Bible Stories for Children

I once reviewed for WORLD a whole slew of “Christian” videos for children and found that very few of them had any true Christian elements. They were mostly just moralism, with little mention of Christ and the Gospel. This is also true of much SUNDAY SCHOOL curriculum, especially the “generic” variety designed to be used by all denominations and thus intentionally void of theological or spiritual content.

According to this story in USA Today, no less, this is even the case with children’s Bible story books! It quotes Ted Olsen, editor of “Christianity Today,” on the difficulty he has in finding books about Jesus for his son Leif:

“Most Bible stories are told like Aesop’s fables, refitted to a moral lesson that is almost always, ‘Obey! Obey your parents! Obey God! Oh, look how good Noah is — he obeyed God!’ ” Olsen says.

“Sure, we want Leif to understand obedience, repentance and forgiveness. But we’re more concerned that he get to know Jesus is the grand arc of the Bible story. We’re like a lot of young parents who don’t want to be talked down to. We’re not afraid of encountering theology. We want to be intellectually and spiritually engaged when we read to Leif.”

I was so proud, just coming back from a board meeting of Concordia Publishing House, to see that company lifted up as an exception, with stirring quotations from publisher Paul McCain (see his Cyberbrethren site on my blog roll):

“The more seriously a church body regards the Bible, the more seriously they will present it, in a child-friendly way, but not water the content. We don’t throw the King James Bible at them, but we don’t turn it into Mother Goose, either. We don’t avoid the s-word, for sin; the G-word, for God; or the J-word, for Jesus,” McCain says.

Concordia has compilations such as A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories that have sold steadily since 1948 and a 40-year-old series of 105 pamphlets known as the Arch books. They feature scores of stories, from the Nativity to obscure stories such as Zerubbabel Rebuilds the Temple, from Ezra 3:6.

“I grew up on these books,” says McCain, 45. “We update the illustrations regularly, but we’re much less prone to waffle with the culture. We don’t make the Bible what it’s not. But the booklets are a neat way to inculcate Bible literacy.”

CPH has a huge list of children’s books, including God Made It For You by Charles Lehmann and What Happened to “Merry Christmas”? by Robert Baker, both readers and commenters on this blog. And the brand new Growing In Christ Sunday School curriculum is beautifully Christ-centered all the way through.

What other resources for children would you recommend that parents either consider or stay away from?

UPDATE: See this for an account of Paul McCain’s interview with the reporter and how she liked one particular Arch book, saying, “I notice that no matter what Bible story you are telling you always end up coming back to talk about Jesus!”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://chaz-lehmann.livejournal.com Pr. Lehmann

    Shortly after my ordination, I had the joy of stopping by CPH. I chatted with Pr. McCain for awhile and then stopped by Pr. Baker’s office where we exchanged signed copies of our books.

    I’ve got to say that in the past few years that I’ve studied and gotten into children’s book writing that I’ve never found a group of children’s book authors that I respect more. Particularly worth mentioning are Pr. Baker and Julie Stiegemeyer.

  • http://chaz-lehmann.livejournal.com Pr. Lehmann

    Shortly after my ordination, I had the joy of stopping by CPH. I chatted with Pr. McCain for awhile and then stopped by Pr. Baker’s office where we exchanged signed copies of our books.

    I’ve got to say that in the past few years that I’ve studied and gotten into children’s book writing that I’ve never found a group of children’s book authors that I respect more. Particularly worth mentioning are Pr. Baker and Julie Stiegemeyer.

  • http://chaz-lehmann.livejournal.com Pr. Lehmann

    To actually answer the question you posed, I’d like to suggest that reading the Scriptures themselves along with your children and then introducing them to secular literature with Christian themes can be a great thing to do.

    Imagine what horror you’ll unleash on their public school English teacher when you’ve raised your kids with an ability to read a vast variety of literature and say, “Oh, this author drew this idea from David’s life. Here are the parallels” or “Oh, here’s a Christ-figure. The story does really well here, but on this point it falls down a bit because it replaces an obvious Christian theme with this pagan one.”

    On that approach I’d suggest the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander as well as Narnia.

    I’m right now suffering through the Golden Compass and have to say, theological matters aside, it’s one of the worst written novels I’ve ever read. To be blunt it’s just “one damn thing after another.”

  • http://chaz-lehmann.livejournal.com Pr. Lehmann

    To actually answer the question you posed, I’d like to suggest that reading the Scriptures themselves along with your children and then introducing them to secular literature with Christian themes can be a great thing to do.

    Imagine what horror you’ll unleash on their public school English teacher when you’ve raised your kids with an ability to read a vast variety of literature and say, “Oh, this author drew this idea from David’s life. Here are the parallels” or “Oh, here’s a Christ-figure. The story does really well here, but on this point it falls down a bit because it replaces an obvious Christian theme with this pagan one.”

