A note to three-year-olds everywhere: if your parents buy you this book for your birthday, they are almost certainly hinting that it is time to start sleeping through the night. (We were when we bought this for Josie.)
Lisa Tawn Bergren’s God Gave Us series is lovely and I’ve reviewed a few of them here. But none have garnered as dedicated a following in our home as this one: for a time God Gave Us Sleep was Josie’s favorite pre-nap read. She flipped through it after I put her to bed, and I often found it on the floor beside her when she woke up, as though it had slipped out of her hands when she drifted off.
And it is a book worth reading and re-reading. Bergren explores sleep and why it matters; through the story, she shows what happens and how we feel when we don’t sleep well, and she reminds readers that sleep is not a punishment or an inconvenience but a gift from our loving God. Exhausted parents know this. Three-year-olds don’t always, so I’m thankful for a book that gently explains it.
Josie has finally started sleeping through the night, though she will sometimes come quietly into our room and wait for us to wake up and take her to the bathroom. She never tells us she’s there, but lets us become gradually aware of her presence by singing “Happy Birthday” softly to herself. That’s so much better than how she used to wake us that we don’t even mind.
I am well into eleven years of reading board books and can tell you that the few we still read—the ones that have been repurchased when their covers, loosened by soggy gums, finally fell off—are all by Sandra Boynton. Our daughters can still chant the full text of Moo Ba La La. I once recited—with friends at a dinner party—But Not the Hippopotamus from memory, as a spoken word poem, possibly read by William Shatner.
I tell you this not because I’m reviewing a Boynton book today, but because I want you to remember, before we begin, how hard it is for an author to win over both toddler and parent at once.
And then I want to tell you that Steph Williams gets it right. Her Little Me, Big God books are ones I happily re-read any time Josie slings one into my lap. And she slings them into my lap often.
Each one tells a story about Jesus in a few short pages, and tells it in a way that neither condescends to the young reader or soars over their head. Williams researched the stories thoroughly and tells them simply. She also includes the stories’ full text in the back of each book.
Disclosure: I did receive copies of these books for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.
Today’s summer re-run originally appeared in November of 2016.
Our shelves are full of books I believe in. We own adventure stories, where after a few battles and close calls, good triumphs over evil. We own fairy tales, picture books, poetry collections, and a whole lot of Sandra Boynton board books. And books are everywhere in our home: in fact, the only room in our home that doesn’t have a single book in it is our laundry room. Everywhere else has a cache of books tucked into some corner or other.
I tell you this not because I’m in a mood to state the obvious, but because I want to paint a picture of a family who loves books, who reads them often, and who trades favorites on a regular basis. We read a lot—but we’re not very structured about it. I trust that by filling our shelves with great titles, our kids will get a well-rounded literary education.
But, of course, I am the weak link there: they will get a well-rounded education in books that I am familiar with. Books that I like.
So when I heard about My Book House, I was intrigued: In 1920, Olive Beaupre Miller, the series editor, chose character-building stories from classic literature, mythology, fairy tales and more, and arranged them in multiple volumes, each one progressively more challenging than the last. The idea was that a family could read straight through the series and provide their children with a rich literary foundation, from nursery rhymes to great historical speeches.
That’s pretty awesome. The series includes things I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward—fables, folk tales, and nursery rhymes, to name a few, as well as things familiar and well-loved. It’s delightful to be drawn outside our box.
But while I was immediately smitten with the idea behind My Book House, it wasn’t until I saw pictures of the books themselves that I decided to take the plunge and order a set. The books are beautiful, and there’s something satisfying about seeing that many good stories huddled together in matching jackets on our shelves.
To clarify: Yes. I bought the books because they’re pretty.
Buying these books is a hefty investment, and I hesitated about whether or not to post them here because I hate to talk you into adding $100 worth of books (however beautiful) to your wishlists unless I’m positive you’ll like them. But the thought that you might see a set at a garage sale and pass it by because you’d never heard of them finally convinced me that I have a duty to share these books with you. So, check thrift stores, garage sales, and eBay (that’s where I found mine)—perhaps you’ll get lucky!
How We Use Our Set
These books have become a part of our home school routine. I read them aloud to the girls, but I also encourage my newly fluent first grader to practice her reading on some of the early volumes.
We have been studying geography this year, so it’s been fun to read some of the stories from other countries. (I will warn you, though, that these books are a little dated in places. Some of the perspectives on race and culture might bring up some interesting discussions with your kids.)
