Every year, right around this time, folks ask me about storybook Bibles that they might purchase for the young people in their lives. I’ll begin by stating what may be obvious: Storybook Bibles have their limit. They are not meant to replace an actual Bible, but for young children they offer access to stories that might otherwise be quite opaque. In doing so, however, they never remain neutral (there is no neutral reader of Scripture anyway) and each storybook Bible reflects the context and perspectives of those who wrote and compiled it. That said, here are a couple that I recommend for pre-school to first grade.
We use a selection of Bible storybooks in our Church School classes and I have three favorites which I describe and link below.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones: This book has wonderful illustrations and a very engaging layout. It begins by saying that the stories in the Bible are not about heroes and they aren’t about moral lessons; they are about God. Here is how the opening page of this storybook puts it: “Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing, It about God and what he has done.” I appreciate this approach to the Biblical stories and it is pretty unique in this respect.
Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: This is another book with wonderful illustrations. Different stories are illustrated by different artists which gives the book a fun, unique feel. The stories are told in briefer fashion in this book than they are in the Jesus Storybook Bible and the layout makes it look more like a young children‘s book as opposed to a Bible. This book really tries to highlight God’s love for us and the command that we love one another. It does have the tendency to interpret the stories in light of moral lessons about faith, bravery, love, or the virtues, but in this it does a pretty decent job. The unique addition to this book is that each story ends in a short (7-10 word) prayer. I think this can be helpful for showing how we respond to the Biblical stories through prayer and celebration of who God is and what God has done. It can also be a nice way to introduce prayer to a young child.
The Children‘s Illustrated Bible by Selina Hastings: This book is probably for children on the older end of the ages I mentioned above and children through fourth or fifth grade might enjoy this storybook Bible. On the downside, the illustrations aren’t quite as engaging for small children, and the stories are a bit too wordy for them. The layout, is kind of like a history book with maps, text boxes with character descriptions, and quotations from Scripture. I like this book because it more directly cites Scripture and offers insight into historical context. For a child who is really interested in research (I had a children‘s Atlas and Medical Encyclopedia that I spent hours looking at as a child), likes to learn facts, or look at real photographs (as opposed to just illustrations). This could be a great next step or companion for the simpler and more colorful storybook Bibles.
Sometime around second or third grade, many children are ready to begin reading a study Bible in an accessible translation. It’s good practice to read Scripture together as a family. Indeed, in our Church School classes, this is when we begin to transition away from using Storybook Bibles, though these may still be enjoyable for children and easier for them to read aloud.