This summer, we asked Outlook readers about their favorite story Bibles. What are you looking for in a Bible for young children? What do you avoid? 170 people took the time to answer our questions, providing 444 total votes (we allowed people to select more than one favorite).
Based on the votes of parents, grandparents, pastors and Christian educators, here are the top story Bibles based. Keep reading if you’re interested in how churches and families set up their Bible libraries for success!
1. Growing in God’s Love: Story Bible by Elizabeth F. Caldwell and Carol A. Wehrheim
Growing in God’s Love is a newer story Bible with a robust selection of stories, characters and varied illustration styles. More than 100 people listed it as one of the Bibles they read, give, or use with children. Multiple people listed the diverse illustrations and the lack of gendering for God as benefits in this story Bible. (For more information, see my review with Amy Pagliarella.)
2. Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu
3. Spark Story Bible by Patti Thisted Arthur
Both Children of God and Spark Story Bible were listed by 75 respondents as one of their Bibles of choice. These two Bibles are targeted at different types of readers. While the Spark Story Bible is a comprehensive book for young readers to read aloud with cartoonish illustrations and questions for kids, Children of God has a higher reading level and more realistic illustrations.
Desmond Tutu’s Children of God is a small story Bible consisting of only 56 stories. (See my review with Amy Pagliarella for more information.) On the other hand, Spark Story Bible by Patti Thisted Arthur is filled with 150 unique stories making it one of the larger on the shelf. (For more information, see my review with Amy Pagliarella.)
4. Deep Blue Bible Storybook by Daphna Flegal and Brittany Sky
More than 35 respondents selected the Deep Blue Bible Storybook as one of the Bibles they use. We heard that the Deep Blue Bible Storybook is a good choice because it fits into the larger Deep Blue children’s Bible series, which includes Bibles for toddlers and older readers as well. As such, there is an easy progression to follow along with reading levels.
Survey takers also noted that Deep Blue is made by the publishers of the Common English Bible translation. They wrote that this connection is beneficial when the CEB translation is used in worship services. In these cases, children will find Scripture in worship familiar.
5. The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
The Jesus Storybook Bible was the most divisive Bible listed on the survey. Although more than 30 people listed this Bible as one of the Bibles they read, give, or teach to children, the focus on Jesus in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament caused some to theologically oppose the translation.
For instance, one individual wrote they “strongly oppose the supersessionism in the Jesus Storybook Bible.” In other words, they opposed the idea that the Christian covenant supersedes the Jewish covenant with God. Supersessionism is highly contested in Christian communities and considered heretical by some as it doesn’t acknowledge the value of the Mosaic covenant outside the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, some see it as discrediting the faith of our Jewish siblings and Judeo-Christian heritage. Another respondent went further writing that they consider the Jesus Storybook Bible “heretical … because of its insistence that every story in the Hebrew Scriptures is really primarily about Jesus.”
Additionally, it’s worth noting that The Jesus Storybook Bible tends to stay true to Scripture, telling stories without much interpretation. However, the male pronouns for God and the theological view mean some churches might not like this Bible as much as others.
Other Children’s Bibles to note
The Peace Table was released this summer and focuses on a diverse set of stories and illustrations. The book is built around the theme of peace found in Scripture. Those that voted for it shared their general anticipation for the new book and its focus. (For more information, see my review with Amy Pagliarella.)
Read, Wonder, Listen was esteemed by many survey respondents as beautifully done and diverse. With a focus on open-ended wondering, it allows the child, or even the grown-up to reflect on the meaning of the story.
What should I consider when buying a story Bible?
There are hundreds of Bibles out there, many of them targeting early and pre-readers. How is someone supposed to pick a story Bible?
Well, first off, you don’t have to pick just one story Bible. Our June 2023 survey asked readers, particularly those who work with children, about story Bibles for early and pre-readers. Many churches and homes benefit from a Bible library, supplying a collection of many different story Bibles to introduce different Scripture in different ways. By having multiple options, children can see the many different faces of Jesus, names of God, and stories throughout the Bible. Kids also benefit greatly by hearing the words of Scripture from the “adult Bible” alongside their story Bible, offering them familiarity with the language that is spoken in worship.
No matter how old you are, I recommend having a story Bible on your shelf.
No matter how old you are, I recommend having a story Bible on your shelf. When preparing for sermons or Bible studies, I love rereading Scripture through the eyes of a child using a story Bible. It offers another perspective on God’s Word and gives me peace in busy moments.
When deciding on a children’s Bible for your home, Bible presentations, or your office, you’ll want to consider four main components: theology (including story collections), illustrations, interactive tools within the book, and target age.
There is a spectrum of theological views being portrayed in story Bibles. Every person approaches these books with their own desires and expectations. For instance, one individual who took our survey explained what they look for in a story Bible as, “I prefer the (Bible) stories … to facilitate open-ended wondering … free of theology.” Some Bibles such as Read, Wonder, Listen prompt conversation and discussion about what something could mean. Other Bibles, such as the Children of God Storybook Bible, are more explicit in explaining what a story or parable signifies.
When picking a story Bible, you may also want to note how the gender of God is presented. For instance, Children of God Storybook Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible both use masculine language to talk about God while The Peace Table and Growing in God’s Love both avoid masculine language around God.
Additionally, when you’re thinking about theology and story Bibles, consider what stories are or aren’t included. Does this Bible feature any Psalms? How are women represented? How do story depictions compare to the version of the Bible read in your congregation? What sections of the story are left out? The Bible features trauma, pain and death, all of which are things we want to handle thoughtfully with our children.
There are many types of illustrations in story Bibles. If you like a consistent cartoon style, you will enjoy Spark Story Bible. If you prefer more variety in illustrations, you will enjoy The Peace Table and Growing in God’s Love.
Diverse artistic styles can be engaging to pre-readers, but it might also be confusing or distracting for some children to read back-to-back stories where Jesus does not look the exact same. In our survey, many people found value in illustrations representing different nationalities, traditions and abilities.
It’s also valuable to consider how Jesus is depicted: Is he Scandinavian? Middle Eastern? Black? Does that resonate with how you want the children looking at this Bible to understand Jesus?
Many story Bibles offer tools to support children in their travel through the Bible. Spark Story Bible offers a small worm that pre-k children can try and find in each story. The Peace Table offers prayers, activities and fun facts. Growing in God’s Love offers invitations to hear, see and act in response to the story. Each of these can be tools to children and their grown-ups to support their understanding and engagement with the story.
Lastly, as someone responsible for the faith formation of children, consider the age of your audience. Your pre-readers might enjoy the reading level of Spark Story Bible, which targets children as young as two years old. The Peace Table, on the other hand, is best served for children a little bit older, as there are more complex words, concepts and illustrations.
There are many Bibles out there, but if our survey has shown us anything it’s that there are hundreds of grown-ups that care for the little ones. Sharing Scripture with a child is something that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives, and it all starts with a story.