Sometimes I wish I still had very young children. It’s not because I loved the baby and preschool phase and want to return to it. No, this is one mother who celebrated those first days of school quite openly!
It’s because of the great books being produced for little ones. There were good books 10–15 years ago, absolutely. But sometimes it seems like some very good material came out just when we had passed that stage.
One such example is The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. This book makes me want to sit down with little friends who are 1–5 years old and read it aloud with them. It’s an excellent Bible for the early years that is firmly grounded in Jesus Christ from beginning to end. It shows how the Old Testament (subtitled Promises Made) continually points to him and the New Testament (Promises Kept) speaks the truth of his life and our response to it.
I have read legion children’s Bibles in the last decade and I have increasingly come to appreciate the challenge it is to make God’s word available to very young children in a logical, accessible, accurate and clear format. Jared Kennedy has done an admirable job of doing exactly that, combined with the eye-catching, appealing illustrations of Trish Mahoney.
Each of the 52 stories is about six pages. There is always a question at the end to talk about together and a brief explanation of how Jesus fits into the story and how the story relates to our relationship with him.
Overall the stories are excellent, and are united by theme of promise—God is either making promises or keeping them. It’s the way we should read and understand our own Bibles and so presenting it to children via the theme of promise is not only helpful, it’s correct.
It takes minor issue with a few choices in interpretation, such as:
- the fact that it’s not absolutely clear the statue Nebuchadnezzar built was of himself
- the implication that Jesus physically covered his face to prevent the disciples on the Emmaus Road identifying him
- the section where Jesus says to Saul, ‘Why are you hurting my friends?’ whereas Jesus actually says, ‘Why do you persecute me?’
- the story about Peter and Cornelius, which didn’t sit quite right with me. The emphasis made is that it was about food people could eat. But it’s really an illustration to show Peter that Christ brought Gentiles as well as Jews to salvation. (And I was very surprised that the blanket indicating the animals Peter could now eat included a camel, lion and rabbit. I think young kids could take issue with that!)
Also, I’m not sure why there are only 52 stories. It is neat with 26 from each Testament, but this isn’t a book you would only read once a week, so it seems a random choice. Indeed, as a result, I think it is a shame some things are missing.
- There is nothing about David once he was King. Since this book is based around promise, it could have included 2 Samuel 7 where David wants to build a house for God, but God instead promises him a dynasty.
- Inclusion of the Psalms and how they show us how to praise God would have been worthwhile.
- Interestingly there were no Jonah, Elisha or Elijah accounts.
- The New Testament went straight from the first missionary journey in Acts to Revelation, so there was very little about the early church and nothing from the epistles at all.
However, those things are all minor concerns from my point of view. Some of the things I really appreciate are:
- The Old Testament had some accounts rarely included in children’s Bibles: Jeremiah, Esther and Nehemiah
- The honesty about the failings of some biblical characters. For example, in the story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob is described as jealous and tricky; it says ‘God didn’t choose the nicest brother. God chose Jacob’. And it goes on to say that God’s choices might surprise us, but he chooses people who need him.
- The crucifixion story is accurate and doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant details (there are even nails), yet it’s done appropriately for the intended age.
- The clear way this is designed to read aloud, and it would be fun to do so. The illustrations often include extras, like counting, size differences (e.g. Goliath is tall, David is short), so that you can point them out along the way. The basket is labelled empty when Hannah has no baby, and full when she has a baby. Left, right, inside and outside are marked when Jesus parents were searching everywhere for him. These are extra touches that make additional teaching moments along the way.
- There are great nudges to evangelism, such as ‘We can tell our friends and neighbours about Jesus. We can share his love with the whole world’ or ‘Think of a friend whom you can tell the good news to’. What a great way to make this normal from a very early age. It even acknowledges that sometimes telling people about Jesus can be difficult and scary, but we can be brave because the Holy Spirit promises to help us.
The Beginners’ Gospel Story Bible is a ‘must-have’ for those with toddlers and pre-schoolers. With the unifying theme of promise, clear retelling of Bible accounts, wonderfully creative illustrations, and a way to make each story personally applicable; this is a Bible you’ll want to have in your home and to read regularly with the little ones in your life.
Wendy & her husband (with their three lovely teen/tweens) are in full-time ministry in Adelaide, involved with university students, and marriage and parenting ministries. Wendy reviews books and blogs at musingsinadelaide.blogspot.com.au.