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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Choosing an Awesome Storybook Bible

This post contains affiliate links.  I am not otherwise compensated for my opinions.

I over-think things.  I know this.

Sometimes it is exhausting.  I can't choose a product without doing hours of reading and comparisons and evaluations.  Sometimes I wish that one time I could just not care.  Just one time, I could grab something and go with it.

This is not that time.

I decided that it would be great to get a storybook Bible for Cricket's Easter basket.  What follows is the criteria I developed for comparing them and choosing the one I felt would be best for Cricket and for our family.  It might not be the best for you, and I'm not bashing other books.  Just take this as one person's opinion.

1)  What is a storybook Bible?

Unlike a Bible translation, a storybook Bible (also called Bible storybooks, story Bibles, or some other combination of those words) is not a literal or even paraphrased translation of the Bible.  It is a retelling of a selection of stories from the Bible intended to be more accessible to young children.  They are usually designed to be read to a child, although there are a few that are simple enough for a beginner to read himself.  Storybook Bibles are usually illustrated and many times include discussion questions, suggested responses, or even activities to go along with the stories.

2)  Why use a storybook Bible?

Well, honestly, after everything I have looked at lately, I have to say that it might be easier to just read straight from the Bible.  I mean, most of us grew up being read to from an actual Bible.  It's not like it's impossible for kids to understand.  I'm not saying story Bibles are a necessity; however, they are nice because they help children to get engaged with the Bible in a more accessible way.  The pictures help hold their attention and the language is geared towards their level of understanding.

3)  Which one to choose?

Oh my goodness.  Little did I know what I was getting into when I started this.  I looked at maybe ten or twelve different story Bibles, and that wasn't even all of them!  When I was growing up, I think there may have been one or two available.  Now, there's an entire aisle of them at the Christian bookstores!

So I came up with a criteria to help me compare them.  These may not be the things you look for in a story Bible, but this is what was important to me.
  • Theological Accuracy
Does it accurately depict the main themes of the Gospel, such as sin, redemption, God's love, etc.?  Does it tell the stories accurately or does it embellish or reduce them to the point where the main point is lost?  I get so annoyed when I have to rewrite Cricket's books as I read them to her because they are saying things that just aren't true.  For example, saying that a dove came and rested on Jesus at his baptism is not theologically accurate.  It was the Holy Spirit, and to simplify it to just a dove removes the power of that first look at the Trinity.
  • Historical Accuracy
There are many "facts" that we learn as children about the Bible that we later have to unlearn.  Did the wise men come to the stable the same night as the shepherds?  Were there really three wise men?  Was Daniel a little boy when he was thrown into the lion's den?  Was the ark so tiny that the giraffe had to stick his neck out the top window to fit?  Was it a whale that swallowed Jonah?

I know these may seem like small, insignificant details in the grand scheme of things, but I just have a thing about telling the truth.  In fact, if you did a poll of all of those questions to people on the street or even people in your church, I bet you would find that there is still confusion about the answers, even though the they are right there in the Bible.  The truth is important.  We don't want our fanciful interpretations to cause someone to stumble (making the story of the flood seem unbelievable by not showing how large the ark really was, for example).  And why teach things to children that we will have to unteach later?
  • Complete Stories
Does it tell the story of the Bible in some kind of chronological order?  Do they tell parts of the stories, or the whole thing?  Does the story of Jonah stop after the fish?  Does the story of Daniel go beyond just the lion's den?  Does it show David as king, or just when he fought Goliath?  I grew up learning the Bible in such tiny pieces that I was in eighth grade before I realized that the Jacob from the story of Jacob and Esau was the same Jacob who had 12 sons!  If we want our kids to really get the  message of the Bible, we need to make sure we present it as the complete story it is.
  • Realistic Artwork
Since most storybook Bibles are illustrated with cartoon-like pictures, I'm not necessarily talking about lifelike artwork.  What I looked for was artwork that makes the Bible look like it could have really happened, versus artwork that makes it look like fairy tales.  Also, "European Jesus" pictures are a huge pet peeve of mine, so I wanted something that at least made an effort for ethnic accuracy.
  • A Non-Legalistic Message
So many children's books treat the Bible like a collection of Aesop's Fables that can be pulled out at random to teach a lesson about what we should or shouldn't do.  I looked for a story Bible that pointed to the Gospel and to Christ, not to legalism.  (Yes, the Bible does tell us things to do and not do, but that response comes from a loving relationship with Him, not a list of do's and don't's.)  

A good way to measure this is to look at how they treat the story of Noah.  What is the "point" of the story?  I have seen everything from "Noah worked hard, and so should we," to "We shouldn't make fun of people like the men made fun of Noah."  Neither of these are the emphasis of the Biblical account of Noah, and they set a dangerous precedent.  Also, those kind of interpretations make everything in the Bible about "me" instead of about God's work throughout history.

