Category Archives: Children

Book Review: The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational Stories, by Stan and Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational StoriesHonestly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Berenstain books when I was a kid. Bears living in tree houses didn’t make a lot of sense, and the Bible messages always seemed a bit off. Of course, I wasn’t your average kid and wasn’t fond of being read to. I’d read something myself or not at all, so I didn’t get any further explanation beyond what I found on the pages. It’s been decades since I last read one of their books, so when I came across The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational Stories, I thought I’d give it a shot to see if it’d be something to recommend.

As an adult, I now see the Little House on the Prairie style church, community, and particular denominational undertones, which is going to be received more easily by some than others. (If this was the case with these books when I was a child, then it makes sense why my family didn’t have Berenstain books in our home. However, we did watch the aforementioned TV show, which was easier to follow and from which I learned some interesting lessons.) The cheesy names and artwork are exactly as I remember, and the stories have the same lengthy conflict that’s wrapped up in a tidy single sentence or two. For those who with small children much less critical than I was (okay, I still am, and became an even bigger art snob—just forgive me), these stories may prove helpful when combined with guidance and further explanation.

My only real concern with this Berenstain book in particular has to do with the third story, “The Berenstain Bears Love Their Neighbors,” the Berenstain version of “The Good Samaritan” parable. The “neighbors” are stereotypical hillbilly folk—dirty clothes, clunky car, and all. Their accent and dialect are inconsistently written and the whole story left me rather uncomfortable. The fact that there’s a word missing on page 50 set aside (really, in a simple children’s read-along book), I’d still refrain from using this specific story at all. The rest I could work with.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Say & Pray Devotions: First Words, Devotions, and Prayers, by Diane Stortz, illustrated by Sarah Ward

Say & Pray DevotionsSay & Pray Devotions: First Words, Devotions, and Prayers is a cute little board book written by Diane Stortz and Illustrated by Sarah Ward. Every page turn brings a new scene that includes a statement for teachable moments, a relevant Bible verse (or phrase), and a simple prayer of just a few words. Several objects and/or actions are annotated for further teaching. Of course, this is what many of us do when reading with children—pointing to things and asking what they are or asking the child to point out something—but this may aid in literacy. My only real complaint is the repetition of annotation. With the illustrations provided, there’s no reason to annotate the same thing anywhere in the book. That’s just lazy.

The illustrations aren’t my favorite, but tiny tots don’t really care about style. However, I’m not sure that a yellow blob labeled “eggs” is very helpful (perhaps sunny side up would have been better illustrated than scrambled). I also may be making too much of this, but when the white family is large and happy and even includes a handicapped child in a wheelchair while black families included a single mother and child (even coming out of a church building), I think there’s room for criticism in its underlying social commentary.

It’s a nice idea, but I wouldn’t pay for this book in particular.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Jesus: A 365-Day Devotional, by Zondervan

Jesus: A 365-Day DevotionalZondervan’s Jesus: A 365 Day Devotional makes an effort to connect Jesus to all of Scripture through 365 short devotionals for kids. Each contains a starting Bible reference (268 in the Old Testament; 97 in the New Testament), a half-page of text, and a concluding prayer of one sentence. Less than make an attempt to reference from where the Jesus-connection is made and simply say something like, “See? Jesus is like this.” Much of it is typical Evangelical, happy-happy-joy-joy talk that doesn’t push any sort of thinking and wrestling with Scripture. In fact, I noted only seven lessons that point to anything difficult and/or accountability for a Christ follower. It teaches kids simple, sloppy theology like: repent means do the opposite (89), the point of Job is that you get a really good reward (145), just say “yes” to God to live forever (148, 246), ask anything in Jesus name and he’ll give it to you with no reservation (154), and if you’ve ever said “yes” to God then you have eternal life even if you give up and walk away from him (251).

The premise of this book is good, and there are, of course, some lessons that will prove beneficial; however, this is not something I would encourage kids to use. As always, should one choose to use it anyway, I encourage parents/guardians to work through such things with children and know what they’re reading.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: God’s Little Lambs Bible Stories, written by Julie Stiegemeyer, illustrated by Qin Leng

God's Little Lambs Bible StoriesGod’s Little Lambs Bible Stories is a children’s book written by Julie Stiegemeyer and illustrated by Qin Leng. The physical copy is vertically a bit longer than the length of my hand and a bit shorter horizontally. It has a soft front cover, hard spine and back cover, and sharp right corners. Stiegemeyer’s writing is her simplification and elaboration of thirty-five stories from the Bible, beginning with “Who is God?” and ending with “Paul Tells about Jesus.” Every story (usually four pages in length) has a few Scripture references under the title and end with a small text box with a single sentence as a take-away moral/lesson. I found Stiegemeyer’s storytelling wanting—I’m not sure the age level of the language and book’s presentation match—and took issue with the accuracy and portrayal of several stories even after taking into consideration artistic expression and it being a children’s book. Leng’s illustrations are beautiful, multiethnic sketches with ink and watercolors. I really appreciate the design (layout, text placement, fonts, etc.), but find myself wanting to show it and not read it.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Great Stories of the Bible (I Can Read! / Adventure Bible), Pictures by David Miles

Great Stories of the BibleGreat Stories of the Bible is a collection of six books in one from the Zonderkiz® Adventure Bible series with an “I Can Read!” level of 2 (reading with help). The stories include:

(There is no table of contents in the book, so I’ve included page numbers below. One may want to write them down on the first page for easy flipping.)

God’s Great Creation (pp.2–33)
Facing the Blazing Furnace (pp.34–65)
Ruth and Naomi (pp.66–97)
Miracles of Jesus (pp.98–129)
A Father’s Love (pp.130–161)
The Good Samaritan (pp.162–192)

Each story is greatly simplified for children and ends with a page that includes some or all of the following: a verse, character profile(s), and a few sentences about the story or another verse. I’m certainly not opposed to paraphrasing, simplifying, and taking a bit of artist liberty in retelling Bible stories, but just with adults (i.e., Eugene Peterson’s popular translation The Message) there’s bound to be some potentially harmful storytelling. Consider the following example from The Good Samaritan: “After a long time, a third person passed by. This person was a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans did not get along. The Samaritan saw the man lying in the dirt. He knew that the hurt man needed help. He forgot that Jews and Samaritans did not like each other” (182–183). I’m sure there are those who will disagree, but I think kids pick up on subtle messages like “the Samaritan only helped the Jew because he forgot they didn’t get along,” meaning it would have been okay to ignore or be mean to him if he had remembered. The point of the story is that the Samaritan helped despite his cultural stigma. Perhaps I’m not indicative of your typical American kid, but I would have definitely run with a poor understanding of that parable if I had read this.

We need to be careful how we teach these stories to small children because they stick with them. I remember talking to a friend years ago—both of us missionaries and well educated—who still had flannel-graph (remember that?!) info and stories stuck in his head that didn’t jive with Scripture because it was engrained at an early and impressionable age. Some may say, “But isn’t reading Bible stories helpful and better than other books?” Well, I don’t think that’s a “yes or no” question when it comes to books like these, but if one is going to read these books with a child I recommend reading an actual Bible (not another paraphrase like The Message) and take the time to explain Scripture in a way the child can understand. Am I giving little kids too much credit? I don’t think so, though I obviously can’t speak for everyone’s children.

As for the bulk of the book, the illustrations by David Miles are still a little too clean-cut and Caucasian for my liking, especially in an age where we’re becoming much more culturally sensitive and aware of those in Scripture. Kids, however, will probably like the chalky pastel drawings.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”