Stan and Jan Berenstain, who have had a relationship with Random House that dates back to the early 1960s, are moving their Berenstain Bears franchise to HarperCollins. In a deal negotiated by HC Children's Books editor-in-chief Kate Morgan Jackson with Sterling Lord of Sterling Lord Literistic, HC has acquired the rights to more than 50 new Berenstain Bears books in five different formats. Lord called HC's offer "generous."

HC will begin releasing the titles in January 2005 and plans to publish between 12 and 15 books per year. The agreement covers 8" x 8" paperback picture books, color and activity books, shaped board books, hardcover picture books and audio. Random House will continue to control the rights to the Berenstain Bears backlist.

Although the Berenstain Bears titles don't sell as well today as in their heyday, Jackson said HC considers the characters to be "timeless and a part of children's publishing." She said HC has received lots of interest in The Berenstain Bears Save Christmas, a picture book the publisher had acquired before the new deal and will publish this fall.

Jackson said the early success of the Christmas title plus the launch of a new Berenstain Bears television show, as well as HC's desire to expand its mass market program, made a deal with the Berenstains very attractive. She said HC is making a "major statement" about its commitment to strengthening both its mass market and trade children's publishing programs.

No new titles will be released in 2004 as HC prepares for a launch of the new program in early 2005. Jackson said HC "will give some gentle refreshing" to the Bears' design and is prepared to back the franchise with strong marketing and sales support. "We see this as a major property that will benefit from a significant sales and marketing effort," Jackson said.

Lord said the Berenstains "are extremely excited about their new relationship and look forward to a long history with HarperCollins."

The first Berenstain Bears title was released in 1962 and more than 240 million copies of the series have been sold. In a statement, Kate Klimo, v-p publisher of Random House/ Golden Books for Young Readers, thanked the Berenstains "for their lasting contribution to our backlist, and wish them every success in the future."