(Fun fact: Nowhere in the Bible does it say that anyone made fun of Noah or mocked him for building the ark.  Neither does it say that they beat on the outside of the ark when it started to flood.  Those are the kind of extra things that are often added to children's Bible stories, and we grow up believing them to be in the Bible.  I believed both of those things were in the Bible until I was an adult.)
  • Minimal Censoring
I do understand that the Bible is full of crazy, weird, and sometimes gruesome things that children may not be ready for at the ripe age of two.  However, I think we do a disservice to children by censoring the Bible to the point where we leave out the basic themes of sin, judgement, and even death.  We have no problem introducing concepts of evil, death, and punishment in Disney movies, (see The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Princess and the Frog, and Sleeping Beauty for some pretty scary examples of evil and the bad guy getting his/her punishment) but we balk at telling them that God punishes sin.  We permit them to hear about violence in fairy tales, but we suddenly have a problem with it in the Bible.  (Wolves eating children whole and witches baking children in ovens are ok, but we can't tell them that David cut Goliath's head off?)

To gauge this in the story Bibles, I looked at the stories of The Fall and of Noah.  Do they gloss over God's judgement of sin in the world?  I also looked for inclusion of other more difficult stories, like Abraham sacrificing Isaac.
  • Beyond the Basics
Does it include just the basic Bible stories that are considered "appropriate" for children, like Daniel and the Lion's Den, Noah and the Ark, David and Goliath, etc?  Or does it pull in some less well-known stories like David and Jonathan, Nehemiah rebuilding the temple, or Jesus being tempted?  Those are not necessarily the specific ones I was looking for, but I just like to see it go into more detail than the classic Sunday School stories.
  • Reading Level
If you look at what's available, you find that you could easily buy a new storybook Bible every year to meet your child's ever-changing needs.  They have the baby Bible, the toddler Bible, the kindergarten Bibles, the elementary Bibles, etc.  Honestly, I can't afford to buy a new one every year, and I think it's kind of silly/wasteful.  I want one that we can use for years to come that will continue to hold a child's attention and teach new things as he or she matures.

See?  I told you I over-think things.

4)  I Found an Awesome Storybook Bible!

As I said before, I went through almost a dozen different storybook Bibles, and I found one that I just love.  It's called The Big Picture Interactive Bible Storybook.

The Big Picture Interactive Bible Storybook,
Click the picture or link to look through samples from the book or to purchase from Amazon.
Also, if you purchase the book through Amazon, you can get the Kindle edition free!

Note:  There is another story Bible with the name "Big Picture" in it, but it is not at all the same.

This book is brand new, and it has got to be one of the coolest Bible storybooks on the market.  It passed my criteria with flying colors!
  • Theology:  The text is basically the Holman Bible translation, modified slightly for a younger audience.  There is virtually no editorializing, embellishments, or additions.  There is very little censoring at all in this Bible, other than for space.  There is no hesitation in discussing sin and judgement, or God's love and redemption.
  • History:  You guys, the historical accuracy in this Bible is maybe the best I've seen in a children's Bible, especially in the pictures.  Jesus is a little boy when the (two!) wise men come to see him at his house.  Daniel is an older man with a grey beard in the lion's den.  Jesus' scars are even in the right place (wrists instead of hands) when he appears to the disciples after the resurrection!  I could go on and on because I was so impressed with the attention to detail in the art.  Since the texts are basically straight Scripture, of course they are very accurate as well.
  • Completion:  I love how MUCH of the Bible they get into this book!  They tell the story of Jonah right to the end.  They tell not just David and Goliath, but also God's covenant with David, David and Jonathan, and  David's sin and redemption. 
  • Illustrations:  The artwork is cartoons, which is fine, but it is realistic (the ark is really big) and ethnically accurate (Romans look Roman and Jews look Jewish).  Jesus even wears different clothes in different pictures!  Imagine that!  As I mentioned above, the artists really focused on making the pictures as true to the actual Biblical accounts as possible, while still making them fun and interesting for children.
  • Message:  The introduction of this story Bible specifically says that the message of the Bible is "Be saved," not "Be good."  There is a tie-in to the Gospel and Christ at the end of every story, showing God's "Big Picture" (get it?).  There is no legalistic cherry-picking of morality tales.  The focus is on God's love, man's sin, and the redemptive work of Jesus.
  • Censoring:  I can't even tell you how minimal the censoring is.  I was surprised but pleased to see even stories like Barak and Deborah left in there.  (You know, the one where the girl puts a tent peg through the guy's head?)  They were not shy about the good, the bad, and the ugly in the Bible, but they did make sure it wasn't overly gory.  
  • Variety:  Like I said up there, I was thrilled at how much of the Bible they got into this book, considering it is a storybook Bible.  They have almost every Old Testament book covered by at least one story, and in the New Testament, they even cover some of the epistles and the early church!
  • Level:  The reading level is geared primarily towards early elementary, so it will be usable for a long time.  She will enjoy the pictures and the basic ideas of the stories now, and as she gets older, she will benefit from the application and deeper messages as well.
  • As it says in the title, there is also an interactive element to this Bible.  You can scan the pictures and special codes throughout the book, and it will animate the stories and give additional features.  I don't have an iPhone, so I can't speak to how awesome it might be, but it has gotten pretty good reviews.  I hope to eventually be able to use this feature whenever we get around to joining the 21st Century.
Again, I realize that there are lots of Bible storybooks out there, and I am not saying that they aren't valuable.  I am just sharing my thoughts on this one because it was exactly what I was looking for.

I am so excited to start reading this with Cricket!  I know we will all enjoy going through this storybook Bible together, and I can't wait to see how much she learns from it!