The Berenstain Bears and the Biggest Brag (Book Review)
We’re big fans of the Berenstain Bears books. On trips to the library Ian always heads straight to the B section to see if there are any he hasn’t read yet, and since there always seem to be different ones to choose from, they must be pretty popular with a lot of kids. So we jumped at the chance to review The Berenstain Bears and the Biggest Brag by Mike Berenstain (son of Stan and Jan Berenstain, the original authors of the series).
Biggest Brag begins with a look at Brother and Sister Bear, listing the many things they are good at and how they are “proud of all their hard work and effort.” Unfortunately, their achievements have led to an atmosphere of competition, in which they are constantly trying to best each other. For example, when Brother brags about getting an A, Sister has to let him know that she got an A+. Mama and Papa try to address their bragging and boasting, telling them about what the Bible says about love: “It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” Still, Brother and Sister persist in their bragging ways, eventually getting into a ridiculous contest about who sees the most exciting pictures in the clouds. When Gramps overhears them, he gently chides them for their foolishness and quotes a Bible verse about strife and pride. Then he invites them over to his house for a game of checkers. The cubs instantly start back into an argument about who’s going to win until Gramps calls them on it and they walk home with him.
My three oldest kids (ages 3,5 and 6) were eager to read this latest book in the series. They all seemed to enjoy it, but it wasn’t a huge hit with anyone. My oldest did pick it up to read again on his own a few weeks after I initially read it to them, and when asked what he thought of it he said, “I kind of like it.”
For myself, I was disappointed. I felt like the attempts to correct the cubs’ poor behavior were half-hearted, and it didn’t seem like they really changed at all, since they were still going at it on the last page (though they did at least apologize when Gramps got on them about it). I like the idea of addressing the problem of bragging and making a competition about everything (definitely an issue our kids have struggled with at times), but I was hoping for more when it came to overcoming this bad habit. Their final battle about the cloud pictures just seemed silly and contrived, and I wish there had been a stronger resolution.
The thing I liked best about the book was Papa and Gramps pointing the cubs to the Bible when explaining why their attitudes needed improvement. I would have liked to see these ideas developed a bit more. Since Papa has at times been portrayed as rather weak and foolish, it was nice to see him taking a stronger, more positive role in this story.
We have enjoyed several of the newer books by Mike Berenstain and look forward to reading more, but unfortunately we didn’t feel that The Berenstain Bears and the Biggest Brag lives up to the high standards of the other Berenstain Bears books.