Name of Book: Growing in God’s Love; A Story Bible
Author: Elizabeth F. Caldwell and Carol A. Wehrheim, editors
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press
Audience: Ages 4-8
Summary: This is a collection of 150 stories from the Old and New Testaments, rewritten for young children. Each story is told in a two-page spread, illustrated by one of twenty-one different artists, and ends with questions labeled “Hear,” “See,” and “Act.”
Literary elements at work in the story: This book is a children’s Bible storybook, a genre quite distinct from a children’s Bible. These stories generally follow the order of scripture, though some longer narratives are broken up into several sections. For instance, the natal stories of Moses are separated from the narratives of slavery and exile by tales of several other Old Testament heroes in a section called “Strong Women and Men,” and the story of the Ten Commandments is in an entirely separate section called, “Listening for God.” While there is a Scripture Index at the end of the book, there is no topical index. A teacher or parent may need to do a little sleuthing to find a particular story in the Table of Contents. (The story of the burning bush, for example, is entitled, “Moses and the Special Holy Place.”) Contributors often begin entries with a sentence or two to give some background on the setting, introduce the main characters, or make a connection to modern-day life for the listener. The language is clear and simple, though with very little of the poetic beauty of the original text. What is lost of the mystery and beauty of scripture, however, may be made up for in the approachability of these retellings.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? These perspectives are most obvious in the illustrations of this story Bible. Illustration styles range from very realistic to flatter, cartoon-type pictures. Middle Eastern characters have brown skin and facial features characteristic of Arabic and Jewish peoples. Women and girls are well represented. Interestingly, the sections of the book covering the wisdom literature and the epistles feature illustrations depicting modern-day people of all ages. The stories of the epistles also include a small inset portrait of the first-century letter-writer at work, presumably giving instructions and advice across the centuries to twenty-first century listeners. One small quibble with the illustrations is the choice of Noah’s Ark for the cover. Despite the appearance of Noah and his happy animals, this is actually a very frightening story for children; any one of the Jesus illustrations would have been more suitable for the overall theme of “Growing in God’s Love.”
Theological conversation partners: Many parents in our churches do not feel adequately equipped to share scripture with their children, because they are unfamiliar with the Bible themselves. Introductions to each section of this story Bible will be of great help to parents such as these. They give good, simple overviews, set the stories in historical as well as scriptural context, and suggest how the stories might speak to us today.
Faith Talk Questions: The “Hear,” “See,” “Act” questions at the end of each story are built-in ways to continue a conversation about scripture and its application to our lives today. For instance, the questions at the conclusion of “Two Sons and Their Father” (the Prodigal Son parable) are:
- Hear: What do you think the older brother would like to say to the younger brother?
- See: What’s another way this story could have ended?
- Act: Count the people who love you. Count the people you love. Who else do you want to add?
Beth Lyon-Suhring, Director of Christian Education at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Suffolk, VA, is our book reviewer today.