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The Berenstain Bears Living Lights Set Love Their Neighbors / Faithful Friends / Play a Good Game Review by Donna Campos

By Jan and Mike Berenstain
Zonderkidz, Zondervan
5300 Patterson Avenue SE
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530

Each of the three Berenstain Bears books in this review include 33 full-color pages. Two of the three books have a glossy paperstock cover, while Love Their Neighbors has a sturdier cardstock glossy cover similar to the covers usually used with Berenstain Bears books. Each book presents a Scripture verse (NIV) on the first page, followed by the story, and then a grayscale "Activities and Questions" page on the inside back cover. All books include the traditional Berenstain Bears family of Mama and Papa Bear, Brother Bear, Sister Bear, and the baby, Honey Bear. The beautiful full-color illustrations draw the reader into the book. All the bears are dressed and behave with human attributes, including the desire to behave according to God's Word. These particular stories are part of a faith-based series called "Living Lights," authored by Stan and Jan Berenstain's son, Michael Berenstain. Each book stands alone and is designed for reading aloud or for independent reading by elementary aged readers.

The Berenstain Bears Love Their Neighbors begins with two quotes from Luke 10:27-29. "Love your neighbor as yourself." "And who is my neighbor?" The story begins with pictures of the family working together to keep the family home in good condition. There are descriptions of the various neighbors living around the Bear Family. Most of them take very good care of their homes, but the Bogg brothers do not. Mama feels they are a disgrace to the neighborhood, and Papa agrees that they are a problem. At one point, the Bogg brothers drive by the Bear Family Tree house and a Bogg brother rudely spits "a big wad of spit out of the car." The story stresses that they drive a broken-down old jalopy. Interestingly, when the Bear family car breaks down, other "good" neighbors choose not to stop and help. Instead, they have excuses for refusing assistance. Eventually, the Bogg brothers stop and helpfully tow the family to their Uncle's garage for repairs, which they supply without charge in order to be neighborly. The Bear family sees the error in their judgmental ways and invites the Bogg brothers to join them at the Bear Town Festival and later to come into their home for a dinner together. Our family could have done without knowing that the Bogg brothers were comfortable rudely spitting into other people's yards, but it certainly did present their poor behavior clearly. The text was also missing a word, "to"--an editing error we hate to see in any book intended to be read by young children. Activities and questions include a discussion of showing love for neighbors and an activities such as designing a car, helping a neighbor with yard work, and listing things a child can do to help around their own home.

Friendship and jealousy are addressed in The Berenstain Bears Faithful Friends, which begins with the verse "Do not forsake your friend" (Prov. 27:10). The story reviews the wonderful friendship of Sister Bear and Lizzy Bruin. From slumber parties and school plays to building forts, they enjoyed their friendship for years. After a new bear friend enters the picture, tension flares between Lizzy and Sister Bear. The bear children share information about what the Bible says, but without actual Bible references (just as children typically do in the real world). Sister Bear finds that it is best to let her friend know how important she is to her, and to talk to her when she seems to be upset. Activities include a discussion about making new friends and a suggested game of follow the leader that is sure to encourage new friendships. The story very clearly presents the friendship between two young girls, groups of girls playing together, and how easily feelings are hurt when someone becomes jealous. We particularly liked the way Brother Bear and his friend stepped up and helped Sister Bear encourage a better relationship with her friends.

For anyone who loves soccer, The Berenstain Bears Play a Good Game will be a welcome addition to the library. It begins with the verse Matthew 5:16--"Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Brother and Sister Bear love sports and play all year; the fall brings the excitement of soccer. Papa Bear is their coach and tries hard even though he doesn't know much about soccer. Their team believes that it isn't important whether they win or lose, but how they play the game. Another team believes the exact opposite. Grandparents and even a Sunday School teacher come to watch the game between these two teams. After some unnecessary roughness during the game, tempers ignite. Everyone is reminded by a respected Sunday School teacher to be peacemakers and play a fair game. The game continues with everyone on their best behavior, and they enjoy playing together. Activities on the activity page include playing a game of tag, soccer, red rover, or baseball and designing a team logo for a group to which you belong. The usual family friendly humor is included in this book, as are the fantastic full-color illustrations. Brother Bear comes through beautifully when Sister Bear is the target of the unnecessary roughness, and Sister Bear shows respect for Brother's skill on the field when encouraging her team toward positive play.

Our family has thoroughly enjoyed the Berenstains' books for many years, and we are thrilled to see an extension of their work in the Living Lights series. These books will provide enjoyment for families while instilling a bit of the Word of God at the same time. Christian homes will enjoy the Scripture-based lessons, which provide an opportunity for families to read the Bible together along with these books. The stories are enjoyable and true to life in regard to the behavior of children. We love the presentation of a "traditional family," with hardworking Papa Bear and loving Mama Bear running the home as the family enjoys growing and learning together. The Living Lights series will be a welcome addition to every library.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2009