Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review: Kregel Publications & Bertie's War

Whenever I run across a new-to-me company, I make it a point to explore its website to learn a bit more about them before ordering products. Discovering how long a company has been in business, what inspired its creation, and the focus usually gives me a pretty good overall feel for the organization.

Having never heard of Kregel Publications before this review, I headed over to the website to find what they were all about. I discovered they are a well-established company founded by veteran missionaries to Spain, Harold and Esther Kregel. From the website:

Sensing a growing need for solidly evangelical works, Kregel Publications began in 1949 to supply resources to meet the spiritual needs of evangelical readers as well as the professional needs of pastors, missionaries, teachers, and Christian leaders. Today Kregel's backlist has over 900 titles including books in Christian education and ministry, contemporary issues, Christian living, fiction, and Biblical
studies, in addition to reprints of classic works.

While I was unfamiliar to Kregel before this review, I did see some familiar titles. They have a variety of categories, for kids through adults, from which to choose. You can browse by subject to see all they have to offer.

I was sent, Bertie's War by Barbara Tifft Blakey, from Kregel's tween category to review. Bertie's War covers an era of history that I don't see covered in historical fiction often – 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Throughout the book the reader is pulled into the thoughts of Bertie, a sensitive 12-year-old girl, as she struggles with the world around her. Bertie is both paralyzed and blinded by her fears. The current events intensify her fears and bring her to an utter out-of-control point. Moving beyond her self-absorption, her eyes are opened at the very end of the book.

To be honest, I haven't decided if I like this book or not. I can't say I particularly enjoyed it, but I spent quite a bit of time trying to decide exactly why. For me, a contributing factor is that the reader is given limited information through Bertie's eyes. I do not believe this is unintentional, but rather the author wants the reader to experience Bertie's feelings and perspective without realizing their full irrationality. As an adult reader, it is marginally successful.

For example, a central theme throughout the book is Bertie's fear of her father. I really didn't like Bertie's father, but in the end I discovered he wasn't as bad as he seemed as did Bertie. However, as an adult reading from the perspective of a 12-year-old, I found I was not relating to Bertie so much and instead being critical of the parenting going on. Did these parents not realize their daughter was an emotional mess? Were they clueless to her irrational thoughts and imaginary worlds? Or did I just not see it through Bertie's eyes? On the other hand, I was quite the irrational and emotional tween and felt empathy for Bertie, though I can't say I liked Bertie all that much. I was torn between feelings of wishing Bertie should stop all her blubbering, criticizing the parents, and having flashbacks to when I was 12. No, I can't say this was an enjoyable read for me.

Granted, this book isn't meant for adults. I was curious what my 12-year-old daughter would think, especially given she's a rather sensitive creature herself. Her first comment was, “Nothing happened.” The main action in this book was the steady increase of Bertie's fears; my daughter enjoys books with a bit more adventure. When asked what she thought of Bertie, her response was, “Cowardly,” delivered with a bit of disgust. Without a connection with the main character and high adventure, it wasn't an enjoyable read.

I don't think I would have purchased this title for my shelves, but it did give a glimpse into the historical period. It could have used a little more development. I liked the concept of the ending but it was a little too abrupt of a transformation after spending nearly 200 pages reading how deep-rooted Bertie's fears were. There is something to be said, however, for the amount of thought the book has prompted in deciding if I actually liked this title. Also worth noting is that the author, Barbara Tifft Blakey, is the creator of Total Language Plus, a literature-based language arts program. At the TLP website, discussion questions are available for Bertie's War that may open up a dialog that address character and fear, both very useful topics to tackle with tweens and teens.

Bertie's War retails for $7.99. Kregel Publications carries many other titles worth considering for your home library. To purchase Bertie's War or to learn about available titles, please visit the Kregel website.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

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