What Advent is to Jesus’ birth, Lent is to his death and resurrection. During the 40 days of Lent, we prepare to celebrate Easter by remembering our need for Jesus. We reflect on our mortality, remembering that we are dust, and we reflect on our need for a Savior willing to die in our place. Lent is, perhaps, not so cozy as Advent, but it is beautiful. And it starts tomorrow.
Over the years, I have found many Advent devotionals and a few excellent two-weeks-til-Easter devotionals. But I have found very few books willing to walk our family through the entire season of Lent. I cannot, in fact, think of any.
But Sally Lloyd-Jones has a whole-family guide to observing Lent with kids—and the Jesus Storybook Bible. That’s what we’ll be doing this year, and I wanted to share it today so that you, if you’re into this sort of thing, can join us!
The guide features forty days of readings from the Jesus Storybook Bible, as well as a printable paper chain and coloring pages. This will definitely please the younger set of readers in our house, but I know the older girls will enjoy it as well.
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.)
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.
This summer, we planted flowers—rows and rows of them. In the bed typically dedicated to trailing squash, we sprinkled seeds that grew into cosmos, zinnias, poppies (four kinds), larkspur, dainty dwarf zinnias, snapdragons. Walking barefoot among those rows, watching the flowers wake, became one of our favorite morning routines.
But inside our home, another kind of flower unfurled as Josie took her first steps, said her first words, and learned how to make us laugh. She shed her babyhood, in which she watched the world happen around her, and stepped into the thick of things, poking at and exploring the world and expecting it to respond.
I had watched this transition three times before, but, like watching flowers shed those green things that encapsulate crumpled petals, it is amazing every time—I think because, with each child, I see more clearly how little I did to bring about that unfolding personality and how much of it was already there, sown into each daughter before I had ever seen her face.
So, in honor of Josie’s summer of unfurling, I made a list for you of my favorite books for toddlers. We love Sandra Boynton and BabyLit books, of course, but this list is for the little ones demanding answers from the world: If I poke the cat, what does he do? If I make this face, will Mama laugh? Let’s give them big answers in small books and see what happens:
Sally Lloyd-Jones’ newest book leads readers through Psalm 23, drawing out the tenderness and warmth of our Good Shepherd as she paraphrases the familiar psalm into a poem that moves readers big and small. Jago’s illustrations here are stunning. (Read the full review.)
Fuzzy on the outside, rich and vibrant on the inside. Lloyd-Jones introduces small readers to the idea that the Bible is not just a collection of epic stories, but an invitation from God to know him, by condensing the truths of a handful of Bible stories into short, beautiful poems.
Tomie dePaola’s book of gratitude is one that pokes at parents as we read it to our kids. The text and illustrations are simple but weighty, and they urge us to look around and savor the God who made all things big and small. (Read the full review.)
Prayer for a Child is a sweet but not too sweet look at prayer from a child’s perspective. My copy doesn’t show it, but this one won the Caldecott in 1945—at a time when the children reading it were living through a world war. (Read the full review.)
What toddler doesn’t love lifting flaps? Sally Lloyd-Jones again distills favorite Bible stories down to their gospel essence, while Tracey Moroney’s bright illustrations give little hands plenty to do while they listen. (Read the full review.)
No booklist on this blog would be complete without The Jesus Storybook Bible. The truths in here are huge, but the format is small: perfect for introducing toddlers to Jesus through the beautiful stories of Scripture. This book is a standard second birthday gift in our home. (Read the full review.)
This last week of Advent hits our house like a hurricane. We light candles and dress up our Jesse Tree, but we also skip naps, binge on sugar cookies, and attend at least three different family celebrations (not counting our own here at home). We have a lot of family very close by, and that is a blessing.
But right now, reminders of who we’re celebrating and why are crucial: when I’m tempted to hide under a fleecy blanket with a good book and recover from the crowds, I need to be reminded of Jesus, who went on pouring himself out for others, even when the crowds followed him to his quiet mountainside. He didn’t seem to worry much about boundaries or expectations or past hurts—he went on serving. He gave himself to others, and in doing so, gave us all the best gift imaginable.
So this year I made a list of my favorite picture books about Jesus. These aren’t necessarily Christmas books, because you’re already reading your favorites for the year, aren’t you? These are beautiful, all-year-round books about Jesus, books that prepare us all, parent and child alike, to live the rest of the year like the Incarnation matters.
Because it does. Remembering that refreshes my soul more than the deepest of post-party naps. I hope it refreshes you, too.
When I make book lists, I usually arrange the books in “no particular order.” Not so this time. Miracle Man comes first for a reason. John Hendrix uses every medium at his disposal to capture the tenderness of Jesus as well as his intensity by following his miracles and the crowds’ reactions to them. Everything about this book—illustrations, story, layout, cover—is arresting. (Read the full review.)
