Title: The Big Picture Story Bible
Author: David R. Helm
Publisher: Crossway Books; Har/com edition, 2010
Illustrator: Gail Schoonmaker
Intended Audience Age level: 2-7; Reading level: Ages 9-12
The first thing to notice about The Big Picture Story Bible is that it is big-9.3×9.3.x1.4” and 3.8 pounds, 26 chapters, 448 pages. The 3-7 year olds for whom the book is recommended will need to spread it on a table or on the floor. The second impression is that there are far more illustrations than words. Most pictures are spread across two pages with perhaps 3 or 5 sentences to a page. The format is for young children while the suggested reading level is 9-11 years.
A third fact is that individual stories are hard to locate. Noah, for example, will be found in a chapter entitled “Life Outside the Garden;” the 10 plagues in a chapter, “God’s People Become Great.” The book is organized as a Bible survey and single stories and characters are placed in a wider context. No scripture references are given.
The big picture that Helm presents is the story of how God keeps God’s promises to Adam and Eve (a man will crush the serpent); to Abraham (you will be a great nation); to David (from your house will come the Forever King.) The familiar stories are here, most in skeletal form. Moses isn’t placed in the river and there is no burning bush; David kills Goliath with no prelude as a shepherd. And a number of people are included without enough information to make them memorable to children: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Zedekiah. Helm will return to these as stories about Jesus. “Painted on the pages of Israel’s hard and happy history is the big picture of God’s forever king.”
For the life of Jesus Helm uses the birth narrative from Luke and then depends exclusively on John’s gospel. Jesus’ adult ministry is based on John’s chronology beginning with John the Baptist, calling the disciples, and cleansing the Temple. Healing the man born blind and raising Lazarus are the only two miracles included. We go immediately from the decision by the leaders to kill Jesus to his prayer in Gethsemane (unnamed). Judas and the last supper are omitted. The crucifixion follows John’s theme: “Jesus knew his time had come. Soon he would be king.”
Two unusual choices for a young audience are the confrontation about destroying and rebuilding the temple (John 2:13-22) and the conversation with Nicodemus (John 3), stories beyond the developmental age of the audience. They seem particularly unusual in the light of the many stories of Jesus which do speak to young children that are omitted.
Helm follows the resurrection with a scene where Jesus teaches his disciples how Moses, the prophets, and psalms all refer to him. This could be based on the road to Emmaus in Luke except that Jesus is holding illustrated scrolls and speaking to a larger crowd. The last chapter is based on Revelation.
The book is abundantly illustrated with bright, poster-like pictures where action and information exceed artistic merit. A number of pages show God’s people turning to sin, sins which children can quickly identify. Sticking out a tongue or shaking a fist are frequent actions. A few pictures are anachronistic: Adam uses an iron hoe; houses destroyed by the flood could have come from a New England village.
The writing style makes an adult necessary even though a compact disc with text accompanies the book. Questions are interspersed throughout. For example, in the story of the march around Jericho: “Do you know what happened on the 7th day?” and the page must be turned to see the answer. Children would need to see the pictures as the sentences are read: “Can you see the people rebuilding the city walls and the temple? Or, “What Caesar did not know was that…”and the next page reveals Gabriel visiting Mary. Although masculine pronouns are used for God, Helm seems to make an honest effort to use God, even when it makes for awkward construction. Scripture quotations are from the ESV.
The question is: do three to seven year olds need a Bible survey? While Bible study for children will lead to the one story of God’s redemptive acts, are there appropriate stories now that will contribute to that future goal? And since Jesus is the center of the story, shouldn’t a children’s story Bible be rich in events and teachings from his life? This should certainly not be the first or the only Bible story book that children see and if it’s used it should be accompanied by a biblically literate adult.
This review was prepard by guest blogger Virginia Thomas.
The Big Picture Story Bible by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.