Animals of the Bible for Young Children
Marie-Hélène Delval & Aurélia Fronty
So, in general, I’m not really into animals. I mean, I have a cat and she’s great and all (just ask Haley!), but on the whole I’m not an animal person. I’ve never been terribly interested in seeing animal movies, I fall asleep in front of the Discovery Channel, and books about animals in the Bible? Boring at best, and at worst, exercises in completely missing the point. But when I was browsing last week at Hearts and Minds Books, I came across Animals of the Bible for Young Children and just had to pull it off the shelf. Even if I hadn’t noticed that it was by Marie-Hélène Delval, the beautiful cover and solid feel of the copy would have recommended it to me. (Eerdmans’ Books for Young Readers are just lovely to hold onto.) I added it to my alarmingly large pile, and it was one of the few that made it through an agonizing series of cuts and home in my suitcase.
Despite its title, Animals of the Bible is not primarily about animals. Each page – which is accompanied by a lovely full-page expressionist illustration – recounts an episode from the Bible that centers on an animal, but then points beyond to the God who has created the animals and is at work in his creation. So, beyond the obvious candidates for inclusion (the creation and naming of the animals, the ark, Daniel and the lions) we also find Abraham’s ram, Samson’s foxes, Balaam’s donkey, the demons and the pigs, Peter’s rooster, and the Dragon of John’s revelation. The episodes are recounted in short, simple sentences; included at the end of the book is a list of the full-text Scripture references for each story. The book could simply be read as a picture book with very young children; it could also used for short devotions with a beginning reader, with the parent supplying the longer Scripture reading.
A few minor quibbles (which are probably more indicative of my perfectionism than of real problems with the book): there are a few spots where the text has been paraphrased in ways I don’t love. For instance, the story of Abraham’s ram reads, “Abraham wanted to please God. He was ready to sacrifice Isaac, his son, his only child, to God. But the angel of God called to him, ‘No! No! Don’t hurt your boy!'” There’s no mention that God himself commanded the sacrifice; it certainly wasn’t on Abraham’s own initiative! And the episode about Abel’s lamb simply states that God wasn’t “interested” in Cain’s offering – which is true as far as it goes, but leaves out some important nuance. Still: the references to the Biblical text are there in the back of the book for any parent who feels it’s important to provide more context than the simple paraphrasing gives.
Those are small objections, I think, next to what I find really valuable about this book. I absolutely love the illustrations. They’re bright, beautiful, and expressive – simply a joy to look at, and the book itself is just delightful to hold in your hands. It’s not a throwaway, or merely a vehicle to get some intangible message across. Animals of the Bible is a book to page through and gaze at. In it, the animals are witnesses to and participants in God’s story: a testimony to the fact that our God works in and through his material creation, that he loves us and our animals, and that every part of creation can be put to use for his salvation purposes. That’s a story that is beautifully true.