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There are a LOT of bad children’s Bibles on the market. It’s important for parents to understand that. As a former children’s ministry director in our church and currently a mom of a 3, 5, and 7-year-olds, I’ve read my share of children’s Bibles over the years. Today I want to share three things:
- The “big picture” about why to read the Bible to your kids from early on.
- How to select a good children’s Bible (and avoid the bad ones).
- A review of our families’ favorite children’s Bibles that we read again and again with our kids.
Why is it important to start reading the Bible early on?
My husband and I lead a class for new parents at our church. One of the things we always encourage them to do is begin reading a children’s Bible to their babies from very early on. Why is it so important to start this routine early on? Well, here are some of the benefits to beginning this routine from infancy or as soon as possible with your kids:
- Your children will expect that reading the Bible is a part of their day. This is setting the stage for them to independently read God’s Word by themselves as they mature. A study by Notre Dame professor Christian Smith shows that children who learn this discipline from early on are more likely to continue in their faith through the teen years and on.
- Kids gain a longer attention span to sit and read. This is preparing your child to focus long enough to actually sit down and read the Bible later in life. So many of us, including me, struggle to sit still long enough to study and reflect on God’s Word. It’s important that we help our children learn to sit and listen to, age-appropriately discuss, and pray over what they read in the Bible from their earliest years. This requires practice and consistency.
- Children will gain an understanding of the main storyline of the Bible and the Gospel that will help shape their worldview from early on. You’ve probably heard it said that children learn more in their first five years of life than any other time. This is prime time for shaping their view of God and the Gospel. And, guess what? If you don’t shape their worldview, someone else will whether you want that or not. PBS will. Disney will. The school system will. Start reading the Bible early and you will give your kids a grid to see life through that makes the most sense. You will help them see their sin, their need for a Savior, and the hope that is found only in the Gospel.
- Reading and believing God’s Word produces good fruit in our lives over time, by the grace of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness….” In Psalm 19 we see that it refreshes the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart, and gives light to the eyes. These are just a few of the promises about the work of God’s Word in believers’–including even young children’s–lives.
- The Bible promises blessings for the family that faithfully instructs their children. I trust that the Lord’s command in Deuteronomy 6 to all Christian parents is there for a reason. If we, as parents, are faithful to read God’s Word to and talk about it with our kids, as well as strive to live it out (imperfectly and only by God’s grace, I might add), there will be blessings for the family. It opens the door for God to do a great work in our kids’ lives as they grow up.
What makes a children’s Bible good?
It’s important to use discernment when selecting a children’s Bible. Remember, these are just storybooks, not the verbatim inspired word of God. And humans are prone to error. When selecting a children’s Bible, I look for these characteristics:
- God-centered, not man-centered. Do the stories focus on who God is and what he has done? Or do they simple focus on the heroic traits of people? A good children’s Bible makes it clear that God is the center of the story, not humans.
- Grace-centered, not moralistic. Do the stories focus on our need for a Savior and God’s grace in sending His Son to rescue us? Or do they focus only on what we should do? The point of every story and book in the Bible is to ultimately show us God’s plan of redemption for sinners in need of a Savior. A children’s Bible should never leave a child thinking that the main point is to behave. That’s simply not Christianity! We can never earn God’s favor or our salvation.
- Written well. Do the stories keep their target age of child engaged? Do your kids say key phrases out loud with you? Do you as a parent enjoy reading it? Those are often the signs of a well-written story Bible. Some of the great ones listed below have a way of drawing children into them through the culturally relevant retelling, clever humor, or use of literary features like rhyme or onomatopoeia.
- Good illustrations. Do the illustrations accurately and age-appropriately reflect what is going on in the story? Is there excellence in the drawings? Some story Bibles do a better job of this than others, but you’ll notice that ones like The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Bible Picture Bible, and The Action Bible draw children into what is going on in the story and creatively illustrate some important truths.
7 Must-Have Children’s Bibles for All Ages
Our family rotates through a few different children’s Bibles with our kids, depending on their age. I find it’s helpful to have several different kinds of these books to read from since each one has a slightly different emphasis or way of telling the story. Owning several provides variety for the kids and a fresh way to hear different Bible stories. Here are some of our other favorite children’s Bible story books that we go back to again and again.
1 –Read Aloud Bible Stories – For ages: infants through age 3.
We love this classic children’s story Bible for three reasons. 1) God is the hero not the people. At the end of each narrative is a helpful page titled “What did you learn?” It states a few brief God-centered points in order to promote discussion with your child. 2) Lindvall has the gift of reducing complicated Bible concepts down to simple ones while remaining faithful to the original text. 3) The illustrations by H. Kent Puckett have always captured the attention of my young kids as we read together before bed. With large pages full of colorful and simple images, the kids’ eyes are glued to what is happening in the story.
2 – The Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers – For ages: infants through age 2.
3 – The Rhyme Bible Storybook – For ages: 1-5.
4 – The Big Picture Story Bible (plus audio CDs) – For ages: 2-7.
This has been my kids’ go-to Bible during the preschool years. They have learned so much from it. The advantages of this one are that it comes with two audio CDs of the author reading the stories, it emphasizes the Bible has one big story with Jesus at the center, and the stories have depth but are simple enough for preschoolers.
4 – The Jesus Storybook Bible – For ages: 3-8.
I’ll never get tired of recommending this Bible for kids. This children’s Bible is a beautiful narrative that helps families understand God’s love for his people and how Jesus–God’s greatest gift to us–is at the center of every story. My husband and I often tear up while reading it because it is so moving. The illustrations are interesting and well-done, too.
Also, a really good investment is in the Collector’s Edition, because it includes the audio CDs and DVDs of each story. My husband and I enjoy listening to these as much as the kids!
6 – The Action Bible – For ages 5-11.
I can’t say enough good things about this Bible. Written in the form of a comic book yet faithful to the biblical text, this storybook Bible has engaged my older son and the elementary children at our church in ways that I’ve never seen before. I like that it hits on the often missed portions of Scripture in children’s Bibles–Judges, the minor prophets, Psalms, etc.
I highly suggest purchasing the audio CDs, as well. My kids have listened to them all at least 5x through now. Very well done recording! In fact, we use these on Sunday mornings with the kids at church sometimes.
7 – NIV Adventure Bible – For ages: 9+.
Our oldest son hasn’t begun reading this NIV Bible yet (because he’s so into The Action Bible), but many families at our church use this version of the Bible for elementary-aged kids. The elementary curriculum-writing team I’m on at our church use the NIV Adventure Bible in all our lessons and classrooms for elementary kids, as well.