I love digging into them around holidays: my set has a giant index at the end of the last volume, so when a holiday rolls around, it’s fun to rummage through that index and find the stories and poems that relate to each holiday and incorporate those into our reading for the week.
Plus, my girls love them so much that they often pull a volume down and curl up on the couch with it. That’s a hearty endorsement from the intended audience right there.
A Note on Editions
I understand that there are different editions out there and that some of the older ones are a bit better than my 1971 set (read more about that at the link below), but I didn’t know that until after I purchased mine. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because the 1971 set is so darn pretty.
One Last Thing
If you would like to know more about either the history of My Book House or how you might use it in your home, Pam Barnhill has an excellent article all about the series on her blog, Ed Snapshots.Read it here.
Today’s summer re-run originally appeared in November of 2016. But here it is, dusted off and ready for revisiting!May your park picnics be lovely, and may you find a new favorite Bible to share with your kids this summer.
Finding beautiful, theologically sound Bibles for kids is, to me, like finding volunteer sunflowers in a flowerbed given over to weeds: you know you’ll find flowers in that bed, of course, but somehow you don’t expect them to be so flashy and radiant.
So many children’s Bibles mean well, but by chopping Scripture into disjointed stories or by tacking a moral onto each one that points away from the Lord and toward the child, these Bibles dilute the beauty of Scripture and become like weeds. They may be the pretty kind of weed that you wish you could let grow, but you know you’ll regret indulging them if they sow seeds of self-righteousness or despair in a child. So, weeds.
But there are so many Bibles out there for children that are beautiful and complex, that stand well above the weedy undergrowth in the children’s section at the Christian bookstore. And in the three-and-a-half years since I started this blog, I have found quite a few of them—so many, in fact, that I decided to do something only people who love checklists do: I made a list for you. Of all of them. Organized by age.
This list is not comprehensive. There are a lot of wonderful Bibles out there for children, but I haven’t seen all of them in person or read them through with my kids, so I’m sticking with the ones our family knows and loves. And because our family is full of children 11 and under, my list is woefully short on anything targeted at children over age 11. Sorry about that.
These tiny re-tellings of Bible stories pack a lot of truth into a few short sentences. Each volume contains five or six stories, but they’re not told in chronological order. In fact, we own the first four, and with the exception of a few excursions into the Old Testament, they’re all mostly about Jesus. But these are great for beginning readers as well as toddlers. (They’re especially great for beginning readers who like reading to toddlers.) (Read the full review.)
If you don’t own this book, forget the rest of the post—no matter how old your children are. Buy this one. Even if you don’t have kids, buy this one. The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the stories of Scripture in such a way that “Every Story Whispers His Name,” and reminds us again and again of who Jesus is and why he matters. (Read the full review.)
David Helm walks through Scripture one story at a time, always keeping the big picture of Scripture in mind. Each story has its place in the greater story of Scripture, and the large format, short readings, and colorful illustrations make this a great Bible for toddlers. But the truth in it makes it a great fit for everyone else, too. (Read the full review.)
Kevin DeYoung’s book is a flyover picture of the big story in Scripture: in ten short chapters he moves from Creation to Revelation, looking at Jesus through a new lens in each story. Also worth noting: I love Don Clark’s illustrations in this book. (Read the full review.)
The big people and the little people in our home love this Bible. Machowski doesn’t shy away from the less popular corners of Scripture, but includes over 150 stories in The Gospel Story Bible. They’re well-told, pretty short, and finish with discussion questions. These readings are compact, but they go deep quickly. (Read the full review.)
This full-length Bible contains a neat coding system that builds beginning Bible study skills by teaching kids to look for context, to cross-reference verses, and to ask interesting questions about the text. It also has all manner of interesting maps and background information about the people and places in Scripture. (Read the full review.)
This Bible contains the full text of Scripture, as well as the familiar illustrations from The Big Picture Story Bible. We just bought it for our six-year-old, and it makes a nice transitional step from story Bible to full-length Bible. (Read the full review.)
Marty Machowski’s family study moves through the Old Testament chronologically, using short readings and engaging questions to introduce kids to every inch of Scripture. The accompanying book on the New Testament, Old Story New, is supposed to be good, too, but we’re still making our way through Genesis, so it will be a while before I can tell you definitively that it is good. (Read the full review.)
