Monday, October 15, 2007

The Berenstain Bears and the Big Question

In The Berenstain Bears and the Big Question, written and illustrated by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Mama and Papa Bear attempt to answer the “big question.” When Sister Bear asks, “What’s God?” Papa Bear launches into a long, boring lecture about the universe; Mama tries to answer the question by showing Sister that God made everything, like clouds and trees and worms. But, when Sister continues to ask, “What about earthquakes, floods, fires, and tornadoes?” Mama is at a loss on how to respond.

So, she takes her family to the chapel in the woods where they attend a Sunday morning service (although, according to the storyline, they are not accustomed to doing so). The minister, instead of delivering a sermon that particular morning, allows members of the congregation to speak. Farmer Ben says, “I feel thankful to God for giving us such a beautiful land in which to live.” Grizzly Gran then says, “I feel thankful to God for two wonderful cubs.” Mama Bear takes a turn by saying, “. . . I’m glad we came this morning. It helps me think things through.”

The story ends after the service, on the walk home, when Sister Bear asks, “Did God make questions?” Papa answers by saying, “Yes, sister, mostly questions.”

The illustrations in the book are bright, colorful, whimsical pictures of the Berenstain Bear family and friends. Most illustrations cover a single page, but there are a few double-page spreads, as well as two pages that contain several small cameo-like illustrations on each page.

What I Like: This is not the usual type of Berenstain Bear book. They tend to stick to subjects that deal with family and personal values, like being honest, taking turns, and saying you’re sorry. So, I was glad to see them write a book with a Christian perspective.

What I Dislike: But, having said that, I must also say I was disappointed with the way they tackled the subject. No one in the book really answers the question, “What’s God?” When Mama is at a loss to explain things to Sister, she takes her to church, but she doesn’t even ask the minister for help. Then, at the end of the story, where Papa says God made mostly questions, the implication is, of course, that we have plenty of questions about things but no answers. There is no mention of any Biblical reference for answers to any of Sister’s questions.

Overall Rating: Okay.

Age Appeal: 4-8.

Publisher Info: Random House Books for Young Readers, 1999; ISBN: 0679889612; Paperback: $3.99.


Anonymous said...

You pinpointed the problem. But the rating should be "Not OK." The Bible has given us answers, not mystification. Not exhaustive knowledge, but real knowledge about what is most important.

Tanya said...

I agree with the previous comment. I've read this book and while, like Christine, I applaud the author's for tackling a more spiritual topic, they did a horrendous job with it. My Rating: POOR.

Christine M. Irvin said...

Just to clarify, I gave this an "okay" rating because even though there are no real answers given to the big question and no Biblical references are provided, there is a discussion in the book about God and all the things He has given us. I think that has some value.

ohAmanda said...

Interesting. I always loved Bernstein bears as a kid. (The Spooky Old Tree was my favorite!) A few months ago, I got some of the audio books for my daughter to listen to in the car and I was so disappointed. In every single book the dad was a buffoon and the kid figured it out all on his own. I know it made it funny and it's just a device to learn. But I don't like seeing books about dads being stupid--we have enough of that on tv. Now reading your review on this one, if it's not the B book or the Spooky Old Tree...the Bernstein Bears are not on m "to read" list.

(btw, I'm so glad I found your blog! I've thought about starting a site JUST like this b/c I love kids' books so much and am always looking for good ones! Can't wait to look around more!)