“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” — St Jerome
We all want our children to be familiar with the Bible. But what is the best way to help them come to know Christ in the Scriptures? Bible story books necessarily make a tradeoff. They pick and choose the parts of the story they include and often simplify the language if they don’t simply retell the stories in their own words. Trying to vet them can be such a headache. And then you want them to have beautiful illustrations to engage the imagination and to attract small people who cannot yet read. Sadly, many Bibles, even some Catholic Bibles are really unreadable or have unattractive pictures. And there are so very many out there.
My approach has been to have a whole bunch of different versions, hoping that they will sort of cancel out each others bad points and that at least my kids won’t get to thinking that any single one is really The Bible. I also try to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and read some of the daily Mass readings to my kids are exposed to the way the Scriptures are read in liturgical context. After all, the primary use of the Bible is liturgical, the first collections of the scriptures were gathered for use in worship and the concern over defining the Biblical canon was primarily a concern over which books would be read in Mass and which were merely for private reading.
The main benefit of the Bible story book is that it gives children a sense of the bigger picture, how all these little snippets of Scripture fit together to tell the great story of God’s loving relationship as He formed a people for Himself and united Himself with them in a sacred marriage covenant.
I’m not sure what everyone is looking for in a Bible story book. I know many people are put off by pictures of blond-haired, blue eyed Jesus, so I make note of the features of the people for that reason. I try to note the text’s readability, the biases I’ve noticed and any special features. If you have questions about any of these books, please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. This doesn’t claim to be any kind of thorough review of Bible story books. There might well be excellent ones that I’m missing. This is just a review of the ones that I actually own. Please do tell me about the children’s Bibles you own and why you like them.
1. My Bible: The Story Of God’s Love
As the subtitle suggests, the emphasis in this Bible is telling the story of God’s love. It’s heavily paraphrased with many Catholic-friendly textual glosses, explaining some details of the story that might otherwise mystify both parents and children and giving some theological context. For example, in the story of the plagues a sidebar explains, “God is the Lord of life. All life comes from God who created us out of love. Only God has the right to give life or take it away.” And at the beginning of the story of Jonah it explains that “The story was told long ago to help the Jewish people understand that God loves everyone, not just the chosen people of Israel, the Jewish people.” And with the story of the Visitation, it has a nice sidebar on the Hail Mary.
I do like the focus on the Bible as the story of God’s love. I think that’s the perfect approach for kids who are young enough for Bible story books.
At the head of each chapter is the Bible book and verses, handy for cross-referencing. Includes Isaiah, Elijah, Jonah, Judas Maccabeus, Pentecost and the conversion of Saul from Acts and a paragraph from Revelation.
The pictures aren’t my favorites, being a little simplified and slightly cartoonish, though at least the people look Hebrew and Egyptian and Roman, etc. They seem to be aimed at slightly younger readers and there are no pages with only text or only pictures. Jesus is not shown on the cross, for example. There’s an image of him carrying the crossbar and one of him being taken down from the cross with a non-bloody wound in his side. Bella, however loves the pictures. She says this is her favorite of the picture Bibles we own. It’s the one she knows best and the one my dad has read to her over and over again in marathon Bible story read-alouds every time he visits.
This Bible includes Catholic prayers in an appendix in the back: Sign of the Cross, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Hail Holy Queen, Angel of God and basics of the Rosary.
2. The New Catholic Illustrated Bible
This text seems to cleave pretty close to the wording of the Bible, fewer paraphrases and interpolations than the first Bible. It reads smoothly and easily and I don’t feel a need to apologize for it. Not surprisingly, as the text was edited, adapted, and paraphrased by Amy Welborn. I really like her work. Includes Elijah, Esther, Jonah, Fiery Furnace, Daniel, Pentecost, the death of Stephen, the conversion of Paul, the vision of heaven in Revelation.
The pictures are beautiful and dramatic with bold colors and dramatic lighting that are less appealing to the younger children but which truly grab my attention. The people are dark-haired, swarthy skinned. Bella likes them. They are full page spreads and the text is not on the same page as the pictures except in some places where a close up of a portion of the previous larger pictures is inset. This means there are pages and pages of nothing but text, which may not be so friendly for the youngest listeners. Someone pointed out to me that in just about every picture someone has his mouth open, which is a little distracting once you notice. I suppose the idea is that the open mouth conveys surprise and drama.
Each chapter has a header with references to the chapter and verse in the Bible. There is a small appendix of Catholic prayers: Glory Be, Our Father, Hail Mary, Nicene Creed.
3. The Kingfisher Children’s Bible
I think this is the first children’s Bible story book I bought, purchased back when I was teaching 4th grade religious education classes at our parish, long before I was married or had children of my own. It isn’t a Catholic Bible, but it isn’t bad. The pictures are less cartoonish than those in the Story of God’s love. They are not all by a single artist and so there’s a variety of styles, but they don’t clash and you won’t necessarily notice the difference at first glance. They tend to be very dramatic and I think they appeal to children. The people look Semetic. There are some page spreads with no pictures and some with only a small inset. It includes a selection from Proverbs and a handful of Psalms as well as Job and Esther and various prophets. It includes some of Acts, Paul’s conversion and journeys, a selection from a couple of Paul’s letters and a bit of Revelation.
This Bible has a nice set of appendices with maps, a historical overview and timeline, photographs of Biblical places and archaeological artifacts, a list of the books of the Bible that does mention the Deuterocanoncial books as something that Catholics accept and protestants do not, a list of people in the Bible with notes about which books they appear in, a glossary of terms, an index.
I like the pictures in this book, soft watercolor look. Sophie and Bella both say they like them too. They are nicely interspersed with the text. No page spreads without pictures.
Chapter and verse references are in a table at the front of the book instead of at the head of each chapter. Does include Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Job, and Jonah. The book ends with the Ascension, nothing from Acts or Revelation. No supplemental materials. This is a rather bare bones approach. Just the stories in an attractive layout.
5. Tomie dePaola’s Book of Bible Stories
The text is the New International Version, abridged but just the words from the Bible. The selection is the standard Old Testament. It does include Pentecost and four psalms, and a selection from 1 Corinthians (“Love is patient…”
Index of chapter and verse references is included at the end of the book. The pictures are standard Tomie de Paola: clean lines, soft colors, his usual stylized figures. They are beautiful and attractive. The crucifixion is portrayed from behind and again at a great distance. I love the red background behind the passion and crucifixion pictures and the pieta as Jesus is taken down from the cross.
This really is a lovely book and I’m glad to have it in our collection.
Thus ends the list of my big Children’s Bible story compendiums. But I have many, many, many more books that have Bible stories. We’ll get to them next time. (It may take a while to type up all those titles and reviews.)
Coming up next: Part Two: Bible Story Picture Books
And then there was this. Ben saw the pile of books and decided he wanted to read them. I told him he couldn’t carry them off so he sat down and pulled some of his favorites from the stack.
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