The SPARK Story Bible (2009) was developed as part of the family of resources related to the SPARK faith formation curriculum published under the Activate Faith imprint from Augsburg Fortress. It is a collection of 150 stories from both the Old and New Testament, beginning with creation and ending with the letters of Paul. The book is planned to stimulate imagination, wonder, amazement and exploration. To this end, three devices are used in each story: a question or activity, pictures that fill the pages, and Squiggles, billed as an expressive caterpillar.
First, the stories. These are told briefly and simply, about three or four pages shared with pictures, and they are good oral reading. The facts are generally accurate without too much sanctified imagination but this is in no sense a translation. Joshua concludes his instructions at Jericho with, “Any questions? Okay, let’s go.” John the Baptist yells, “Hey! All of you! Tell God you’re sorry for your sins.” God says to Moses, “Listen up! I have important rules for you and the people to live by.” The ten plagues are recounted in an engaging, free poetic style
Selection and condensation are required in Bible story books for preschool and elementary children, the target age of the SPARK Story Bible, since many Bible stories are lengthy and complicated, not to mention, X-rated. The rule is that even when skipping parts of the story, we don’t distort or interpret so that children must unlearn facts in the future.
The Ten Commandments in this collection can serve as an example. Rule Six is “Don’t hurt others by your words and actions.” Not quite accurate but easy to modify. The giving of the law concludes with “and they did their best to follow them (the rules).” Patently false. The story of the Pentateuch is of a rebellious and stiff-necked people. On the whole, however, there is not too much to unlearn here. Each story has its scripture source in the table of contents and the adult, for this is an adult-child book, can check the source for him/herself.
The selection of the stories is good, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Psalms, and the letters of Paul, although the three prophetic sections deal primarily with the hope of the messiah, with justice a minor theme. The stories of Jesus include the Sermon on the Mount and a number of parables. As children begin to acquire a sense of community and family history, this basic story Bible is a step into the one story of God’s mighty acts.
Now, in reverse order: Squiggles, the expressive caterpillar. Children will have fun locating this little green worm on the pages but he (she?) is too small to offer much help in grasping the feelings of the story and Squiggles looks more like a worm than a caterpillar.
The questions and activities vary in effectiveness. At their best they stimulate discussion and help readers get inside the story. For example, readers count the night time stars to number Abraham’s descendents and play follow the leader after Jesus calls his disciples..
The pictures are the problematic element in the book. The stocky, cartoon style figures are in loud, almost garish colors. Facial expressions furnish clues to the feelings of the characters but they are so exaggerated that they almost overpower the story. The picture of John the Baptist eating a locust wlll distract from anything he has to say, indeed, may even frighten the youngest child. Some pages, such as the creation, the 23rd Psalm, and the prodigal son are assets but this is infrequent.
It’s not hard to see a parent, unsure of which Bible stories to choose, finding the SPARK Story Bible a helpful resource to share with a five year old child. Or a family with several children from preschool to elementary grades keeping this book by the table for family devotions. Or a church weekday preschool using it for Bible Story Time. There are many pluses here; the adult and, perhaps, the child must decide if they outweigh the illlustrations.
Review prepared by guest blogger Virginia Thomas.
SPARK Story Bible by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.