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New Children’s Story Bibles Rethink How Christians Share Old Stories With Young Readers

A large push for new retellings of the Bible has come from Christian parents who are finding their faith evolving. Those who identify as progressive or “ex-vangelical” Christians have especially been clamoring for new materials, said Traci Smith, author of “Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home” and a pastor in the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA).

She remembers being terrified by a Bible she was given as a little girl that featured sweet, sad-eyed Precious Moments characters — and also described hell as “hotter than your stove that you touch,” she said.

That experience still informs her ministry decades later. The pastor and author curates resources she recommends in a weekly email for parents and others involved in children’s ministries.

“This story has survived for 2,000 years. So it’s not the stories that are problematic, it’s the lenses through which we view them,” Smith said.

“People sense that there’s something powerful about this story, there’s something powerful about the creation, there’s something powerful about resurrection — all these themes in the Bible. People still claim them. I think it’s a subversive act sometimes to reclaim them in new ways.”

But more conservative Christian publishers are also seeing the need for resources that emphasize diversity and curiosity — McCaulley’s “God’s Colorful Kingdom Storybook Bible: The Story of God’s Big Diverse Family” is published by Tyndale Kids and Nellist’s “I Wonder,” by Zonderkidz, an imprint of Zondervan.

Nellist, who now lives in Michigan, was raised in northern England, where her dad was a minister. In an email, she said she grew up knowing a God “of love and hope” and hopes children will encounter that same God in “I Wonder.”

The mom of four wanted her girls to be able to see themselves in the Bible and to make it their own by asking questions.

“I believe that the mysterious and marvelous stories of the Bible are not meant to be simply read and put down. They are meant to be pondered, and puzzled over and thought about long after the page is turned,” Nellist said.

“Through the inclusion of open-ended ‘I Wonder’ questions following each story, this Bible invites children not only to wonder about what they just read, or about who God is, but also to ponder how they are part of God’s grand story, too.”

Children’s story Bibles “help set the foundation of faith for little ones,” according to Megan Dobson, vice president and publisher for Zonderkidz. “It’s their first experiences and interactions with the stories and with the faith.”

That’s why they’re so important to Christians across the spectrum of faith, Dobson said.

Dobson pointed to “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Since it was published in 2007 by Zondervan, it has sold more than 3 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 languages. A recently launched podcast based on the book has included guests like Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church and popular Christian singer-songwriter Amy Grant.

What made “The Jesus Storybook Bible” different, Dobson said, was that it weaves a common thread through its stories, unlike previous children’s story Bibles that functioned more as anthologies or greatest hits of Bible stories. Each story, whether from the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, pointed to Jesus and emphasized God’s love.