Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Children’s Bibles

We’ve used a few different children’s Bibles over the years. Before I had kids, I probably would have argued that children’s Bibles were not going to have a place on my bookshelf. There’s an argument to be made for reading the Bible as it was written, not as an edited version with coloured pictures. And the pictures bother me especially. Because most Bibles do okay until the New Testament when all of a sudden pictures of Jesus appear and I’ve never been comfortable with an artist deciding what the Lord looked like. We probably all have some kind of mental image of a guy wearing a dress and looking holy that is a composite image of all the “Jesus” pictures and paintings we’ve been exposed to over our lifetime. And given that the Bible is pretty clear that we should not make images of God, this is sometime I try to avoid having in my head.

However, despite my misgivings, I have amassed a collection of storybook bibles for reading to little people. I think of these as Bible storybooks rather than real Bibles, even if the title “Bible” is on the front. None of them cover the whole Bible and all of them to some degree or other paraphrase and embellish it. But our kids see us reading a “grown-up” Bible regularly at home and church and they know the difference. I do understand the argument for only ever reading to them from the Bible itself and then explaining it. But we’ve found the storybook Bibles have given our kids a good general knowledge of the key stories in the Bible and a sense of the flow of Scripture from start to finish. And it’s easier to keep a two-year old’s attention on a picture Bible than the full text.

So if you are going to go down the children’s Bible route, what’s available? I’ll give you my take on our collection and you might find something suitable for your family amongst it.

The Beginner’s Bible

Really basic text, colourful illustrations, aimed at 2 – 5 years old. A great bedtime Bible for little folk if you don’t expect too much. Each chapter takes just 2 or 3 minutes to read and it follows the key events of the Bible so a few readings through will get the kids familiar with the big stories. Cartoon pictures are okay but you may feel uncomfortable with the later depictions of Jesus. And I can’t really believe so many cute kittens and mice were present at the major Biblical events. Ours has been read and read and read so many times that its cover is hanging by a thread and it’s a wonder half the Old Testament hasn’t fallen out. Maybe that’s a good recommendation in itself. It’s not fantastic but it’s a start and you can begin with this one as soon as your little one will sit still for 2 minutes.

God’s Little Princess Devotional Bible

If you know me well, you’ll be surprised I own this! I’m not a big fan of encouraging little girls to think of themselves as “princesses”. But it was a gift to our little girl from some dear and respected friends. This is not what I would call a Bible - it’s more a devotional book. The Bible text used is taken straight from the International Children’s Bible. The devotional stuff around it is a bit hit and miss. Some of it is only loosely linked to the passage but some of it is quite good. If you are looking for a children’s Bible, this is not the right book. If you are looking for a devotional book you could read aloud at bedtime to a 4-7 year old, it might suit you.

Goodnight Warrior

This was the matching gift to our son written by the same author as the previous Bible. It has a glow-in-the-dark cover. Glow-in-the-dark, peoples. Truly awesome. Again, it’s not a Bible but it’s good for developing bedtime devotional time. Boys aged 4 – 6.

Big Picture Story Bible

Now we’re getting somewhere!  This book focuses not just on the individual stories in the Bible but constantly points out the overall story of salvation that runs through the Scriptures from start to finish. It’s one I’d highly recommend for bedtime reading or family devotional time. My cousin tells me if you only buy one picture-story bible this should be it and I’m inclined to agree for younger ones. Ideal for ages 4 – 7.  

Jesus Storybook Bible

For a slightly older age group – ages 6 – 10 years – this book again takes a “big picture” approach to the Bible aiming to show that it is one unfolding story of God rescuing his people. The illustrations are delightful and whimsical. If you get nervous about excessive paraphrasing you might not be happy with this one. The text takes a “storybook” approach – it reads like a fairy tale or adventure story – and so there’s a fair bit of artistic interpretation of the smaller details. The theology is sound, however, and you’ll be left in no doubt that all of the Bible points to Jesus. I’m currently teaching the Sunday School curriculum based on this book. If you want to get an idea of what it’s like, go to youtube and search for Jesus Storybook Bible and you’ll be able to access a number of animated clips that use the illustrations and script of the book. This is my favourite “give away” Bible.

