ESV Illustrated Family Bible
Illustrated by Zbigniew Freus
Earlier this summer I was talking with some friends about children making the transition from Bible storybooks to the real deal. I had lots of questions: At what age? Where do you start? How long of a passage is appropriate for a child? Should you skip anything?
In the context of that discussion my friends mentioned a book that could act as a bridge from storybooks to The Book. They described the ESV Illustrated Family Bible as a illustrated book whose only text was Scripture (not the entire Bible, just carefully selected passages). On that description alone, I ordered it the next day!
When my 6-year-old niece was visiting a few weeks later I was happy to be able to read part of it with her. There were certainly things to be discussed, defined, and explained (probably more so than with a story Bible), but it was a joy to be sharing the Word of God with a child. We stopped and talked at the end of every passage, but she kept wanting to read more – a good sign!
It was less intimidating for me to pick up and read from this book than my personal Bible because I didn’t have to wade through my own questions about where to start, what to skip, and how long to read. My hunch is that, because of the illustrations and short “chapters,” my niece found it less intimidating to listen to as well, even though the words we were reading would have been exactly the same. And that is precisely what makes this book so wonderful.
There are 270 passages included, so it’s a thick book, but each spread is illustrated and the passages are divided up into short sections (ranging in length from a few sentences to a full page of text). At some point you will of course want to move on to a regular Bible, but this is a great stepping stone until you and your child are ready for that. If you’re confident enough to go straight to a complete, unillustrated Bible, more power to you, but if the thought makes you feel like you want run out and get a seminary degree first, you’ll probably be a very happy owner of this book.
A few final thoughts: This is one of the few books that I really love even though I’m not head over heels about some of the illustrations. They’re done in what I would consider a classic story Bible style, which admittedly does have its benefits, one of which is that it draws readers into the time and place in which Scripture was written instead of presenting characters in a more “relevant” or cartoony style. You’ll also want to know that the book doesn’t draw equally from every book in the Bible. For instance, the Pentateuch and gospels are (unsurprisingly) well represented but some of the prophets and epistles aren’t mentioned at all.
All things considered, I heartily recommend this book for inclusion in your family’s theological library!
As the father of the six-year-old niece, I can say that it is an excellent transition Bible. My daughter wants text large enough that she can read without squinting. (We have another family Bible that has one narrative per page. The small text makes it good for reading to her, but she won’t try reading it herself.) She also wants at least one illustration per page to keep her visually engaged.
So the combination of good typeset, the words of Scripture (rather than a dubious paraphrase for kids), sufficient illustrations, and good editing to provide the key components of the story make this a very good choice for the learning-to-read-the-Bible-by-myself stage, whether kids are actually reading it by themselves, or just listening.
Thanks for chiming in, Graham!
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