Spark Story Bible

Jo Wiersema and Amy Pagliarella talk about Spark Story Bible by Patti Thisted Arthur. Is it the right Bible to read with your kids? Is it a good choice for Sunday school?

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

Jo: I don’t have a history with the Spark Story Bible by Patti Thisted Arthur, but I think the biggest thing to note is the physical size — it’s very large. It’s something that I would be hesitant to hand a four-year-old on a chance for risk of them tumbling over. But with that, it is comprehensive, especially with regard to the Hebrew Bible. It covers a good portion of stories that might not be in your standard Sunday School lessons or even part of the lectionary.

Amy: I absolutely agree. My experience with the Spark Story Bible is as something to read aloud. I used this with my own children when they were little, and we would give this as a gift to our kindergarteners at the church where I served. When my kids were little, I remember my son would say, “Oh, let’s read a story about that silly guy who eats bugs” because he remembered the picture of John the Baptist as being really goofy.

[The Spark Story Bible] is comprehensive … It covers a good portion of stories that might not be in your standard Sunday School lessons or even part of the lectionary.

Jo: It’s something that’s fun to read for the reader as well. It maybe goes outside of what Scripture says, but it still emphasizes the same biblical points and doesn’t get too theologically out-of-the-box.

Amy: In every story Bible, someone has to make some decisions about what to say. They want to be faithful to the biblical text. But they also write it in such a way that it’s accessible to kids. There’s a lot in here that just lends itself to storytelling, which is what I love. The pictures are also very accessible to kids. When you’re reading with very young children, you’re not only reading what’s on the page, but you’re also stopping to discuss it with them.

They even have the little guy Squiggles who’s this little, lively caterpillar on every page. That’s the kind of thing that kids love, right? They are always looking for Squiggles. It’s something that draws very young children in and makes it them part of the story,

Jo: The thing I’ll note about Squiggles is the emotions he conveys throughout each story. You can see that he’s scared the Egyptians are coming to the Red Sea. He’s excited Mary gets to see Jesus. The kids know what kind of story this is going to be based on what they see with Squiggles.

Amy: It cues kids on how to react, but it also invites them to share their emotions: How would you feel? Would you be scared? What would you do?

Jo: Adding to that, we should note that at the end of each story, there’s a starred comment box with something for the child and adult to do or say. Readers are also invited to engage the story through these.

Amy: On the topic of Squiggles, I want to emphasize this Bible’s illustrations. My kids really liked them when they were little. They are clearly geared toward young children. Jesus always has a smile on his face, even when bad things are happening. They’re a little cartoonish in the way that characters look angry or mean. But it does make it very accessible to young children. On the flip side, young readers are going to outgrow this. The Spark Story Bible does a very good job with some of the more difficult stories. But it also omits a lot of stories, which I think is fine for a preschool audience, right?

Jo: I do want to note the stories they do include and how they do it. For instance, they include the plagues in Egypt – but they do it in a way that is a jovial rhyme, which diminishes the death and destruction that is really being communicated here.

[The images are] very accessible to young children. On the flip side, young readers are going to outgrow this.

Amy: In the same way, Spark Story Bible exaggerates parts of Scripture that aren’t necessarily in the text in a way that doesn’t add value. For example, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is described as beautiful, and Joseph is described as handsome. Although we’d love to think that it’s not biblical or necessary.

Jo: Speaking of Mary, this Bible includes a lot more women than some other story Bibles.

Amy: Yes, I like that both Deborah and Anna got stories. You see a lot of pictures of women, and you hear their stories and know their names. In general, there’s so much here. I think that even the stories of the early Christian Church are pretty comprehensive.

Jo: It is readable as well. It is written in a way that is helpful for children to hear. The one thing that was a little bit lacking, though, is there are no prayers. There is no guidance in everyday faithfulness.

Amy: I agree, you don’t want to forget prayer as a parent or as a Sunday school teacher. Sometimes the activity that the comment box might suggest felt a little forced to me, and I felt readers would be better served with a simple prayer that a caregiver and a child could say together or a prayer that a child could take into their day.

Jo: I agree. Story Bibles are for adults as well. Sometimes the most faithful moment of your day is that moment when you’re reading to a child. So, a little piece at the end that allows a caregiver and a child to share a moment with God together can just be so beautiful and so important.

Amy: I remember that from when my kids were little. Not only is it hard to find time for your own faith life as a caregiver, but exploring faith with your children is really life-giving. I want to encourage parents and Sunday school teachers to really lean into that time with the kids as something that feeds them as well.

Jo: I do think that is an important thing to talk about — feeding the adult who’s reading the story Bible as well as the child. Many churches are setup where maybe Sunday school happens during Sunday worship, and we should think about how the teacher can nourish their soul during children’s

Amy: For both adults and children, I think the Spark Story Bible does a great job of sharing Scripture in a fun and easy-to-read way. I’m excited to see how this will compare to our other top selections for story Bibles!

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