Gospel Story Bible

We’ve been really pleased with this one and it’s our current after-dinner family reading. It’s much meatier than most children’s bibles. It is not straight text – it is still a re-telling of the story – but it sticks closely to the text and doesn’t add in too many imaginative details. What it does have is an explanation of the text at the end of each reading and, like the last two bibles, the focus is on how the passage fits with God’s redemptive plan. The illustrations are bright and vivid. Highly recommended - this would be my pick for the older age group. Ages 7 – 12 years.

The Lion Day-by-day Bible

We read through this one and mostly enjoyed it. It's main advantage is that, because it has 365 readings, it is quite comprehensive and covers many stories that other children’s bibles leave out. The Old Testament was well done and the New Testament letters were covered in some depth which is a rare thing in children’s bibles. We did, however, find the gospels poorly done. In particular, attributing thoughts or feelings to Jesus that were nowhere to be found in the original text was a worry. We wondered if there had been another writer employed to do the gospels because it was such a break with the way they had dealt with the Old Testament. My husband took to editing it on the go as he read aloud. It’s a real shame because the later New Testament readings were well-done. If you are alert to its faults, it’s still a good resources especially for its treatment of the less-visited passages in the Bible. Ages 6 – 10 years.

International Children’s Bible

I think you want to spend as short a time as possible in the storybook-bible phase and move on to a good easy-to-read translation of the whole Bible, with chapters and verses numbered as usual. I aim to give a personal copy of this Bible to each of my kids as soon as they are beginning to read for themselves. It is also ideal for reading aloud once they can sit for a reasonable length of time. One possible drawback is that it will not be the same translation that is read in church. You may want to skip this translation as a first Bible and go straight to an ESV or NIV or whatever is being used at your church so that they can follow along more easily. But I do think it’s a great help to have a translation in simple language easily available in a child’s own bedroom if you can manage it.

There’s my take on a few of the most commonly available children’s bible storybooks. Have you used any of these yourself? Any thoughts to add? Or maybe you have another one you’d recommend?


Caroline said...

I have never been fond of Children's Bibles, or Bible story books. I think this was mainly because most of the ones we were given seemed to be simplified and interpreted to the point where they had lost the point (this was about 15 or so years ago, so it may not apply to the ones you've reviewed). I also had misgivings about the cute pictures in many of them - I didn't think they seemed real. And to top it off, many of them contained factual errors, which my boys could easily pick up, having heard the stories read from real Bibles.

However, one of the older members at (I think) your congregation introduced us to the Child's Story Bible, by Catherine Vos. It's an old book (probably too old-fashioned for some), and has few pictures, but we found it very helpful as a kind of overview of the Bible as a whole. It sounds in some ways like your description of the Jesus Storybook Bible, and it's much more solid than your average Children's Bible. It changed my view on the usefulness of such books. But I think it's very hard to do them well.

Deb said...

Oh, that's really interesting! I'd never heard of that story bible before. I notice if you look it up on Amazon you can look inside and read some selected pages. It looks like the kind of text that would really suit my middle child especially.

Tasmanian said...

We have (on your advice!) the Big Picture Story Bible and the Jesus Storybook Bible - and both came with audio CDs. My kids often fall asleep listening to the stories. Big Picture Story Bible is one we have read many times ("PLEASE Mum read ONE MORE chapter!") and my heart beats with excitement as I read for the reasons you outlined. We also have the Scripture Union book "The Big Bible Storybook" which is lovely for 2-3 year olds because of the images. We used the Scripture Union material for that age group in Sunday School which is how I found the book. http://www.scriptureunion.org.uk/Uploads/Documents/9781844272280.pdf

mattnbec said...

We've used and likewise recommend many if these too. Recently, I bought new kids' Bibles for church. We've got ICB for our own kids nd quite like them. But I ended up going with the NIRV (New Int'l Readers Version) because it is a simplified NIV and so it gets kids into the wording of adult NIV Bibles, but with simpler, shorter sentences. I like the fact that it means they're closer to memorizing and internalising an adult version without it being too complicated too soon.