Rachel E. Crum
There is real power in the simplicity of a children’s story and the beauty of its illustrations. Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of The Jesus Storybook Bible, writes that “stories don’t tell the truth confrontationally … [they] come around the side and capture your heart.” If we’re worried that our children won’t learn enough from stories, we can remember that the beauty of the Bible is wrapped up in its story. Stories don’t need to explicitly teach a lesson, because stories in their essence point to the greatest story of all: the gospel.
So what books can we use to capture our children’s hearts with the story of the gospel? Here are a few recommendations of recent publications for children ages one to six.
One of my favorite board book series for the littlest members of our congregations is the six-book Baby Believer series by Danielle Hitchen (Harvest House). Each one features simple language and Bible verses. For example, in Psalms of Praise, each spread features an action word like “run” or “jump” with a verse from a psalm that includes that word. Let There Be Light is a book about opposites themed around Creation; each set of pages has two words such as “dark” and “light,” “wet” and “dry,” or “day” and “night,” with a verse from Genesis’s creation account. Many of the illustrations in this series are beautiful and absolutely stir the soul. (Some include depictions of Jesus.)
Another board book series I enjoyed is the God Made series by Sarah Jean Collins (Tyndale). These books have bright, geometric pictures, and fun, rhyming text, which is really nice for toddlers. God Made the World walks through the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest; God Made the Ocean tells us about all the ocean animals God has created; and God Made the Rainforest explores the many creatures of the rainforest.
The Biggest Story ABC by Kevin DeYoung, a board book, works through the story of redemption using the letters of the alphabet, with one sentence per letter, from Adam to Zion. Each letter helps to tell the gospel story in a colorful and simple to understand way.
Found: Psalm 23 and Loved: The Lord’s Prayer (Zondervan), are board books by Sally Lloyd-Jones that paraphrase Scripture—a third on Psalm 139 releases in January. The paraphrases do not contain lines from these familiar passages, which is disappointing. However, the illustrations are lovely, and I appreciate the way that they bring Scripture to children, helping them to see the beautiful relationship we have with our God and Creator.
The World Is Awake: A Celebration of Everyday Blessings by Linsey Davis (Zondervan) is a sweet, rhyming story that follows the day of a family as they wake up, go to the zoo, eat dinner, and go to bed, all while noticing God’s handiwork in all of creation and the many gifts he gives to us.
The Moon Is Always Round by Westminster Seminary professor Jonathan Gibson (New Growth Press) is a beautiful story about faith despite loss as a family responds to a stillbirth. The dad tells the older brother that just like the moon is always round, so God is always good, even when we can’t see it. The illustrations are not particularly appealing to me, but the story is moving, especially for those who have suffered and lost loved ones.
Jesus Came for Me and Jesus Rose for Me by Jared Kennedy (New Growth Press) each contain multiple stories excerpted from The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, also by Kennedy. Even though they are board books, they’ll be appreciated by children as old as kindergarten. The stories are short with a simple gospel message and end with a discussion question. I would use these two books for Christmas and Easter to help my kids understand Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. (Some include depictions of Jesus.)
Finally, my favorite series for this age is Tales That Tell the Truth (The Good Book Company). These ten books have different authors but the same illustrator, giving them a sense of unity. And the illustrations are incredible! Colorful and childlike, there are lots of things happening on the pages to draw children into an exciting story. (Some include depictions of Jesus.) Jesus and the Very Big Surprise is a wonderful story written by children’s musician Randall Goodgame (a favorite in this home!) about the way Jesus surprises us, turning notions of what a Savior should look like upside down. It reminds us that Jesus’s return will also be a surprise.
The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross is a bit more theological, but in a wonderful, engaging, and childlike manner. It ties together the separation from God that happened in the garden when Adam and Eve sinned, the separation from God in the temple with the curtain, and the restoring of God’s people to his presence in the cross. The cross, it tells us, is the thing that rips down the barriers and allows us to live with him.
The Tales That Tell the Truth series has the kinds of books that we need to fill our homes with— books that remind us of the exciting, strange, and wonderful nature of the Bible, the beauty of the world God has made, and the glorious story of the gospel.
There are some books for children that are meant to serve as lessons. These books are not stories, but rather tools for communicating important truths to children.
One notable example is the God Made series (New Growth Press). These books can come off as didactic because of their format; in one, a mom and dad sit down to teach their kids, and in another, it’s a Sunday school teacher. Despite this, they have some good elements for conversation starters.
God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies talks through privacy and body safety. While this is an important conversation to have with our kids, I would pull this book out only at designated times and not leave it out for my children to read independently because some sections are clearly meant for parents only. God Made Me and You: Celebrating God’s Design for Ethnic Diversity uses fun rhyming text to talk about our common parents in Adam and Eve and the way God made everything in the world to be diverse—different trees, different animals, different colors. This could be a great book to pull out to talk about racism. There are other books in the series for different occasions, such as God Made Me Unique, God Made Boys and Girls, God Made Me for Heaven, God Made Me for Worship, and God Made Me in His Image. These are not stories, though, and are suited best for one-time teaching opportunities rather than for regular reading and rereading.
Other books for teaching would be Reformation ABCs by Stephen J. Nichols, The Ology by Marty Machowski, and Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones. All are aimed at early elementary-age children. Reformation ABCs walks through landmarks and people of the Reformation, such as Heidelberg for the letter H and Indulgences for the letter I. It has one page of text per letter of the alphabet, and is useful for teaching kids about the Reformation, perhaps while studying it in school or leading up to Reformation Day during the month of October. The Ology contains seventy-one short lessons in theology for kids, divided into sections such as “The Ology of God,” “The Ology of Sin,” “The Ology of the Church,” and each lesson has an accompanying Scripture verse. These would be great to use as part of school or family devotions and are the perfect jumping-off point for talking through different aspects of Scripture and our faith. Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing is a wonderful little devotional with short gospel thoughts to encourage your children. I love reading this with my kids, and often find myself more encouraged by it than they are.
There’s nothing I love better than a good children’s book. No matter our age, stories are experiences of the heart, changing us and captivating us. They fill us with amazement and joy at the world and the God who made it. Most of all, they help us see in a new or different way the story that God has written for us, a story so full of his redemptive love that he even opens up the pages and steps into it himself.
The author is member of Reformation Fellowship in Roseville, CA. New Horizons, September 2020.