After our first son was born, Catherine and I received a gift from the small church plant we were attending at the time. As part of the church’s ministry to children, each family was given a copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago. When I began flipping through the pages I realized that it was not a typical children’s Bible. This one had a different feel altogether: a kind of playful wonder about God’s story.
The subtitle of The Jesus Storybook Bible is “Every story whispers his name.” The book tells each Bible story with the perspective that the story of Jesus is woven through the entire Bible. So in the story of David and Goliath, the narrator explains that “many years later, God would send his people another young Hero to fight for them. And to save them. But this Hero would fight the greatest battle the world has ever know.”
I find this approach to Scripture particularly helpful when teaching children. I often see children’s Bibles and Bible-based stories focusing on communicating a moral lesson.The problem with that approach is it limits a child’s understanding of the story the Bible tells. It’s true that one can learn moral and ethical lessons from the stories told in the Bible. But when I read about the lives described in the Bible, I see stories not about exemplary heroes but rather about flawed people who are used by God to accomplish his purposes. It’s a book about what God has done to make us good, not what we can do to be good. By showing Jesus throughout the whole Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible effectively communicates this truth to children.
So how does The Jesus Storybook Bible stack up as a book? Let’s evaluate it with our children’s picture book review criteria:
As we’ve discussed, the Jesus Storybook Bible tells stories from the Bible from the perspective that the story of Jesus winds all the way through the Bible. I wouldn’t call it a translation or paraphrase. Rather, it is more like a dramatic retelling of the stories in a way that helps children feel the emotional impact and understand the spiritual significance of the stories.
The standard book is hardcover with glossy paper pages. Hardcover really is best, since you will be rereading it to your kids for years. The standard book’s dimensions are 6.6 x 1 x 7.9 inches. It’s a nice size for bedtime or dinner table reading.
The book is currently available in a Kindle edition, audiobook on CDs, large format book suitable for reading to groups, animated version on DVD, or a cloth-bound gift book. The Jesus Storybook Bible is also available in Spanish and Haitian Creole.*
Jago’s drawings remind me of a cross between Picasso’s faces and the portraits of people in the work of Missionary Mary L. Proctor. I haven’t seen anything quite like it in other children’s books. I find that the pictures compliment the text on every page. It’s a stylistic choice that does a great job at communicating emotion in faces and showing the action of the story. Nothing about it looks generic.
I think this is why The Jesus Storybook Bible has become so popular, with over 2 million copies sold. Lloyd-Jones’s writing reads like a transcript of a story she was telling herself. When I read it i get the image in my head of a playful grandmother excitedly telling the story of Jesus to her grandkids. This style makes for a book just begging to be read out loud. My boys enjoy hearing the stories almost every time we read this book and I think the style helps them engage with the concepts. I also enjoy reading it to them. Its repeatability level is high.
In addition to the various forms The Jesus Storybook Bible itself takes, there is also a curriculum available as a companion to the book.* We used part of this curriculum at our church a few years back. It’s a good resource, especially if you have volunteers teaching your Sunday school classes like we did, because the entire lesson is planned out. Any fairly competent adult can guide children through the lessons. I think it’s a good option to consider, especially for smaller churches or for churches with volunteer teachers.
Stuff I didn’t like (warning: spoilers!)
Like any book, this one has a few things I don’t like. First, I don’t like how the story of Jonah ends with Jonah willingly going to Ninevah to preach. That’s not how the story ends! The whole point of Jonah is that God used a grumbling, scared prophet who didn’t want the job to save a whole city of wicked people. I think the story could have been expanded to include details like the king rending his garments and Jonah climbing to the top of a hill to watch God destroy the city – and being disappointed!
Second, there’s the parable of the prodigal son. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus starts off the story by saying “There was a man who had two sons.” Why? Because the point of the parable is to 1) demonstrate what God’s forgiveness is like, even for the most selfish of sinners, and 2) demonstrate to the Pharisees how wrong they are to look down on the “sinners” who Jesus spent time with. Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they were like the older brother.
The problem is that the older brother is not mentioned in The Jesus Storybook Bible. In my opinion, by only showing the father welcoming home his prodigal lost son, half the meaning of the story is lost. It’s also a missed opportunity to show another aspect of who Jesus is: Jesus is the elder brother who didn’t stay home. He went out to go get his younger brother and rescue him. Jesus loved sinners – even the Pharisees.
Now, are these dealbreakers? Not at all! The book as a whole is a fantastic resource for parents to help them explain the Bible story to their children. Any gaps left in the book are just opportunities for parents to fill those gaps with the fuller details found in the Bible.
I want to close by saying that this book isn’t just for kids. Many adult Christians don’t have a good grasp of the concept that Jesus is revealed throughout the whole of Scripture. If you read this book to your children, you will gain a better understanding of the whole story of Jesus. You’ll also be reminded of how God is a good Father who really does love you, how he truly wants us to be happy, and how our true joy and happiness is found in him alone. It’s a great way to reinvigorate childlike faith while planting seeds of faith in your children’s hearts.
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