Marty Machowski again? Yes. His books are worth putting on any list about any kind of children’s Bible. The Ology is a systematic theology for kids (yes, you read that right) that introduces key doctrines in a clear way that connects for parents and children. This one, too, has short readings and solid questions, and I love it so much. (Read the full review.)
Okay, so this isn’t a book. What it is, though, is an amazing collection of videos that leads kids through the Bible chronologically, while answering questions and providing background along the way. Created by Phil Vischer, one of the original masterminds behind VeggieTales,What’s in the Bible? is one of our family’s very favorite resources about the Bible. (To learn more about where to watch it, read the full review.)
In the beginning, God created numbers. Numbers declare the glory of God.
That is where God Counts begins: right at the very beginning. From there, Irene Sun counts to twelve (and beyond!) with readers, pausing at each number to share a verse and show how each number points us to God. On its surface, this seems like a simple concept, one that could could go wrong if the author decided to play it safe and count animals marching into the ark. But Sun explores big theological concepts through this counting format, and she does it beautifully:
Two tells us we are not alone. In the beginning, God made two people, Adam and Eve. They walked with God, side by side. The talked to God, face to face.
God Counts aims not only to teach our kids about numbers, but to show young readers (and parents who might need reminding) that even numbers declare the glory of God.
Here is what I know about three. Two gets all the bad press, being terrible, but in our house, three has always been the hardest and sweetest year. At two, our daughters spotted boundaries and pushed against them. They used “No” to great effect. But at three, their bones seem to liquify and they drop to the floor and they cry and cry and cry. Maybe they’re cold. Or hungry. Or sad. Or in a blind rage.
We don’t know; we can only guess.
Meanwhile, they weep. One of our older girls used to have what we darkly called “the 11:00 meltdown.” Months later, we learned that after a morning spent running around barefoot, she was cold, and if we wrestled her into tights first thing in the morning—socks she can’t take off!—the meltdowns stopped. But every daughter has her different drama at three, and it’s Josie’s turn now.
So, given that emotions are a big part of our family’s life right now, an Easter-themed “emotions primer” seems like just the ticket. Danielle Hitchen, author of the already-beloved First Bible Basics and Psalms of Praise, takes readers through the events of Holy Week, but in an unusual way: she uses emotions as a scaffolding for the story, then rounds them out with passages from Scripture.
(Side note: I love that she specifies which translation she used for each quote.)
Jessica Blanchard’s illustrations use color and texture and expression to capture each emotion, making this a book whose approach, though unexpected, works.
In the beginning of this post, I said that three is “the hardest and sweetest” year. But we’ve only talked about the hard part. The sweetness is what happens the rest of the time, when Josie drapes herself over the back of the couch like a cat to wait for her friend to come over. Or when she pokes Phoebe, yells, “Not get me!” and runs—a clear invitation to play chase. Or when she drops a book in Lydia’s lap and climbs up without invitation, confident that her sister will deliver the goods. Or when she walks into a room with her shirt pulled up over her face, as though this is a perfectly normal thing that people need to do from time to time.
Three is a year of big feelings, but it’s also a year of deep connection: Josie has always been a part of our family, but now she is a walking, talking, opinion-having, joke-cracking, kitty-loving, chase-playing part of it. And that is worth every single meltdown.
Exaggerated eyebrows! Dropped jaws! I sometimes miss the depth of emotion in Scripture or the strength with which people respond to Jesus, but a good illustrated Bible story doesn’t bury those feelings. Rather, it lets us see what it looks like to respond to some of the bewildering, awe-inspiring, terrifying events of Scripture the way a human being would —with feeling.
A Very Happy Easter takes this one step further and incorporates those feelings right into the text. Where Tim Thornborough’s excellent Christmas book, A Very Noisy Christmas, invited readers to respond to the story of Jesus’ birth with sound and celebration, A Very Happy Easter invites readers into the story through expression:
In most books there is work for your eyes and ears. You look at the pictures, and listen to the words. But in this book, there is work for your face too!
Every time readers see a character react to something in the story, we get to respond by mimicking the expression of the characters. Are they astonished? Let us be astonished too! Are they confused or disbelieving? Well, then, so are we. Startled? Afraid? Amazed? Us too!
This is a great way to engage younger readers, but I have a hunch that my older girls—with some initial eye-rolling, perhaps—will get into it, too. And anything that puts our feet on the ground of the Easter story is a welcome addition to our library.
Disclosure: I did receive copies of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.