    On that approach I’d suggest the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander as well as Narnia.

    I’m right now suffering through the Golden Compass and have to say, theological matters aside, it’s one of the worst written novels I’ve ever read. To be blunt it’s just “one damn thing after another.”

  • http://bestronginthegrace.blogspot.com Theresa K.

    I highly recommend the Follow and Do Series:

    …teaches young children about the Six Chief Parts of the Christian faith, combining the teachings in the catechism with practical application for all aspects of daily life.

    These six picture books for ages 4 and up help children understand how faith basics apply to their lives. As children learn, they become active participants in worship. Set includes, The Apostles’ Creed, Confession,
    God’s Ten Commandments, Holy Baptism , The Lord’s Prayer and The Lord’s Supper

    See the series here: http://www.cph.org/cphstore/product.asp?part_no=562383

    Also, stay away from any child’s resource that ends with a page on how to pray the “sinner’s prayer” to ask Jesus into your heart! That would be counterproductive to anything you teach about God’s grace.

  • http://bestronginthegrace.blogspot.com Theresa K.

    I highly recommend the Follow and Do Series:

    …teaches young children about the Six Chief Parts of the Christian faith, combining the teachings in the catechism with practical application for all aspects of daily life.

    These six picture books for ages 4 and up help children understand how faith basics apply to their lives. As children learn, they become active participants in worship. Set includes, The Apostles’ Creed, Confession,
    God’s Ten Commandments, Holy Baptism , The Lord’s Prayer and The Lord’s Supper

    See the series here: http://www.cph.org/cphstore/product.asp?part_no=562383

    Also, stay away from any child’s resource that ends with a page on how to pray the “sinner’s prayer” to ask Jesus into your heart! That would be counterproductive to anything you teach about God’s grace.

  • Bror Erickson

    I still remember those Arch books and Children’s Bibles from my days even before school. I remember being about five and reading one story. I can’t rember which story it was, But I remember thinking after reading it. “Oh, I guess its done then. I’ll be a pastor when I grow up.” Wish I could remember exactly which story it was. My parents though would never let me grow my hair long, however much I wanted to be like Samson.

    Pr. Lehman,
    Ditto on the Golden Compass. I’m in the “Amber Spyglass” right now. It is a mess.

  • Bror Erickson

    I still remember those Arch books and Children’s Bibles from my days even before school. I remember being about five and reading one story. I can’t rember which story it was, But I remember thinking after reading it. “Oh, I guess its done then. I’ll be a pastor when I grow up.” Wish I could remember exactly which story it was. My parents though would never let me grow my hair long, however much I wanted to be like Samson.

    Pr. Lehman,
    Ditto on the Golden Compass. I’m in the “Amber Spyglass” right now. It is a mess.

  • Matt L

    I do have to say as one who has taught 5-7 grade Sunday School for 6 years, I have actually been disappointed by CPH’s curriculum. Not that it doesn’t point to Christ. It just isn’t written well for that age group. Looking through the materials for other age groups, it is great, but at 5th grade it drops off severely. Thus I’ve dropped the curriculum and gone through the texts themselves and pointing them to Christ from there.

  • Matt L

    I do have to say as one who has taught 5-7 grade Sunday School for 6 years, I have actually been disappointed by CPH’s curriculum. Not that it doesn’t point to Christ. It just isn’t written well for that age group. Looking through the materials for other age groups, it is great, but at 5th grade it drops off severely. Thus I’ve dropped the curriculum and gone through the texts themselves and pointing them to Christ from there.

  • jgernander

    I too grew up on the Arch books and a few years ago my mom brought me all the ones we had when I was growing up, for use with my two daughters. Our 7-year-old is reading chapter books now, and reads out of the Bible by herself, but she still enjoys them along with our 5-year-old. I still like the old ones the best.

    I think Julie Stiegemeyer’s “Things I Hear in Church,” etc., series is wonderful for little ones. I give a copy of “Things I See in Baptism” to the parents of every baby I baptize.

    “Bible Stories in Pictures” by William F. Beck is also good.

    Pastor Jerry Gernander

  • jgernander

    I too grew up on the Arch books and a few years ago my mom brought me all the ones we had when I was growing up, for use with my two daughters. Our 7-year-old is reading chapter books now, and reads out of the Bible by herself, but she still enjoys them along with our 5-year-old. I still like the old ones the best.

    I think Julie Stiegemeyer’s “Things I Hear in Church,” etc., series is wonderful for little ones. I give a copy of “Things I See in Baptism” to the parents of every baby I baptize.

    “Bible Stories in Pictures” by William F. Beck is also good.

    Pastor Jerry Gernander

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Just a note: you don’t appear to have a blog roll anymore.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Just a note: you don’t appear to have a blog roll anymore.

