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Review: Bobby’s Friends! by Phia van den Berg

Bobby and his siblings were full of excitement when they finally flew from their home country, the Netherlands, to Pakistan. Although they were used to adapting to different cultures because of their father’s flood control work, settling into Pakistan in the 1950’s proved to be a challenge.  Ten year old Bobby really struggled to understand the boys he met:  wealthy Sadiq, subservient Jahja, mud-slinging Mahmoud, and others.  Dignified Hafiz, who ran the house, also had secrets.   Just as Bobby was adjusting to life in his new town, he was caught up in a dangerous mystery and his friendships took on life and death significance.

I’ve devoured Bobby’s Friends! by Phia van den Berg twice in the last month.  Now I’m reading it aloud to the children.  The little ones laughed when Bobby confronted spoiled Sadiq during a tantrum, frowned when boys threw mud and manure at Bobby’s mother, and sighed longingly about the camel ride.  Even my older children are enjoying the story, although it is clearly not written for teens.

Besides being a well-written children’s book with some thoroughly lovable characters, Bobby’s Friends! is also an insightful look at how culture shapes behavior. Children enjoy it for the excitement and the humor, but any parent who reads it out loud will be moved by natural way that Bobby’s parents relate cultural issues to God’s Word.  I understand why Bobby’s Friends! is the publisher’s favorite juvenile story.

Although the original Dutch version of this book was written in the 1950’s, the appeal of the story is still strong, and the message of the book still valid.  As Mother said to Bobby in a serious moment, “Besides our normal work, there is also the task we have as Christians toward everyone God puts on our path.  And that task becomes doubly heavy when we stand before someone who does not know the Lord Jesus.  We are His messengers, and if we pass on His message in a wrong manner, it would be better if we had stayed home, right?”

I highly recommend Bobby’s Friends! both as an exciting story as well as a vivid illustration of Christian living in a different time and place. It has exactly the right combination of humor, excitement, and reflection for reading out loud to a wide range of ages.  On the other hand, most nine year olds could easily read it on their own.

Bobby’s Friends, recommended for ages 9 and up, is available in paperback from Inheritance Publications for $9.95. 

(When you order this book, also be sure to request the free catalogue, available near the bottom of the home page. It contains a complete translation of a best-selling Dutch youth adventure that I read many times as a youngster and that my children now also enjoy. )

Disclosure  Inheritance Publications sent me a free copy of Bobby’s Friends! so that I could review it.  I receive no compensation for my reviews, and my opinions are entirely my own.


  1. hanneke says:

    It was so wonderful reading your review of a book I used to love when I was a child.
    Do you know if any other books of Phia van den Berg have been translated into English?
    I remember another book by her in Dutch about a family in New Guinea. Would love to see that book again, as that is where I am living right now.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Dear Hanneke,

      I do not know if any other Phia van den Berg books have been translated into English. If you’re interested in seeing more of them, it’s worth contacting Roelof at Inheritance Publications. He always has a translation program going…and he’s interested in translators as well, if that’s something for you.


      Annie Kate

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