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    Book Review: The Gospel Story Bible

    January 31, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    I was so excited when I found out that I was going to be able to review The Gospel Story Bible. I’ve now read The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible countless times to my four little people, and I was looking forward to adding this to our collection of good, quality children’s Bibles.

    So, what’s the verdict?

    I like it. I really do.

    Quite frankly, I wish the illustrations were different. I’m not sure what this style of illustrating is called, but I am not in love with it. Some of it looks like something my preschoolers would do, though admittedly with better proportions. On a number of pages, my girls have been mystified: “What’s that supposed to be?” Truly, it is not to my taste, and I can’t figure out if it’s me or them. Do I have bad taste? Or is the art just bad? I don’t feel like I yet have enough aesthetic training under my belt to judge properly.

    I do wish sometimes they would bring back the old Bibles illustrated with fine art. As a child, I was amazed by those. Cartoons just don’t lend themselves to awe and reverence in like manner.


    With that said, I appreciate the content of this Bible. It definitely seeks to be covenantal, reminding readers of how this or that in the Old Testament points to Jesus. It does this without being annoying. It also tries to help children make some connections that are only available in the original languages. For example:

    Did you know that the word God used for Moses’ basket is the same word that is used for Noah’s great boat, the ark? Just like God used the ark to save Noah, God used the little basket to save Moses. God protected baby Moses from Pharaoh’s order because God planned to used him to rescue his people from their slavery in Egypt. Many years later, God protected baby Jesus from another evil king. King Herod tried to kill him, but God warned Joseph in a dream to go to a place of safety. Jesus, like Moses, grew up to rescue God’s people from slavery. But it was a different kind of slavery–a slavery to sin.

    I did find myself asking if the author was making too many connections for the children. As you know, my educational philosophy rests partly upon the assumption that children are created to learn and remember best the connections they made for themselves. There is a sense in which education takes place mostly in that space between confusion, wondering, and the aha moment.

    I’m not sure if this book gives enough room for a child’s own aha moments.

    I’m comparing this mainly to The Big Picture Story Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible, both of which are, in my opinion, more spacious…meaning they are also less obvious. The former, being written to ages 2 and up, mainly focuses on repetition, allowing children to make the connections along the way as they are able. So we see constant allusions to God having a rescue plan and keeping His promises. This is repeated {artfully, by the way} when Noah builds the ark and when Joseph works for Pharaoh during the famine and when Moses delivers the people from Egypt and on and on. When you get to Jesus, you realize that all of these little deliverances and promises kept are pointing you the Big Deliverance and Promise Kept.

    The Jesus Storybook Bible is a little more direct, but never completely specific.  For instance, when Moses leads the people out of Egypt, it says:

    Many years later, God was going to do it again. He was going to come down once more to rescue his people. But this time God was going to set them free forever and ever.

    The difference is subtle, but important. Being too obvious kills the wonder. Leaving a little of it to mystery and imagination is the key. In my opinion, this Bible fills the spaces a little too much. It is probably symptomatic of how we respect children too little, and fail to realize they are willing and able to ponder the mysteries of Scripture and then be delighted when one comes into the light and they grasp its beauty.

    But I like it. I did say that, right? We’re using it with our children {Si is reading through it in the evenings once or twice per week}. It is definitely a step up in maturity from the other two Bibles I mentioned, which is great since our oldest is almost 10 now. But I have to admit that I was hoping for something just as perfectly magical and mysterious as the other two children’s Bibles, and this is, in some senses, an almost.

    It is funny to me that something can be an almost because it said too much, rather than too little. Perhaps I should take that to heart in my own writing!
    Final Note:
    The Gospel Story Bible was given to me free of charge by The B&B Media Group in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.

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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Hi Phyllis,

    I just looked at The Lamb. Honestly, I’m not sure I would call it a children’s Bible at all, nor would I place it in the same category as these other books. It seems more like a large tract for evangelizing children. Here is what I noticed about it:

    1. The illustrations are realistic. They aren’t high art, but they are not cartoons.

    2. Many of the points made–in the first few chapters especially–correlate with questions and answers from the children’s catechism. Since I catechize my children, I would consider it redundant–I actually think the catechism format is a better way of discussing more esoteric ideas like God being everywhere, etc.

    3. I think the style “talks down” {as CM would say} to children.

    4. It is also guilty of suggestion in that it tells children how they ought to feel.

    5. My biggest concern is this from the beginning: “To keep the narrative simple, the central teachings found in
    the Old Testament are clustered around two people, Adam
    and Eve. It was felt that to introduce many individuals could
    unnecessarily complicate the message for little children.” The gospel is not *only* about Adam and Eve, and so this seems like a truncated Gospel at best. When Jesus explained the Gospel to His own disciples, He used all of the Law and the Prophets to do so. When Philip talked about Jesus, he said “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write.” We are even told that the Golden Rule is the ultimate expression of…the Law and the Prophets! I say all of this because I think that we can’t think of gutting the Gospel of the Old Testament as “simplifying it for children” when we are told repeatedly that the Old Testament is required for understanding the Gospel. The authors didn’t think it “confusing” to include stories about a fictional John and his Grandpa, so why can’t we just teach about Jesus the way Scripture does–through God’s provision of a substitionary ram in place of Isaac, through lamb’s blood over a doorway, of the children of Israel being freed from slavery, etc.? These pictures are much more powerful that facts alone–it is almost as if we take the Gospel and reduce it to something like this much in the way we take history and reduce it to a textbook. It might be true, but it is missing the living ideas because it was gutted of all the stories. The stories are not ancillary to the Gospel–they *are* the Gospel, as God chose to reveal it to us.

