The Lord is our shepherd—but what exactly does that mean to a child who lives miles from the nearest sheep?
In Sammy and His Shepherd, Susan Hunt walks families through the twenty-third psalm one verse at a time, showing readers what it means for a good shepherd to lead his flock to still waters or through dark valleys. She does this through the story of Sammy, a sheep who lives within the Good Shepherd’s fold, and of Sammy’s friend, a neglected sheep living in the neighboring pasture.
Sammy’s friend has never experienced the care that Sammy’s shepherd gives him, and as Sammy explains it to her, Sammy begins to appreciate more fully the gift it is to belong to the Good Shepherd. And when the shepherd purchases Sammy’s friend and welcomes her into his flock, Sammy walks alongside her and helps her learn to trust her new shepherd’s care even when she doesn’t fully understand it.
Part devotional, part storybook, Sammy and His Shepherd illustrates the relationship of a good shepherd to his sheep so beautifully that I find myself thinking about it still, weeks after we finished the book. And it’s clear I’m not the only one still thinking about it: our daughters have been sketching sheep and shepherds since the book’s end. By telling this as a story, rather than as a straightforward devotional, Susan Hunt has given us something to picture when we read Psalm 23. And she has helped my daughters take that psalm—and the glorious truths within it—to heart in a new way.
Two years have passed since my last post on family devotionals, and in that time I’ve learned that there’s more to Orion than his belt, and that hot sauce is actually, in moderation, most of the time, pretty good. I have also learned that we’re not great at following through with real devotionals, but there are so many good ones out there that I keep finding them and trying them and reviewing them for you. I have reviewed so many since that last post that it’s time for another compilation, one that features two of our favorites—two that we have successfully read from cover-to-cover and, in one case, even read a second time.
This list features books that span a wide range of ages and that will appeal to different families at different times. Some are rooted in Scripture, some around a catechism, and some are systematic theologies for kids. But they all strive to communicate the gospel clearly and beautifully to families, and they all offer excellent jumping-off points for discussion, either in the form of questions or in content that begs for further conversation.
I’ll begin with one of our favorites. Marty Machowski’s The Ology is a systematic theology for kids that covers everything from the nature of God to the calling of the church to the end times, and he does it in a way that our four-year-old will sit through and our older girls engage with and love. The Ology is even structured so that can be used with still older readers, middle- and high-school readers, with additional questions and study ideas, as well as verses in each reading to research. We’re almost done reading this one for a second time, and it’s still excellent. (Read the full review.)
This book is also a systematic theology, but it’s written for young readers. (At four, Phoebe adores it.) The readings are short and simple (but not overly simplified), and they end with questions that tie the big concepts to the illustrations, so little ones have something visual to refer to while they listen. If you’ve finished The Jesus Storybook Bible with your little ones and want to know what to read next, try this! (Read the full review.)
These readings, drawn from the psalms, focus on the life of one family as they explore the psalms together and put what they learn into practice. I worried at first that these readings might feel too cheesy, but no! The girls loved them, and they gave momentum to some deep discussions. These readings are practical, which can be helpful for kids who hear often how they ought to behave but struggle to know what that looks like, but they’re not moralistic: grace weaves through each one, reminding us all that we are forgiven and loved even when we fail. (Read the full review.)
These ten-minute devotions from Proverbs are—as every Marty Machowski book I’ve read is—excellent. They’re short, but give ample fodder for deeper discussion, and they bring families back each night to Scripture itself. We didn’t finish this one, but that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the book itself. This might be a good place to start if you’re interested in his other books, Long Story Short and Old Story New. Or it might be a great thing to read if you’ve finished those and want something shorter and focused on one book of the Bible. (Read the full review.)
New City Catechism
Our older girls memorized parts of this at school, and we’re getting ready to start it here at home. It’s a rich catechism, written beautifully, and with so many partnering resources to help families memorize it together. The answers are two-part—one for children, one for adults—with print editions available for both children and adults. There is also a book of devotions, as well as recorded songs for the questions and answers, and an app. (If you’re just starting, you probably want either the black book or the app.) This is a resource I’m excited to explore together as we grow in our knowledge of God and help equip our kids to follow him. (Read more about why the New City Catechism was written and what the authors believe.)
Exploring the Bible is our current read, and we continue to love it. This is not really a devotional but a Bible reading plan for kids, with a short Scripture reading (about five verses) designated for each day, followed by a simple question.
Mitch, Lydia, Sarah and I all read ours individually in the morning and then reread it together in the evening, with Phoebe. Some nights, the conversation branches off into deeper things, or we find ourselves tying some event to the reading as we interact throughout the day. Murray’s goal is to introduce kids to the whole story of Scripture through this year-long, fly-over view. And so far, our family loves it. (Read the full review.)
Lydia and Sarah curled up on the floor, listening or coloring as I read from My ABC Bible Verses From the Psalms. It was winter and we were well-pajamaed; outside, it was probably raining. I had just finished our reading for that day and moved to pick up our book of fairy tales when Sarah spoke over the squeak of her markers and said, “I like this book because it helps me see how to behave.”
I was struck by her insight: after all, that’s exactly what I like about this book, too. Susan and Richie Hunt collected twenty-six verses from the Psalms, fit them all to a letter of the alphabet, and wrote stories about a particular family to fit each one. There are stories about disobedience and service; stories about conversion and loving those that are hard to love. They all illustrate different qualities that we’d love to see our children take to heart, but they press past that, pointing toward our dependence upon God in a way that keeps this book from reading like a blue print for good works without faith.
For a five-year-old who is told daily to put others before herself but struggles to understand how that ought to look, it must be helpful to see a family live out that sort of love in the pages of a book. I know it’s helpful for me as a mother to watch the way the parents in the book answer their children’s questions, honor their own parents, and weave Scripture into their interactions with their children. Though the family may seem a little too perfect in places, the book is rich in grace and I’m thankful for that.
It’s easy to forget, as a grown-up, how hard it can be for a child to see how to behave, and so I was grateful for Sarah’s reminder that we do need to see it, parents and children alike: we can’t just be told, but we need to see those around us living out their faith. And while a good book is no replacement for a real, live example, it can certainly be a help.
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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