The Bible is for everyone, even the smallest and youngest among us. And children can usually handle more of the Bible than we’re ready to give them. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy, illustrated by Trish Mahoney, is a new storybook Bible for preschoolers that focuses on the promises of God, made in the Old Testament and kept in the New Testament. How does this resource do at introducing little ones to Christ in the Scripture?
I can’t discuss The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible (BGSB) without first drawing attention to another title from the same publisher, The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski. Machowski’s work teaches 156 Bible stories (78 OT, 78 NT), which synchronize with the Gospel Story Curriculum, a 3-year plan for Sunday school classes through the elementary school years. My church uses the Gospel Story Bible with the corresponding curriculum, and we appreciate the consistency and clear focus on Jesus in every lesson. One criticism of the Gospel Story Bible, however, has been that it doesn’t suit preschoolers. There are too many words and not enough pictures to hold their attention for long, and preschool teachers have had to abridge the stories on the fly to match the prevailing attention span each week.
I was eager to receive a complimentary copy of the BGSB, in exchange for an honest review, to see if it would meet this need.
What it does well
I am always impressed by the production quality of children’s materials from New Growth Press, and the BGSB is no exception. It is sturdy, hefty, bright, colorful, and pleasing to the eye. It exemplifies the excellence I have come to expect.
It abridges the 156 stories from Machowski’s volume down to 52 stories. Each story takes 6-8 pages, with only a sentence or two per page. So the stories really move and make quick transitions from one illustration to the next.
In addition, the BGSB keeps the intense focus on Jesus. Every story mentions him explicitly, communicating rich theology in child-friendly language. Each story offers a moral or lesson that never feels moralistic, as we reach the lesson only after seeing the story through the lens of Jesus.
What could be better
Though I appreciate the general theme of promises made (OT)/promises kept (NT), I don’t sense much of a coherent flow from one story to another. The book feels like a series of episodes, connected only because they each speak in some way about Jesus. Perhaps Jesus should be enough of a thematic connection, but I think David Helm does a better job in The Big Picture Story Bible, where he traces the themes of the people of God under the rule of God in the place God gives. In Helm’s work, Jesus is presented more as the chief climax than as the content of every story.
Also, one of the greatest strengths of Machowski’s Gospel Story Bible is that he includes frequent quotes of Scripture in his storytelling. But unfortunately, Kennedy has dropped this practice in his adaptation for preschoolers in the BGSB. Each story header lists the Scripture reference(s) the story comes from, but, as far as I can tell, the actual words of Scripture are nowhere to be found within the stories. This makes the BGSB less of a story Bible and more of a story about the Bible. The distinction may be subtle, but I think it speaks volumes about how much we trust the Scriptures themselves to speak to the hearts of our little ones.
I’m glad we have a copy of The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, and I’m eager to read it to my 3-year-old and 1-year-old when we can. But I’ll be looking to give priority of time to other resources that keep the text of Scripture more center-stage. The Bible is for everyone, even the smallest and youngest among us. And children can usually handle more of the Bible than we’re ready to give them.
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