Children's Bible storybooks

As any parent who has shopped for religious books for a child can tell you, the theological divides that rock the adult world also affect the choice of an appropriate Bible storybook for a child. USA Today had a very interesting story on the issue earlier this week:

Christmas is peak season for sales of children's Bible storybooks.

The lavishly illustrated collections vary from literal booklets that don't hesitate to lay down the line against sin, to imaginative variations such as one where a butterfly hovers by Christ at the Crucifixion.

. . .

Each collection reflects the spiritual outlook of the parents and grandparents who do the writing — and the shopping, says Brenda Lugannani, head of merchandising for Family Christian Stores, the nation's largest Christian retail chain at 310 stores nationwide.

And every Bible storybook reflects a certain theology, says Ted Olsen, managing editor of Christianity Today. He and his wife, Alexis, searched carefully for the one they read to their 18-month-old son, Leif.

"Most Bible stories are told like Aesop's fables, refitted to a moral lesson that is almost always, 'Obey! Obey your parents! Obey God! Oh, look how good Noah is — he obeyed God!' " Olsen says.

"Sure, we want Leif to understand obedience, repentance and forgiveness. But we're more concerned that he get to know Jesus is the grand arc of the Bible story. We're like a lot of young parents who don't want to be talked down to. We're not afraid of encountering theology. We want to be intellectually and spiritually engaged when we read to Leif."

Their choice is one of the newest collections, The Jesus Storybook Bible:Every Story Whispers His Name. Author Sally Lloyd-Jones presents Bible stories back to Adam and Eve as foreshadowing the coming of Jesus Christ — the way many Christians read the Bible as adults.

Lloyd-Jones says her writing is shaped by "a strong Sunday school memory of the Bible as all about rules and coloring in the lines. There was no sense of the joy, freedom and wonder of the Bible story.

"Yes, there are rules in the Bible to show us how life works best. But rules don't change your heart. Stories change you. I'm in the business of telling stories."

Her book is highly popular, Lugannani says, but some parents turn away from it "because they think such symbolic language is confusing to young children."

"It's all part of the decision: Do they want a Bible storybook that's literally true to the text or are they willing to accept that a vegetable illustrates Moses or a butterfly appears in the Gospel?"

The butterfly is featured in one of Roberta Simpson's Nana's Bible Stories. It's another hot seller this season for publisher Thomas Nelson, where Bible stories are almost one-third of the children's books offered, says Troy Johnson, head of marketing.

Simpson tells stories "the way I told stories to my children and grandchildren."

Indeed, she has woven their names and ideas into the collection. Granddaughter Alexandra rebuffed an offer to be written in as "Queen Esther's best friend" because the 6-year-old said, " 'No, I want to be a butterfly at the Crucifixion.' I always listen to kids' crazy ideas," says Simpson, who has the endangered butterfly saved by the blood of Christ.

That innovative approach doesn't fly with the Rev. Paul McCain, publisher for Concordia Publishing House, established in 1869 by the deeply conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, a 2.5-million-member denomination.

"The more seriously a church body regards the Bible, the more seriously they will present it, in a child-friendly way, but not water the content. We don't throw the King James Bible at them, but we don't turn it into Mother Goose, either. We don't avoid the s-word, for sin; the G-word, for God; or the J-word, for Jesus," McCain says.

Read it all here. What storybooks do you use?

Comments (3)

I really like the book Ann mentioned, and I also like "God Went to Beauty School" by Cynthia Rylant. I just bought a very nice picture book that suits my adult children's desire to not push too many religious beliefs on their own children, and still suits my desire to tell them some stories about Jesus. The book has animal families watching the star and marveling about it. The last page has a nativity scene with words about the child who brings love to us all.

I am a huge fan of just about any book written by Rabbi Sandy Sasso, she (and her illustrators) have a remarkable way of exploring the stories. A great one is Cain and Abel: Finding the Fruits of Peace, a great book about how a perfectly normal feeling, anger, can lead to hate.

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