published Monday, March 12th, 2012

Celebrating childhood books in McMinn County

Halle Newman looks at the Berenstain Bears exhibit as she visits the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum in Athens with her parents, Jackie and Todd Newman, and her brother, Bryson Newman.
Halle Newman looks at the Berenstain Bears exhibit as she visits the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum in Athens with her parents, Jackie and Todd Newman, and her brother, Bryson Newman.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Childrens books, like old friends, can be unforgettable.

As a child, Audrey Dennis said, her daughter Kelly, now 29, loved the Berenstain Bears books.

"When she was young, [Kelly] thought it was a treat to find a new Berenstain Bear book," Dennis said.

So when Dennis, office manager of the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum, learned last year that 2012 would be the 50th anniversary of the books' first publication, she approached her superiors about setting up an exhibit to celebrate the beloved works of children's literature.

The Feb. 24 death of Jan Berenstain, who co-authored the more than 300 books with her husband, Stan, who died in 2005, is coincidental, though she is being mourned by local book lovers.

"I hate that she passed," wrote Joe Thomas in a Facebook post. "She and her husband were a huge part of my childhood and probably the reason I read so much now."

Thomas, 34, has gone from the Berenstains to Tolstoy. He said in a phone interview that he credits his parents' having read the Bears books to him as a child as what motivates him to value and relish literature so much as an adult.

The exhibit is actually composed of Kelly's childhood collection of Berenstain Bear books, as well as activities such as puzzles, arts and crafts, and party hats to celebrate the Bears' birthday.

Dennis said the books, especially the representation of a pair of siblings, were reminiscent of her own family.

"The brother and sister were a little mischievous. Papa Bear would always try to help out with them but would always make the matter a little bit worse, then Mama Bear would have to step in and fix it all. They would always get in a predicament, and they would always figure out how to get out of it at the end."

The exhibit runs through the end of March.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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