This post is part of the Favorite Children’s Books series. See all the posts in the series here.
For the fourth installment of my favorite children’s books, I’m focusing on Christian and Bible-based children’s books. Just like what any parent would want, I want to read books that communicate the values I hold dear to my kids, whether they be faith-based on not. But specifically for Christian children’s books, I apply a slightly different list of criteria compared to general children’s books.
What I Look for in Christian Children’s Books
There are a few things I look at when compiling a list of favorite Christian children’s books.
1. Fresh re-telling or interpretation of Bible passages and stories.
I’m looking for a language that’s not trite and not super formal. Simple, but fresh. Usually, if I read something that makes me say, “Huh, I never saw it that way,” that’s a good sign. The Jesus Storybook Bible featured in this previous post is a great example of this, and there are more books by the same author and illustrator that make it to this post. For example, in The Jesus Storybook Bible, the author interprets “Let there be light” as “Hello, light.” I just love that. It’s so accessible to kids, it sounds like us, and it’s creative.
2. Visually appealing graphics
Beautiful blend of colors, artistic interpretations, and willingness to push boundaries on what kids’ books should look like. They don’t all have to be cartoonish.
3. Socially conscious graphics
I love to see diversity in the characters portrayed in the graphics. I care about representation in what my kid sees in his books, something that more accurately shows the world at large. This becomes more important if you live and socialize in less diverse locations. (Sometimes my son sees a random Asian guy and he thinks it’s his Dada. A good hint of how the world looks like through his eyes.)
Another part of this consciousness is how the book illustrates Jesus and other Bible characters. I have seen books, typically older publications, where the color of Jesus’ hair is different from one page to literally the next page. Others show baby Jesus and the people around him with blond hair and blue eyes. I mean, come on. For this reason, I tend to prefer more recent publications than older ones.
4. Books that touch on the complexity of Bible stories
One of the things that happen when you grow up in the Christian faith is the surprises you get from Bible stories as you get older. When you’re little, you get the really happy version of Bible stories and everything ends happily. Then you grow up and realize that, oh my, a lot of Bible stories are actually horrific! It turns out that it’s not a collection of happy stories.
For example, the story of Noah, the ark, and the flood is a staple in Christian books, Sabbath or Sunday schools at churches. It’s always a fun one because you get all the animals, and even as adults, you are almost persuaded that living in the ark is like a fun trip to the zoo. But really, the story is scary, and who wants to think about what living with animals in closed quarters for a year is like.
As an adult, I learn that the Bible doesn’t shy away from grotesque details of the human life and it’s truthful in describing human nature (See more in this post). But I kind of wish that more of this nuance was talked about when I was a teenager.
Of course you can’t go all realistic and burst all your one-year old’s bubbles. You still need to focus on the happy parts of the story to introduce them to the Bible. But as a bridge, I like books that hint a little bit of the complexity that the Bible presents. Things like, a Jonah story that says something about his character development, not just a happily-ever-after ending with Nineveh turning to God.
This idea still needs to be validated, of course. If any of you has thoughts or suggestions on this, please comment!
5. Focus on God’s love
There are many wonderful books that focus on building proper self-esteem in kids. They affirm how wonderful and wonderfully made you are. I think these are great for older kids, especially when they start to go through experiences that challenge their self-esteem.
Since I’m reading for a one-year old, I try to focus on God’s love first and reserve those self-esteem books for later. I tend to choose ones that have an outward focus, like the wonderful things in the world, instead of the inward ones, for now at least. I also try to avoid stories in which the characters are showing bad behavior that I haven’t seen in my son yet to avoid him becoming what he sees.
Again, this is a personal approach that may well change as soon as I publish this post. But I’d love to hear from other parents out there on how you all approach book selections for your kids!
As I go through more children’s books in this series, I will be developing my personal philosophy of children’s literature and sharing what I learn in the posts. I’d like to have a conversation with all of you on this, so please share your thoughts!
With that, here are my favorite Christian children’s books. Click on the images for Amazon links to the books.*