  • http://cyberbrethren.typepad.com/cyberbrethren/ Paul T. McCain

    I would recommend children not be given:

    Explosives
    Sharp pointy things
    Christian books that don’t proclaim Christ

    Thanks for the post, Dr. Veith.

  • http://cyberbrethren.typepad.com/cyberbrethren/ Paul T. McCain

    I would recommend children not be given:

    Explosives
    Sharp pointy things
    Christian books that don’t proclaim Christ

    Thanks for the post, Dr. Veith.

  • Rose

    But even adult materials often omit the name of Jesus Christ. Case in point: The Crop Walk seems to assiduously avoid Christian symbols and acknowledging Christian underpinnings.
    Maybe the Kiwanis run it now.

  • Rose

    But even adult materials often omit the name of Jesus Christ. Case in point: The Crop Walk seems to assiduously avoid Christian symbols and acknowledging Christian underpinnings.
    Maybe the Kiwanis run it now.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Bror, Pr. Lehmann, why are you even bothering with “Golden Compass”? Lots of kids reading it?

    My take would be “with so many real classics, why bother?”, but I guess in this world….

    And sad to say, my feeling on a lot of “Christian” books for children is that….well….it’s a lot easier to list the good ones than it is to list the bad ones.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Bror, Pr. Lehmann, why are you even bothering with “Golden Compass”? Lots of kids reading it?

    My take would be “with so many real classics, why bother?”, but I guess in this world….

    And sad to say, my feeling on a lot of “Christian” books for children is that….well….it’s a lot easier to list the good ones than it is to list the bad ones.

  • Angela Hill

    My preschoolers love the CPH picture catechism. As a teacher, I especially appreciate that this book does not talk down to children. Bible stories accompany each portion (for example, each commandment, each petition has an explanatory Bible story…) and the illustrations are the old ones from when I was in Sunday school (not silly cartoons). I use it every day.

  • Angela Hill

    My preschoolers love the CPH picture catechism. As a teacher, I especially appreciate that this book does not talk down to children. Bible stories accompany each portion (for example, each commandment, each petition has an explanatory Bible story…) and the illustrations are the old ones from when I was in Sunday school (not silly cartoons). I use it every day.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Matt L, you did not work with the NEW Sunday School curriculum from CPH, since it just came out recently. It’s called “Growing in Christ.” Follow the link. It is NOT the old curriculum you must have used back then. I think this one is much better and quite in tune with how children are and what they enjoy.

    tODD, I still see the blogroll. You don’t?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Matt L, you did not work with the NEW Sunday School curriculum from CPH, since it just came out recently. It’s called “Growing in Christ.” Follow the link. It is NOT the old curriculum you must have used back then. I think this one is much better and quite in tune with how children are and what they enjoy.

    tODD, I still see the blogroll. You don’t?

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Veith (@12), the blog roll wasn’t there when I commented, but it’s to the right of this comment form as I type this. Oh well, all is well.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Veith (@12), the blog roll wasn’t there when I commented, but it’s to the right of this comment form as I type this. Oh well, all is well.

  • http://chaz-lehmann.livejournal.com Pr. Lehmann

    Bike,

    It’s a matter of being able to authoritatively answer the questions the parents are asking. I would rather read notes scribbled on used toilet paper, but there you go… Gotta be able to answer the questions.

  • http://chaz-lehmann.livejournal.com Pr. Lehmann

    Bike,

    It’s a matter of being able to authoritatively answer the questions the parents are asking. I would rather read notes scribbled on used toilet paper, but there you go… Gotta be able to answer the questions.

  • Pr. Conner

    My wife and I have also enjoyed CPH’s My First Catechism (which we use every night with our 3 yr. old). Our 20 month old is really staring to enjoy Julie Stiegemeyer’s “Things I Hear in Church” etc. We’ve also found the LSB hymnal very meaningful as we sing a different hymn to our children every night.

    As much as I appreciate CPH, I have also found Answers in Genesis to be useful. They have SS material that tackles the creation/evolution question. I think it provides a great compliment to the CPH material. CPH teaches the Biblical stories in a Christ-centered way. AIG essentially teaches why we can trust what the Bible teaches (it does apologetics). Their material is called “Beginnings” “The Seven C’s of History” and “Questions.” A few of the questions they address: “What about the dinosaurs?” “Where did we get the Bible?” “Are there really aliens?” and many more.

  • Pr. Conner

    My wife and I have also enjoyed CPH’s My First Catechism (which we use every night with our 3 yr. old). Our 20 month old is really staring to enjoy Julie Stiegemeyer’s “Things I Hear in Church” etc. We’ve also found the LSB hymnal very meaningful as we sing a different hymn to our children every night.

