Friday, November 12, 2010

Bartholomew's Passage: A Family Story for Advent

The season of Advent will begin in just a few weeks. Written by master storyteller Arnold Ytreeide, Bartholomew's Passage is a tool for whole families to together tune their hearts for the season.

The book's introduction details various Advent traditions and a calendar at the back of the book tells when Advent starts each year for the next several decades. The main part of the book is then divided into chapters that include a portion of Bartholomew's story followed by a short devotional. The author has designated one chapter, about 4-6 pages, for each day leading up to Christmas.

Bartholomew, a ten-year-old Jewish boy, has a good life. He lives with his mother, father and siblings in a small fishing village. But one day everything changes. Romans ransack the village destroying homes and lives. Survivors are taken prisoner and then sold as slaves throughout the Roman Empire. Bartholomew ends up in Caesarea, a house servant to a wicked, merciless man. When Bartholomew makes a mistake in the presence of his master, he is sentenced to have his hands cut off. When the moment arrives, however, Bartholomew flees. Cornered by soldiers in a public square, Bartholomew expects the worst, but an eccentric man in fools' clothing comes to his rescue. Once safe, the boy must decide if he can truly trust this stranger or not.

The stranger's name is Nathan. He takes Bartholomew into his care and together the two fugitives make a journey toward freedom and safety. Along the way they encounter many trials and adventures, each an opportunity for Bartholomew to learn more about the promised Messiah, a Savior for all people. Their journey reaches its end and apex with a reunion in Bethlehem at an historically optimal time.

The devotions that follow each segment of the story offer personal application for knowing God and daily walking with Him. They repeatedly remind readers that the relationships we can now enjoy with God are possible only because of Jesus.

What I Like:
This is a fantastic concept! I love celebrating Advent, but too often the traditions focus only on the adults or only on the children. This is a great way to involve the whole family. The story is beautifully written, engaging and exciting for children and adults alike.

I really like the bonus material as well. The author was very thorough in planning this book! The Advent customs section is wonderful, as well as the calendars at the back. Advent always starts on a Sunday, but Christmas is not always on the same day, so the author provided a detailed plan for the last week that will allow families to get the whole story even on years with shorter weeks.

What I Dislike:
One of the devotions claims that God "can't" always help us. "He has no control over some of the storms and tragedies we face." While the point of the section emphasizes free will and personal responsibility, this assertion clearly denies God's sovereignty and massive power. Contrary to what the text suggests, there is no problem too big for God; He is always in control and always capable of coming to our rescue, no matter what we have done or the mess we've gotten ourselves into.

Very few of the devotions include Scripture quotations or references. I would have preferred a stronger Bible presence in the book. Also, the last week of devotions only offer a question to consider. One questions whether or not angels are real. If the adults in the family do not have strong spiritual convictions based on Scriptural truth, these questions could lead to confusion or ambiguous speculation rather than clarity, especially with children.

While I enjoyed Bartholomew's story, I struggled to see how most of the chapters and their accompanying devotions applied to Christmas. Families could theoretically read through this book at any time of the year and receive the same encouragement. The ending excepted, the lessons were rarely specific to the holiday season, but rather applied to general truths that resulted from Jesus' life and death.

Finally, and this is the most minor of issues, the story would be filled with realistic details in one moment and the next moment a character would start doing backflips and cartwheels all over the town square in cartoon-like style. A few chapters later, the acrobatic character becomes weary and breathless running a straight path. I felt the story flipped (no pun intended) in and out of realism.

Overall Rating: Good.

Age Appeal:
7 and up

Publisher Info:
Kregel Publications, 2009; ISBN: ; Paperback; 175 pages; $13.99

Buy it Now at for $7.99!

OR Buy it at for $11.19.

Special Info: This book is intended for use by whole families, but parents of younger children should use discretion. Some details of the story could be troublesome for sensitive hearts and minds. The first chapter opens with blood splattering from a butcher's cleaver; another details a man being whipped and an insolent child being drug by a soldier's horse. Each chapter ends with a dramatic cliffhanger, some of which may not be the best fodder for "sweet dreams" immediately after reading.

Visit the author's website for more information about him and his other titles, including other family stories for Advent.

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Anne said...

Great review! We have enjoyed *Jotham's Journey* in past years, so this Christmas I purchased *Bartholomew's Secret.* I was so disappointed in it for precisely the reasons you mention, particularly the bad theology, poor applications, and unbelievable plot twists.

Tanya said...

Anne: Thanks for your comment! This is the only book I've read by this author. All his other books have received very positive reviews from others here on our site, so I worried that perhaps I had been too harsh. I'm encouraged both by your agreement with my review and your assertion that the other books have greater redemptive qualities. I'll have to check them out. :)