Children of God Storybook Bible

Jo Wiersema and Amy Pagliarella review Desmond Tutu's Children of God Storybook Bible. Read the pros and the cons.

This review is part of a larger series reviewing a crowd-sourced list of popular children’s Bibles for early readers. Read more here.

Amy: I’ll start with the fact that Desmond Tutu’s Children of God Storybook Bible is a really beautiful supplemental Bible to have on your bookshelf. It’s not comprehensive, but I think that’s consistent with the intention of the author. It’s a very warm Bible that communicates the love of God and God’s love for children in a beautiful way.

Jo: I agree with that. I love the art and how the illustrations represent what is being portrayed, yet it doesn’t get too metaphorical in the art. It could be a really great supplement for a more cartoony children’s Bible.

Amy: Yeah, the pictures are very earnest. There’s nothing in the art that is cartoonish in the way that other Bibles, like Spark Story Bible, are. So I like the idea of using it as a supplement. That’s really lovely.

Jo: I also want to compare it to The Peace Table which features diverse art styles that can sometimes come across as scary or intimidating. The art here all comes from a loving perspective. This is easier to do when you only have 56 stories. You can leave out the hardest stories of the Bible and focus on the things that are a little softer around the edges.

Desmond Tutu’s Children of God Storybook Bible is a really beautiful supplemental Bible to have on your bookshelf.

Amy: This Bible uses really thoughtful language. One example is the Last Supper. It says, “Jesus shares his last meal with his friends.” If you’re a child, the words that are going to stick out are share, meal and friends. It’s making it very clear that this is a loving event, even though it’s poignant, sad and bittersweet. Then it ends the story with a little prayer: “Dear God, thank you for making me part of your dream.”

This prayer, and the other prayers throughout the book, offer a particular lens that communicates love and warmth to children, even in sad stories.

Jo: I would likely use this Bible in a children’s sermon. The stories are short enough that they can summarize some of the harder parts of the Bible, but each story in the Children of God Storybook Bible has a nice little prayer at the end. I think would be a nice supplemental material for pastors or children’s ministries folks.

Amy: I love the idea of using this in a children’s message and I think it would be a great gift to pastors. Not all pastors love doing children’s messages. A really good resource like this can be so helpful.

Another thing I want to mention is the book itself is small. The cover is beautiful. I think if you put it on a bookshelf, a child would gravitate toward it. Even if they can’t read it, they can look through the pictures. The version that I had with my kids had a CD and it had Archbishop Desmond Tutu reading the stories aloud in a warm and melodic voice.

Jo: I would call the Children of God Storybook Bible a good road trip Bible. If your family is going on a vacation and you want to have a Bible story to read each night but don’t want to weigh down your suitcase, this would be a good option.

Amy: It would be! There is a particular challenge for families at spring break when spring break coincides with Holy Week, right? There are five or six beautiful stories leading up to Holy Week. If you were traveling for spring break and you had young children, this would be perfect. On the other hand, it’s only 56 stories. We’re missing a lot of things.

Jo: I think one of the things I was missing is women in the Old Testament. This story Bible only really features Eve, Sarah and Ruth. Few other women are mentioned. It’s a little sad, especially if you’re working with a little one and you want to show them that their female friends are also represented throughout God’s history. I felt like I was trying to search for women that just weren’t there.

Amy: You know, one of the beautiful stories in here is the woman anointing Jesus, but she doesn’t have a name. Even the women at the tomb are referred to as “Mary and several other women went to the tomb.” The women are named in the different Gospels. That would have been a nice opportunity to share some names of women.

This becomes more obvious because of the male language for God. Most of the Bibles that we’re looking at now are not using gendered language for God. Archbishop Tutu comes from a different context, a different culture, so it’s not a critique of him, but it’s something to consider when picking out your Bible library.

“[The prayers in the Children of God Storybook Bible] offer a particular lens that communicates love and warmth to children, even in the sad stories”

Jo: His own theology and perspective come through in the Children of God Storybook Bible. The parable of the lost sheep is a story that comes to mind, as he explains the parable a little more deeply than Luke does. It describes the lost sheep as “an old smelly ram that was always getting into trouble.” And I really struggled with that because there are moments where we stray from God and by extrapolating so much, his theology is filtered in here.

Amy: Yeah, it goes on to say “Leaving the other 99 perfectly well-behaved sheep, he searched all night in the cold and rain.” Some children might find that reassuring – the idea that God is just going to sing and carry on with joy for them – but some kids may question if this makes them a smelly old troublemaker. Is this something that encourages us to look harshly at other people? The implication could be Christians are well-behaved people. The other is portrayed as smelly and troublesome, and that’s not helpful either.

Jo: It’s also worth noting the number of summaries and paraphrases in the Children of God Storybook Bible, including the Lord’s Prayer. Caregivers may want to use a story Bible that parallels the translation their church uses in Sunday worship. That way, kids can clearly understand that these are all the same story. Additionally, I would recommend that leaders using this book for a children’s message look at the story beforehand to ensure the language fits the needs of the service.

Amy: This Bible could also be a great resource for a Sunday when we expect low attendance for Sunday school or a summer schedule. This is a great way to learn about Desmond Tutu, someone who comes from a very different context and culture. This could lead to a great lesson on what the Lord’s Prayer means for Desmond Tutu and why it’s being phrased in the way that it is.

Jo: I would love to see this in some kind of short-term children’s ministry context. Looking even just at the cover of the book — it shows Christians being represented in many ways. Women are covering their hair; there are many different types of outfits. It shows the kids that there is more than just button-ups and loafers to wear to church.

Amy: Maybe that’s the way to look at this Bible — these are short stories in which parents or educators can incorporate faithfulness into their current habits and do it in a wonderful way.

Jo: Thanks so much, Amy. I look forward to seeing how the Children of God Storybook Bible can be used in so many different ways and in many different contexts!

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