    As much as I appreciate CPH, I have also found Answers in Genesis to be useful. They have SS material that tackles the creation/evolution question. I think it provides a great compliment to the CPH material. CPH teaches the Biblical stories in a Christ-centered way. AIG essentially teaches why we can trust what the Bible teaches (it does apologetics). Their material is called “Beginnings” “The Seven C’s of History” and “Questions.” A few of the questions they address: “What about the dinosaurs?” “Where did we get the Bible?” “Are there really aliens?” and many more.

  • Bror Erickson

    Bike Bubba,
    I write a column inthe newspaper here in Utah. So I was reading the books so that I could write an article about them.
    Funny thing is the Mormons are protesting the book. But the book upholds their doctrine of falling up. So it gives me a chance to challenge them indirectly anyway.

  • Bror Erickson

    Bike Bubba,
    I write a column inthe newspaper here in Utah. So I was reading the books so that I could write an article about them.
    Funny thing is the Mormons are protesting the book. But the book upholds their doctrine of falling up. So it gives me a chance to challenge them indirectly anyway.

  • http://www.shempel.blogspot.com Sarah in Maryland

    I don’t remember reading any “Christian” children’s books when I was a child, but we read scripture straight up. My parents are pretty intense, though. Sometimes a little too much!

  • http://www.shempel.blogspot.com Sarah in Maryland

    I don’t remember reading any “Christian” children’s books when I was a child, but we read scripture straight up. My parents are pretty intense, though. Sometimes a little too much!

  • Rev. Alexander Ring

    Upon the birth of each of her grandchildren my mother-in-law bought a stack of Arch Books, stuck them in her closet to dole a few out at birthdays, Christmas, Easter, etc. I thought it was a really good idea. And like many of you, I get to have the experience of reading them with my daughter and thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember this….”

  • Rev. Alexander Ring

    Upon the birth of each of her grandchildren my mother-in-law bought a stack of Arch Books, stuck them in her closet to dole a few out at birthdays, Christmas, Easter, etc. I thought it was a really good idea. And like many of you, I get to have the experience of reading them with my daughter and thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember this….”

  • http://thebookbeast.blogspot.com Darren

    I loved the Arch books as a child, and I’ve read some of them to my children.

    We really like the videos from CCC of America (Creative Communication Center). We have Patrick, Nicholas, Francis Xavier, and Francis of Assisi, which are all excellent and very Christ-centered. Their version of the Odyssey is pretty weak, but my kids know the real story of that anyway.

  • http://thebookbeast.blogspot.com Darren

    I loved the Arch books as a child, and I’ve read some of them to my children.

    We really like the videos from CCC of America (Creative Communication Center). We have Patrick, Nicholas, Francis Xavier, and Francis of Assisi, which are all excellent and very Christ-centered. Their version of the Odyssey is pretty weak, but my kids know the real story of that anyway.

  • http://www.christmaseverywhere.wordpress.com Robert C. Baker

    Thanks, Dr. Veith. (Dr. Veith knows that I’m a big fan of his!)
    BTW, on my blog I’ve posted some thoughts on “secular extremism,” which provided the catalyst for the story line in my book. Check it out at http://www.christmaseverywhere.wordpress.com.

  • http://www.christmaseverywhere.wordpress.com Robert C. Baker

    Thanks, Dr. Veith. (Dr. Veith knows that I’m a big fan of his!)
    BTW, on my blog I’ve posted some thoughts on “secular extremism,” which provided the catalyst for the story line in my book. Check it out at http://www.christmaseverywhere.wordpress.com.

  • Jon Micheel

    Thanks, Dr. Veith! Might I recommend another Bible history curriculum? It’s the Christ-Light curriculum from Northwestern Publishing House (www.nph.net). The curriculum is comprehensive, presenting Old and New Testaments at four different age levels, from preschool through 6th grade. First published in 1998, it’s undergoing a revision now. Christ-centered and gospel-rich (as opposed to moralizing), it’s a solid and usable curriculum.

  • Jon Micheel

    Thanks, Dr. Veith! Might I recommend another Bible history curriculum? It’s the Christ-Light curriculum from Northwestern Publishing House (www.nph.net). The curriculum is comprehensive, presenting Old and New Testaments at four different age levels, from preschool through 6th grade. First published in 1998, it’s undergoing a revision now. Christ-centered and gospel-rich (as opposed to moralizing), it’s a solid and usable curriculum.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Jon (@21), actually Christ-Light goes up through 12th grade, and it’s what we sometimes base our high school lessons on, though my wife and I find we have to supplement and edit it for our class — it can get too silly or simple at times, though it depends on the author.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Jon (@21), actually Christ-Light goes up through 12th grade, and it’s what we sometimes base our high school lessons on, though my wife and I find we have to supplement and edit it for our class — it can get too silly or simple at times, though it depends on the author.


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