The Light of the World walks readers through the full life of Jesus, from birth to death and resurrection. Newbury-award winning author Katherine Paterson tells the story well; Francois Roca’s illustrations deepen it. This is a great book for any time of the year, but I do love bringing it out at Christmas and Easter because it puts both the Incarnation and the Resurrection within the context of the larger story of Jesus’ life. (Read the full review.)
This is another “big picture” book, but it looks not only at Jesus’ life but at his role in God’s redemptive plan for mankind. Carl Laferton fits a lot of great theology (and history) into one slender, richly illustrated book. (Read the full review.)
In ten chapters, Kevin DeYoung tells the story of Scripture with Jesus at the center. Full of beautiful truth and beautiful illustrations, The Biggest Story would be a great read for the last week of Advent or for Holy Week. (Read the full review.)
Allison Mitchell’s book explores the question “Who is this Jesus?” by telling the story of that time Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations play beautifully on the humor in the story while still keeping things serious in just the right way. (Read the full review.)
It is good to be reminded, as we celebrate the Incarnation, that Jesus came with a purpose. That purpose wasn’t pleasant, but it was good. Jan Pienkowski shows us why in this gorgeous book. (Read the full review.)
Family devotions, we have learned, are fluid. We start a book and stick with it until a baby joins us at the table in a high chair or somebody’s bedtime shifts or a child (who shall not be named) rebels against dinner in all its forms and we leave the table fatigued, having forgotten to pick that book up off the shelf, open it, and read aloud.
Our kids change constantly, and we seem to be always two steps behind them. This makes any kind of routine hard to maintain.
Part of me mourns that fact, and the fact that we’ve yet to finish a devotional together, but another part is grateful for what time we have spent with each of these books. That is the part of me that holds out hope that we’ll get back to them one day—maybe when the high chair has been retired for good, and we’re all eating with forks like civilized folks.
Because we have found a few devotionals worth returning to, plus one that has been an anchor in our family worship, I thought I’d share a few of our favorite resources for family devotions with you. Perhaps you are all eating with forks like civilized folks and you can enjoy reading these books with your family—or perhaps you’re a few steps ahead of us and have realized that that may never happen, and it’s time to buckle down and do family devotions anyway. Whatever your circumstance, here is a list of gems for you:
This book takes families all the way through the Old Testament—through the famous bits and the weird bits, too. It’s arranged by weeks, with each week divided into days, and each day complete with a reading from the book, a reading from the Bible, and a short list of thought-provoking questions.
We tackled this when our two oldest girls were four and under and were pleasantly surprised at how much our four year old gleaned from the readings (the two year old was more interested in finger-painting with her soup). I look forward to coming back to this one and to exploring Machowski’s book on the New Testament, Old Story New. (Read the full review.)
Our church is collectively working our way through the Westminster Shorter Catechism with this book. Starr Meade orients each week around a catechism question and includes a series of Scripture readings and small devotions to correspond with each day of the week. This one, too, was a winner—but somehow, we only lasted six months before it returned to the shelf and stayed there.
I read this book to the girls over breakfast for quite some time. It’s beautiful—the illustrations by Jago are deeper and richer than those in The Jesus Storybook Bible and more mature somehow. And Sally-Lloyd Jones’s meditations on various things truly do make the heart sing. (Read the full review.)
We haven’t used The Family Journal as devotional material exactly, but as a landing place for the discussions that arise as we read together as a family. It is fun to revisit the questions and answers our daughters have learned by heart from the Songs for Saplings albums and to make notes on the spontaneous theological questions the girls throw my way. We have stuck with this one—perhaps because we don’t need to read it every day. (Read the full review.)
The Advent Jesse Tree has seen us through Advent after Advent, so we know that we can stick with a series of readings for at least one month! This is a clean, basic, theologically solid look at who Jesus is, what the Bible said about him before he came, and why his coming matters so much to us. We have loved this one year after year, returning to it even after a fancier book with better illustrations briefly lured us away. (Read the full review, or learn how to make your own Jesse tree.)
This book has anchored our devotional time since our eldest was eighteen months old. Knowing that our older girls are learning the New City Catechism as part of their schooling has helped direct our family devotion time toward something that will help build a solid foundation for our younger girls. And so The Jesus Storybook Bible comes back again and again as a part of our evening ritual.
It has traveled with us halfway across the country and back and is held together mostly by box tape—not glamorous, perhaps, but a sure sign of a book that has seen service in the hands of small readers. And that is what we want: we want them to know that this is their story. Perhaps as the whole family levels up together, we’ll tackle other, deeper devotional books, but for now, this is our tried-and-true book for family devotions. (Read the full review.)
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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