Wednesday, November 9, 2011

First of the Foundational Five: The Bible

This is the first of what will eventually be five postings on foundational genres of literature for children.  More on the backdrop for those discussions here.


During our children's early years, we have the great privilege of introducing the world to them, bit by bit.  As we begin exploring the literature that shapes the minds and souls of our young ones, we'll start at the very beginning... with the book that introduces the great themes found in all literature...  with the most published and widely read book of all time - the Bible.

There is an increasing acknowledgement, even in secular circles, that Biblical literacy is an important part of a well-rounded education. "The Bible's influence is impossible to ignore. There are more than a thousand Biblical references in the works of Shakespeare alone. John Milton, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, all drew on the Bible, too.  Then there's Rembrandt, Chagall, da Vinci, who all put the Bible on canvas.  Even the Declaration of Independence alludes to the Bible." The Bible as Literature (CBS News). 

In addition to classical literature, Biblical references are plentiful in pop culture as well.   Leonard Cohen's ballad "Hallelujah," which has been performed by Justin Timberlake on an MTV telethon and K.D. Lang during the 2010 Olympics opening ceremonies, weaves together allusions to King David and Bathsheba as well as Samson and Delilah.   Virtually all aspects of our culture - sports, politics, movies, television, popular literature - are influenced to varying degrees by the Bible.

Well-written stories provide insight into the answers of life's fundamental questions such as "Who is God?" and "Who is man?" You can't get much more foundational than that.  Our views of the world, ourselves, and others are shaped by what we believe to be the answers to those questions.  The Bible answers virtually all of the "big" questions in life - even if the answer is to have faith in that which we do not fully understand.  

Currently, we live in a country where we have endless choices from which we can select children's Bibles.  A search for "children's Bibles" on, for example, yields over 31,000 results.  How do we begin to narrow down the plethora of choices? 

Here's a start:

For those who are young or old, those with no Bible knowledge or those who have seminary degrees, I highly recommend The Jesus Storybook Bible (JSBB) by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  This is far from your typical storybook Bible.  Here’s a window into its uniqueness:

“No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes.  The Bible is most of all a Story.  It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure.  It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves.   It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!  You see, the best thing about this Story is – it’s trueThere are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story.  The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.”

With that as the setting for the greatest of love stories, Sally Lloyd-Jones takes complex theological truths and distills them to their simplest form.  Her approach to writing is based on the premise that “Nothing but excellence should be the standard for children.  The quality of literature should be higher (than that for adults) because the responsibility is greater… A story that takes children seriously uses rich language that invites imagination.”

Throughout the Jesus Storybook Bible, we’re invited into The Great Story through rich language, vivid illustrations, and profound Biblical truth.  Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the JSBB is the way in which Sally Lloyd-Jones masterfully, consistently weaves the heart of the Great Story, the Father coming back for his children, throughout each of the Old Testament stories.  The power and uniqueness of the JSBB are authenticated by the depth and breadth of the ways it is currently being used:

~THEOLOGIANS using it as their Bible study text
~JAPANESE BUSINESS men studying it before work
~CHINESE PROSTITUTES as part of their healing process
~PUBLIC SHOOLS after-school programs in Alabama public schools
~PASTORS using it to help them preach
~ELDERLY PEOPLE reading it in retirement homes
~LITERATURE classes using it as a set text (Calvin College)
~COUPLES using it for their devotions together
~EVANGELISM initiatives using it to introduce Jesus to different faith communities
~COLLEGE STUDENTS using it as their Bible study text
~FOOTNOTES in theological books referencing it

I had the great pleasure of meeting Sally Lloyd-Jones several weeks ago.  Her inscription in our family JSSB speaks to the heart of the gospel:

  "To the Silander Family - This story is for you." 

 And it's for YOU. 

 And it's for ALL.

For more information on JSSB, including video clips, free audio downloads, and ordering information, visit here.

Another resource that has become a staple in our home library is the The Child's Story Bible (CSB) by Catherine F. Vos.  The book was a result of her search for a Biblically accurate children's Bible when her children were young.  After finding only watered-down versions of Bible stories, Vos began writing with the goal of  producing a theologically-correct, yet accessible depiction of the Bible for her own children.  Her vision, however, took longer than expected.  The Children's Story Bible was not completed until she was a grandmother. 

You could view the CSB as an intermediate version of the JSBB.  Similarly to Sally Lloyd-Jones, Catherine Vos weaves the ultimate theme of the Bible throughout her recounting of the individual stories.  She takes a chronological approach to her telling of Biblical events by grafting complimentary stories from related Biblical passages, and consolidating them into topical chapters.  For example, the Chapter "The End of the Kingdom of Israel" pulls content from II Kings 16,17 and II Chronicles 28.  The chapter "Jesus' Last Word to His Disciples" assimilates corresponding passages from all four gospels.   

After years of attending in-depth Biblical studies, it was not until I read the CSB with my children that I experienced "a-ha" moments in piecing together individual stories in the Bible.  It reads like a novel, and succeeds in giving an accurate, comprehensive picture of Biblical history.

Our young ones have also enjoyed the Read Aloud Bible Stories by Ella K. Lindvall.  There are four volumes in the series, as well as the Parables Jesus Told:  Tell Me Stories.  Each volume contains five stories from the Bible which are written in large print, telling in sing-song fashion the fundamental truths of each story.   Written for pre-schoolers, the narrative paints a picture of the scene and invites the listener to step in and experience the action.  

The simplicity and directness of these stories speaks powerful truths to the old and young alike.  They are a wonderful addition to the resources mentioned above, and are perfect for new readers who want to read from "their own" Bible.

There is no greater gift that we can give our children than a winsome invitation into the life-long love story written by the Author of all Hope. 

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