Editor's note: Rev. John Beeson is the Assistant Pastor for Leadership Development at Westerly Road Church in Princeton, New Jersey. We post this helpful review with our thanks to him.
We received our first baby Bible four plus years ago at a baby shower. I remember looking at it after the shower, bemused by the whole concept of a baby's Bible. 66 books and 1000 fine print pages reduced to two dozen sentences on 10 pages filled with brightly colored smiling characters: only in America!
Since my first entrée into the world of baby Bibles we have received or bought numerous baby, toddler, and children's Bibles. Any Christian parent knows how difficult it can be to find decent children's Bibles. My wife Angel and I have already tossed two because of how problematic the theology was (one was tossed so quickly that I don't review it here since I've forgotten its title).
This difficult journey of toddler Bible-finding got me thinking that the world could use a survey of children's Bibles. This isn't nearly exhaustive enough to be that review. It is a start, though.
This survey focuses primarily on toddler's Bibles. As always, the intuitive sense of what something shouldn't be is easier than more thoughtful and constructive process of deciphering what it should be. So, what should a toddler Bible look like? What should it do?
A well written toddler Bible can be an invaluable pedagogical tool (although that shouldn't mean that one shouldn't read the "real" Bible with one's kids). Done well they put the cookies on the bottom shelf, stirring a love for the Word of God in a child's heart. The stories can help children think and process biblical stories and truths from an early age. One area that is sorely lacking in many toddler Bibles is the clear thread of redemptive history. The best toddler Bibles will accomplish this.
Writing a toddler's Bible is a monumental task and I hope my reviews are read in that light. I don't intend to attack those authors who (I believe) haven't done well. After all, the author is tasked with:
a) paraphrasing the Bible (a hard enough job!)
b) paraphrasing it in a way toddlers will not only grasp, but find intriguing
c) picking and choosing which stories to tell
d) and in all of this somehow not completely corrupting or distorting the meaning of the Holy Scriptures!
Surely it is an impossible task I wouldn't dare take up myself. That said, it is a task many have failed, and some have failed miserably.
My kids love the flip-up tabs on each story that has a paraphrase of a Bible verse on it. The questions at times are helpful in engaging your children in the story.
Where do I begin? This is probably the worst Bible we've owned. The stories are poorly told and usually miss the point. The selection of the stories is also weak. Perhaps my biggest issue with the Bible is the fact that there is no story of Jesus' crucifixion (The book tells the story of the Last Supper and then the story of the resurrection. "Was Jesus resurrected from his meal?!" a friend of mine asked after reading it.).
F: Ahhh, the irony of the name. But there's no two ways about it, this Bible misses the mark. From the puddle-deep theology to the misleading questions to the ludicrously insipid pictures (I'm looking now at the Garden of Eden where a googly-eyed squirrel sits perched on a tree watching a googly-eyed elephant chase a googly-eyed mouse) this Bible is one big belly flop in the pool of children's Bibles.
The story has a wonderful interactive pedagogical component to it where each story encourages your baby to interact with the story (e.g. for the creation story, the baby is told to: "Look outside. Point to the things God made."). Additionally, there are a handful of scripture verses sprinkled through the book that are great for memorization.
Each story is told over only 1 or 2 pages and is told in only 2-3 sentences. This style makes it a difficult read. Do you read through the whole book in one setting with your baby, the stories following one after another with seemingly no connection? Do you just read the one or two pages with a few sentences and stop?
D: Not really a toddler Bible, but a Bible I've seen often enough on bookshelves I thought worth the inclusion here. The publishers would have been better suited to put one or two stories in each book, giving each book an actual narrative and thus engaging your baby through the whole book. The artwork is below average: the typical tacky, characterless baby fare.
Mack Thomas, the author, clearly has a knack for engaging his audience. He has a playful way to narrate stories that works well for babies and toddlers. Each character engages your child. At the beginning the style is a bit odd, but it grows on you as you read it. In a playful way, this brings your baby right into the story.
Admittedly the story of Christ's death and resurrection is difficult material for any children's Bible author. But it must also be admitted that this Bible fails that critical test. The story is probably the worst in the whole Bible. Jesus, we are told, has been "hurt" by "some bad people" and now hidden in a cave. Confusingly, Jesus then appears and tells Mary a message that would befuddle anyone under the age of 12: "Mary, go tell my disciples that I will soon go up to Heaven." It all adds up to sheer confusion.
C-: One of the fundamental flaws of this Bible is that it tells most stories in typical "good guys" vs. "bad guys" fashion where your child is encouraged to identify with the "good guys." While this ubiquitous pitfall is clearly difficult to avoid in writing for children, one wishes it could be handled better here. I also understand that illustrating such a long book (440+ pages) makes the task difficult, but the illustrations are really unacceptable.
Karyn Henley has chosen an excellent selection of stories that make up this Bible. She includes such often omitted stories as Balaam's ass, King Saul, Elijah, Pentacost, and Paul's conversion story. The story of the crucifixion and resurrection is a good enough retelling. It is direct, clear, and does not shroud the fact that Jesus did, in fact, die.
The writing tends to be rather choppy and the stories are uneven: some are written pretty well, others poorly. There is not much by way of redemptive narrative, theological interpretation, or application.
B-: This classic has been around the block and has aged pretty well. Like many other Bibles, the illustrations are, on the whole, rubbish. Unlike The First Step Bible there are actually a handful of decent illustrations among its 500+ pages, but on the whole it's an unenthusiastic artistic attempt.
These first four represent those of some worth. Those receiving the highest commendation are yet to come in tomorrow's post.
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