over the tablecloth with an iron,” or to “serve coffee with porridge” were taken all too literally with hilarious results.

The series was continued after her sudden death from an aneurysm by her nephew Herman Parish.   Herman says, “Peggy still received fan mail from children. They wondered when the next Amelia Bedelia book would be out. Then other children’s authors wrote and volunteered to continue the series.  I felt uneasy about Amelia Bedelia leaving our family. As I was in the fourth grade when she first appeared, I had literally grown up with her. So I decided to try to write a new Amelia Bedelia adventure.”

amelia             unleashed

Stanley and Janice Berenstain started out their careers as a magazine cartoonist team. They published in The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers Magazine, McCall’s, Good Housekeeping and many more focusing on humor about children and families.  Since both of their sons were big Dr. Seuss fans, Stan and Jan decided to try their hands at creating a children’s book, themselves — The Big Honey Hunt, published in 1962 with Dr. Seuss (aka Ted Seuss Geisel) as editor and publisher. Over two hundred Berenstain Bears books followed over the next forty three years until Stan’s death in 2005.

Son Mike had become a children’s book illustrator and author in the 1970s and joined with his parents in the 1980s on magazine work, moving to illustrating and co-writing Berenstain Bears books by 1992.  After a long illness, Stan passed away in November 2005, at the age of eighty-two.  Jan died in February 2012, at the age of eighty-eight.  Mike continues to write and illustrate Berenstain Bears books on all sorts of subjects–everything from going for a ride on the train to the golden rule.

honeyhunt              graduation

The Babar books began as a bedtime story Cécile de Brunhoff invented for their children when they were four and five years old.  The boys liked the story of the little elephant who left the jungle for a city resembling Paris so much that they took it to their father, Jean de Brunhoff  who was a painter, and asked him to illustrate it.  He turned it into a picture book, with text, which was published by a family-run publishing house.  After the first book Histoire de Babar (The Story of Babar), six more titles followed before Jean de Brunhoff died of tuberculosis at the age of 37.

Soon after the end of World War II, Jean’s son Laurent, who had followed in his father’s footsteps as a painter, began work on a Babar book of his own. He trained himself to draw elephants in strict accord with the style of his father, and consequently, many people did not notice any difference in authorship. Laurent has always been careful to emphasize that Babar was his father’s creation (and to some extent his mother’s) and that he continued the series largely as a way of keeping his father and his own childhood alive.

babar               games

So if all you got from your parents was a peanut allergy and a knack for rolling your tongue, you might want to think about writing that children’s book you’ve always wanted to write.  You never know what kind of legacy it will bestow upon your own children!


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