Review of the Berenstain Bears Storybook Bible for Little Ones

Most of us who were born after 1962 knew the Berenstain Bears well, even if we never quite mastered how to spell or pronounce their names. Stan and Jan Berenstain created the bear family that year and the bears took off when none other than Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss himself, included the Bears in his Random House Beginner Books series. Close to 260 million copies later the Bears are still a part of our culture.

Stan Berenstain passed away in 2005 and then Jan passed in 2012. But unlike cartoonists like Charles Schulz and Dr. Seuss, whose creations essentially stopped when they passed on, and unlike cartoonists like Walt Disney and Jim Henson, whose characters are living on with arguably much different personalities than before, the Berenstain Bears continue pretty much the same as they always did. This is largely thanks to Mike Berenstain, the son of Stan and Jan who continues to write an illustrate the books that his parents had started when he was 11 years old.

Over the years, some have criticized the Bears as being too saccharine or namby-pamby. But in a world today that’s so filled with terror, and angst, and hatred, and cynicism, maybe a little sweetness couldn’t hurt. Not to say I’m going to go out and collect all fifty gazillion versions of the books including “The Berenstain Bears and their XK-E”, but on the other hand I wouldn’t mind inviting the Bears in for the occasional bedtime reading.

In a rather bold move, in 2008 Mike Berenstain started to introduce book featuring the Berenstain Bears with overtly religious messages, published by Zondervan. While the Bears books always instilled good values and taught moral lessons without being overly sanctimonious, this move seemed to fly in the face of the trends of the world; I remember last Christmas I saw a restored version of “The Little Drummer Boy” for the first time since I was a kid and was amazed at how overt the Christian message was and realized that this should could never be shown on network TV again. And I was saddened to see how those who acquired the rights to VeggieTales somehow felt it necessary to make Bob and Larry into a secular cartoon show.

What’s nice about the Zondervan series of books is that it bridges the same gap that believers need to bridge. As in the “secular” Berenstain Bears books, when we’re out in society we need to reflect our Christian values in our daily lives (living in the world but not of the world), but that don’t necessarily mean thumping a Bible everywhere and trying to baptize everyone everywhere we go.  On the other hand, as Christians we do need to spend time in devotions with God and in His Word, and that’s where I see the “Living Lights” series of books going. As much as the world thinks it needs to paint things into a “secular” or a “religious” box, the truth is, like with the Berenstain Bears, we can be both, shining a light in the former and being a light in the latter.

The Berenstain Bears Storybook Bible for Little Ones (Berenstain Bears/Living Lights) is a bit more advanced than the previous book I reviewed; this one contains very simple prose that you can read to your child or have him or her read to you. As with the  last book, this one isn’t a “Bible” so much as a collection of seven stories from the Bible (Creation, Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, the Birth of Jesus, the Good Samaritan, Jesus in Jerusalem, the Resurrection).

The illustrations are typical for a Berenstein Bears book–they feature the Bears playing the parts of the different Bible characters and there’s a lot of detail for you to point out with your child. The book is hardcover, about 5 x 7 x 1, and had nice thick card stock pages for durability.

The stories are all simplified versions of the Bible stories and are mostly accurate. I did see some minor instances where some embellishment was made. For example, in the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den, it says that Daniel pet the lions. In the story of Jesus’s death, for obvious reasons they didn’t get into a lot of details, but the entire crucifixion was summed up in the sentence “But the soldiers did hurt Jesus. Jesus was sad, but reminded them, ‘God loves you.'” Again, it’s a tricky thing to be able to communicate to a young person, but in some ways I felt it a little too simplistic.

That said, all in all this is a solid effort by Mike Bernstain and an excellent way to help introduce your children, especially those who are already familiar with the Bernstain Bears, to the Bible, whether you’re a devout Christian or just someone who would like to instill Christian principles of love, humility, and faithfulness to the next generation.