    6. I could go on, but really I think that we can just say that this is a tract, and the books in my post are children’s Bibles, so it really isn’t fair to compare them. I, personally, shy away from tracts, as I think they are born of a desire for efficiency rather than nurturing the soul. I am sure they have their place, but especially when I consider my children, I have the time with them to do it the right way, for them to see the Gospel all the way from Genesis to Revelation, in all its artistry and beauty.

    I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh! For a long time I missed the beauty of the Old Testament and that really handicapped my understanding of Jesus, so I am very passionate about allowing children access to the fullness of the Word of God.

  • Reply Phyllis February 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    I’m debating the Jesus Storybook Bible with myself right now. They’ve translated it into Russian, which is a big plus in my book, but those pictures? Not so much.

    I really appreciate your insight and comparisons here. If you have time, would you mind telling us what you think of The Lamb? It’s all online, free, if you register.

  • Reply dawn February 2, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Absolutely agree regarding the art in the Jesus Storybook Bible. Cant’ stand it. (But we don’t really share the art when reading as a family) We do like the text quite a bit, and my son adores this story Bible (our copy is his) R-girl has the Big Picture one, but we haven’t really read it much.

    Over the last year and a half we read Vos, which we liked quite a lot, and has nice pictures (which, again, we don’t really share or look at). Right now we’re reading Starr Meade’s Mighty Acts of God and liking it pretty well.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 1, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Mystie, You’re still okay in my book! Honestly, I don’t like the illustrations in the JSB, either, but I like them *better* than the Gospel Story Bible. The Big Picture Story Bible (BPSB) is too cartoonish, also. I like the JSB, as I said, but it *did* take a number of readings before my children made the connections. I was okay with that. But then again we have read them more in a free reading style–I rarely make anything other than The Bible a part of school. I think I did the JSB once when I felt like I was losing some of my then-preschoolers, but that was about it. The BPSB is huge, but I have read it in a single sitting more than once when I’ve had a sick child. The GSB is definitely meant to be read one story at a time, one sitting at a time. It could never be done straight through…

  • Reply Mystie February 1, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I feel like it’s my dirty little secret, but I don’t really care for the Jesus Storybook Bible. I bought it for school this year since *everyone* seems to love it. It’s fine. But I dislike the art (I totally agree – why does everything have to be stylized?!) and I don’t like that it doesn’t give the full story. I stopped using it for my four year old, because she wasn’t getting the connections it was trying to imply, and she also wasn’t getting the basic facts of the OT stories. Instead, it’s a free-reading Bible story book the boys enjoy browsing through. But, the curriculum we used for OT was all about how God was unfolding His plan and showing what Jesus would be, so it’s not a new concept to them, either.

    It seems like the Jesus Storybook Bible would be great for a family who only knew the moralistic approach to the OT stories, but already being in a reformed setting where the OT being about Jesus is a given, I just didn’t love the JSB. I prefer a story Bible that is “just the facts, ma’am” without cartoony or stylized art or interpretation — even when it’s an interpretation I agree with.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 1, 2012 at 6:57 am

    MHA, Looks like I am in good company!

    Kelly, You crack me up! And you know what? I completely forgot that about the KJV. I *do* read the KJV during Circle Time, but my husband thought a children’s Bible would be good for his time with them, so when this opportunity arose, I jumped on it. I think he likes it more than I do, but then again he is more didactic, I think.

    Small world: it was The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Taylor (the one from the 80s) that I was specifically thinking of when I mentioned the art!

  • Reply Kelly February 1, 2012 at 4:20 am

    Girlfriend, I though you were reading the KJV to your kids — it plainly that Moses’ mother built him an ark. 😉

    My favorite Bible picture book is the one by Kenneth Taylor that has paintings by Richard and Frances Hook. I’ve loved those paintings since I was a child. When I taught Sunday School in the Southern Baptist church that I grew up in, the materials came with a beautiful poster for each lesson, most of them done by the Hooks. That was before I was married though. I have no idea what the SBC puts out for young children’s materials nowadays.

  • Reply Mahers Hill Academy February 1, 2012 at 3:45 am

    Thanks for the review! I agree about the art. I remember the lovely paintings on the Sunday School papers I got as a child. So much of the art in children’s Bibles and S.S. materials seems to be cartoonish now. 🙁

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