As a mom of a 4 year old, a writer of children's materials, a pre-k Sunday school teacher, wife of a children's ministry coordinator, and a 'retired' children's ministry coordinator myself, it should come as no surprise that I love children's books. I love books of all sorts, specifically books that help to teach the boys and girls in my class about Jesus. I love retellings of Bible stories and I love books that teach Christian character. But, the question I hear the most from parents and fellow teachers is, 'what story Bible should I read?'
I remember years ago getting this question from my then pastor, who was a dad of 4 active young boys. I looked him straight in the face and said, 'the Bible.' As much as possible I do encourage reading straight from the Biblical text, but there is definitely a place for storybook Bibles, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that I have learned a lot about the overarching story of the Bible and the flow of the narrative from various Bible storybooks.
So, let's get down to the question of which one to choose. First things first. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to Bible story books:
- These colorful retellings of Bible stories are not Bibles. They are storybooks. Storybooks, especially those with vivid images are excellent for teaching big truths to young children, but these books should not replace the Bible.
- They are written by people based on the inspired Word of God, but they themselves are not Bibles. As much as all of these authors desire to proclaim God's Word, creative license comes into play with human authors.
- Each one is written from a specific angle or perspective. For example, 'The Big Picture Story Bible' is written to show the overarching story of the Bible, while 'The Jesus Storybook Bible' is written to show children that all of the Bible is about Jesus.
- No one Bible story book is going to meet all of your Bible story needs. The value of each of these books changes based on the age of children you're reading to, your goal in reading, and even which stories are included.
Having established those ground rules, here are my top 7 Bible storybooks, and what I like or dislike about each of them, in no particular order.
The Big Picture Story Bible – by David Helm – This storybook Bible is great for preschoolers and younger elementary classes, and is the first Bible story book I recommend parents to read to their littles. The words are simple, the pictures are engaging, and there are questions throughout the stories reminding kids of previous stories and helping young hearers to track. Each story is about 10 pages. The goal of this storybook Bible is for kids to see the big, overarching story of the Bible, so occasionally a story will cover multiple Bible stories. Although written for preschool and young elementary, I once read the whole book cover to cover in one setting with preteens and had a great discussion with them about the overarching story of redemptive history.
- The Kingdom of God Bible Storybook - by Tyler Van Halteren - This new Bible story book set from Lithos Kids is designed to help kids see the story of God's Kingdom from Genesis to Revelation. The illustrations in these books are beautiful and captivating for young minds. The stories are written at a level that older preschoolers and young elementary students will understand and help to lay a groundwork for understanding what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God.
One Big Story Storybook Bible – The Gospel Project – This storybook Bible has 1 page of text and 1 page illustration for each story. It is written to be read to/ with younger elementary students. The illustrations are simple but do help to build conversation around the story. One thing I love about this resource is that each story included a ‘Christ Connection’ section to show how this story points to the gospel and fits into the big picture of the Bible, as well as a discussion question and answers. These additions make this a great resource for family devotions.
The Biggest Story Storybook Bible – by Kevin DeYoung – This storybook is based on DeYoung’s popular chapter book called ‘The Biggest Story’ and traces the redemptive story throughout the Bible. The illustrations are similar to his book by the same name, and help to tell the story without being too childish or cartoony, which gives this book an appeal for older elementary students. It should be noted that none of the people in the book are drawn realistically, many with green or blue skin and there is lots of imagery in the pictures which leads to discussion. For younger children, the images can be a little dark or hard to understand. One bonus at the end of each story is a sample prayer.
The Gospel Story Bible- by Marty Machowski – As its name would suggest, this book focuses on the gospel and seeing Jesus throughout the Bible. Each story contains 1 page of text and 1 page of illustration, and the word count makes it appropriate for middle elementary students (although I'm currently reading this with my 4 year old and just choose to pause and make sure he's tracking every so often). The illustrations are bright and colorful, but lean more abstract than realistic. One thing I love about this book are the discussion questions at the end of each story, which are great for teachers or parents who want to go a step further with their children.
The Jesus Storybook Bible – by Sally Lloyd Jones – For many years this was the ‘go-to’ storybook Bible for ages 4-8. The illustrations are colorful, and captivating and the text of the stories are easily understood and whimsical. Lloyd-Jones has a way with words, making the stories come to life, and she does a great job of showing glimpses of and connections to Jesus throughout each story. However, she often takes creative license and includes details that aren’t in Scripture, which can be confusing for younger children when you’re trying to show them to authority of God’s Word. Personally, when I want to be reminded that all of Scripture points to Jesus, I love reading the Old Testament stories in this storybook. However, I choose to skip a couple of the New Testament stories (especially the story of Zacchaeus, as I feel she focusses too much on his stature and too little on the state of his heart before a holy God).
- More Than a Story – by Sally Michael – This resource from Truth 78 (Desiring God) makes a great read aloud or devotional tool for elementary age children. Each story is 4-5 pages long with simple, colorful, and realistic images. The author includes multiple direct Scripture references in the text of each story emphasizing the authority of Scripture. I also love that each story includes discussion questions, prayer prompts, a suggested memory verse and a gospel connection. This is a great resource for any parent or teacher to have on hand.