As you know, I have been pushing myself and others to read more of the Bible in 2015 than 2014. My desire to know the Scriptures was formed though my mother’s faithful practice of reading Bible stories and other devotions to me and the family from the time of her conversion when I was about two through my high school years. But what did she read to us that worked? Reading straight from the Bible to toddlers can work if you are very selective and brief in the chosen readings and want to offer A LOT of explanation, but most prefer some type of story Bible for children that summarizes key stories of the Bible. Here are a few of the books that I have used and still use with my daughter, some of which my mother used with us growing up.
Kenneth Taylor’s The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes is a classic. It works for toddlers and preschool aged children. On one side of the page is a large picture of a Bible scene, and on the opposing page there is a short summary of the Bible story. The sentences are short, basic, and are followed with a couple of discussion questions. I can still see many of the pictures in my mind. At right is “old” edition that I grew up with. At left is a picture of the new edition with new illustrations. I have not looked through the new edition, but I have heard good things about it. It might be worth owning or at least inspecting both before purchasing.
My favorite book, though, and the one my mother read through to us repeatedly, and the one I have read through repeatedly with my daughter, is The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine F. Vos. I grew up on one of the old editions. The original was published in 1935. A fifth edition was published in 1984. I have studied and considered may different story Bibles and have never found one that is better at summarizing Old Testament stories, teaching biblical history through the reigns of the kings, and linking everything to Christ. It is still popular because it is that good. Sure, you will quibble here and there with a few of Vos’ theological remarks and a few old-fashioned ways of putting things, but the good so far outweighs those small problems you will likely stick with the book. This is the one to read every night to your child, one story at at time, from beginning to end. When you finish the book, you will know your Bible stories better, you will probably do something else for Bible reading for a while, and then you will probably start working through this book again. It just draws you back to it. This book works with kids from about five years old through high school.
Other helpful books that are in a series are A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. Each one has a set of Bible stories with accompanying illustrations. I read through one with my daughter when she was in 2nd grade and was impressed with the clarity of the story summaries and the gentle applications of them. These books are published by Concordia, which is the publishing arm of the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Concordia has a reputation of publishing top-notch educational materials, and these books are no exception.
Another good story Bible that would be great to start using with a child who has outgrown The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes is The Story Bible, published by Concordia. This story Bible has 130 Bible stories, each beautifully illustrated with discussion questions, suggested activity, and a prayer. This book is highly recommended until your child is ready for more detail. Even then, the book is worth keeping for use in children’s ministry at church.
The last good story or family Bible I will mention is the ESV Family Bible. This book has actual excerpts from the ESV text connected by the editor’s summary statements. It is quite good in content, but more than once my daughter and I were frustrated with the brevity of the stories or detail that was left out. Yet, it is well-done; it just won’t give you the big picture of the Bible’s story line like The Child’s Story Bible will. But oh, the art! The illustrations are fabulous in this book.
Why use one of these story Bibles with children? Simple: all people need to be grounded in biblical stories and their teachings, and learning these stories thoroughly as a child will produce a million spiritual benefits. Children will catch biblical allusions in literature and movies, they will grasp sermons better because they will be already familiar with the Bible, and they will build a biblical worldview. So get some of these books and read steadily, faithfully, and systematically to your kids.