The Jesus Storybook Bible
Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago
I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write this review. We’ve had a copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible since my (now 5-year-old) daughter was two, and she and I have read it from cover to cover at least twice. I guess I’m just wary of recommending story Bibles in general (not that it’s stopped me before!), because none is theologically sufficient on its own. It’s probably best to own a couple – in our house, it’s the JSB and The Big Picture Story Bible) – and let them complement one another, with lots of actual Scripture being read alongside. But I want to go on record and apologize for not including this book in Aslan’s Library sooner. I’ve planned to, ever since we started the blog. And I’d love to see others get their hands on this little gem.
I was won over the first time I picked it up and read, on the very second page, “But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.” Each story recounted in the JSB emphasizes what God is doing at that moment, as well as how each episode reflects God’s ongoing work of redemption that will culminate in Jesus. I especially love how Sally Lloyd-Jones honors the real history that happens in the Old Testament, and still captures the provisional, waiting, not-yet-fulfilled sense of longing that pervades Israel’s story.
The overarching metaphor is that God is telling a Story, and – joyfully! – it is a true fairy tale in which the Prince rescues his beloved and takes her home. If that sounds too squishy or romantic to you, bear in mind just how stern and dangerous the best fairy tales and fantasies are. This is not a Disneyfied Jesus. In fact, I think “story” is a great metaphor for children to work with. They intuitively love a good story and know how stories work; small children are also especially good at imagining themselves in stories. And that’s the life of discipleship, really: waking up from our slumber to find that we’re in God’s story, and we had better figure out our part.
While the theological emphasis is tight and focused, the prose maintains a loose, breezy tone. It’s really best for reading aloud, I’ve found: most of the stories are told in a witty, conversational tone that adapts well to a parent willing to get into it. The account of the Crucifixion is somber, rich, and moving. And honestly? The scene when Jesus arrives in the Upper Room after his resurrection is worth the price of the book. (“I’m hungry,” Jesus said. “What’s for lunch?”) I really appreciate Ms. Lloyd-Jones’ ability to capture how the Biblical story moves from the tragic to the comic to the utterly joyful.
This would be a fabulous little book to pick up with your child during Lent, since every story looks forward to when Jesus will finally come and make things right. It captures the hope of the season well: God is active now, and God is coming to rescue us.
A quick note on usage: my daughter and I began reading the JSB out loud when she was about 3 1/2. She was too small, really. So for a year or so, we mostly read The Big Picture Story Bible, which I adore. She’s 5 now, and can read The Big Picture Story Bible to herself. The JSB is now our primary read-aloud alongside narrative passages of Scripture and a children’s psalter. While the illustrations are fabulous, it’s got pretty long sections of text, so if your child has trouble sitting for long stretches you might want to wait. Most children will need to be strong middle grade readers to read it alone.
Thanks for this review! We have enjoyed the JSB for several years, and have read it alongside The Big Picture Story Bible. In that time, I’ve realized why the Big Picture is such a helpful complement to the JSB. The JSB takes as its central motif the rescue story of redemption; the Big Picture takes the Kingship, alienation and restoration as its central motif. Reading them together children get a clear sense of how good creation is, how wicked and corrupting the fall was, how radical redemption is, and how hopeful we should be that one day will be complete when ALL things are subject to Jesus.
I have read two recommendations for this book in the past week. I guess I have to get it. 🙂
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My husband and I are some of the only people we know who are troubled by this book. I can’t deny that Lloyd Jones is a fabulous story-teller and beautifully expresses a lot of truth. The thing I find troubling is the treatment of the historical events. For the sake of telling an engaging story, Lloyd Jones feels free to change detail after detail from the biblical account. In some places, she describes the events in a purposely far-fetched way. For example, Zacchaeus is described as a man so small that he “had to take a flying leap to get up into his chair every day.” Anecdotes like that may make the story more fun encourage kids to keep reading, but I don’t think that this treatment sends the message that the stories in the Bible really happened. Trust in the reliability of Scripture is one of the first messages I want my children to learn. I feel this book subtly undermines that message.
Katey, thanks for your thoughts. You’ve gotten at something that Haley and I have struggled with: any re-telling of Scripture is just that, a re-telling, and as such will always differ (more or less) from the actual biblical account. So is there a place for story bibles at all? And if so, which ones?
I guess the reason I’m okay with story bibles in general, and this one in particular, is that they offer children a way to learn to read Scripture theologically. That is, the Bible itself is full of all sorts of genres – poetry, historical chronicling, wisdom literature, parable, apocalypse – but together they should be read as testifying to the Grand Story of God’s redemption of the world in Jesus. I think the way this particular story Bible, and The Big Picture Story Bible, draw all those strands together to paint the big picture of Scripture is a helpful preparation for reading Scripture itself – which is absolutely the ultimate goal. Story bibles are way-stations and preparation, at best.
I totally get your objection to the Zaccheus story: as it happens, that’s one of my less favorite in the volume! But I think that Scripture is reliable because it faithfully relates God’s redemptive work in history – and I guess I still think that the JSB emphasizes that story so centrally, and so well, that I can live with a leaping Zaccheus. Thanks for making me think through it a little more!
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