Saturday, February 21, 2015

‘Know Your Bible for Kids’ (Book Review)

While it’s great to think that children can obtain much of their Bible knowledge purely by osmosis, we really need to admit that they can benefit from study helps and reference guides just as much as adults can. And to be honest, kids may successfully master the “Old Testament Books” song and the “New Testament Books” song, but a list of titles, removed from any valuable context, won’t help them understand what each book is really about. That becomes a major hurdle in their education. To tackle it, I recommend taking a look at Donna K. Maltese’s Know Your Bible for Kids (Barbour, 2013), illustrated by David Miles.

This little paperback for grade-school aged children is packed with information about each of the sixty-six books in the typical Protestant canon. The basic format includes an illustration; short discussions on authorship and date; a key word, a summary, and some key points; a key verse and explanation; and a “So, What?” section with a personal application. Traditional authors are mentioned, but the wording leaves things open for debate (without actually getting into one!).

Please note, the book is not perfect. There’s always room for improvement. I’ve found that children can make more sense of traditional book titles (e.g., The Gospel According to John, The Letter to the Church in Ephesus) rather than the abbreviated ones we’re accustomed to using (e.g., John, Ephesians). They need to know that books like the Song of Solomon and Revelation have commonly used alternative names (i.e., Song of Songs or Canticles, Apocalypse) that might be used in their own copies of the Bible. It also would’ve been helpful to have a few maps showing where Egypt, Israel, Persia, and the first century churches were located. I’ve found this invaluable when trying to explain to kindergarteners what “Ephesians” is. Once they see it on a map and understand the semantics (e.g., Americans and America, Mexicans and Mexico), they get "Ephesians" and "Ephesus" immediately.

As for the artwork, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. Children are so much influenced by what they see. (I still imagine Bible characters looking like pictures from storybooks!) Rather than being in a more contemporary style, the overall look resembles too much of what I remember from back in the ‘80s. Nice, but dated. Some of the books (1 & 2 Chronicles, some minor prophets, and the two shorter Johannine epistles) lack illustrations, which I think minimizes the importance of these works. Also, the pictures didn’t always depict the best known stories from each book. For example, Exodus showed Moses with the Ten Commandments instead of the Crossing of the Red Sea. Worse still, the Gospel of Matthew has an illustration of an event only recorded in Luke. This is one area that could’ve used some serious help.

As a caution, I should mention two other issues. First, the dates are rather confusing. When the book is written tends to be convoluted with when the events in the book took place. Rather than B.C./A.D. (or B.C.E./C.E.), dates are given in “years ago.” I don’t really have a problem with that method, but I don’t find that format conducive to kids’ understanding. It even confuses us adults.

Second, be aware that, even though Know Your Bible for Kids is pretty short (127 pages), there’s still interpretation going on. For example, Esther’s king is Xerxes, Job is dated very early, the Song is about Solomon’s wedding, and Revelation is a peak into our future. The comments on Genesis, however, are open enough to be inclusive of a variety of creation theories.

While a few parents and teachers will have a problem with the content, I think most will be happy with Know Your Bible for Kids. I certainly appreciated it. There’s enough information to give the reader a good overview but also a little something to stimulate curiosity about the Bible’s contents. Banish forever the boring list of titles and give each of the kids in your Sunday School class a copy of Know Your Bible for Kids. I think the short-term and long-term benefits are worth it.

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