Catholic Children’s Bible by St. Mary’s Press
Reviewed by Chris Buckley
Glorious. It’s simply glorious. If you have a child, and you want them to know Scripture and not just Bible stories, the Catholic Children’s Bible from St. Mary’s Press is the only Bible to consider. Literally. It may well be the only full-text Bible formatted specifically to build Biblical literacy and Catholic faith in children.
It’s clearly designed by people who not only value the Bible as scripture, but are also skilled curriculum designers for the learning styles of children.
For one thing, it’s huge. At 7 x 10 inches and 2000 pages, it has the heft of those old Golden Books Children’s Bibles you may remember from the 1960s and 1970s. Not an asset for most readers of this blog, but trust me: it makes for a lasting place on a child’s bedroom bookshelf.
For another, it uses layout, font size, illustration, and color prompts to make it as easy as possible for new Bible readers to navigate. In my last post, I called for solid navigation aids. This Bible has them in spades, better than any I’ve ever encountered. It’s practically an orienteering course in Bible reference. It introduces the layout of the individual books in their various textual groupings with a color-coded bookshelf graphic. That color-coding carries through into the borders of the pages, and the section headings of the individual books. A child can easily find - and internalize the internal order of - the books of the Bible this way until it becomes automatic. Lavish edge illustrations surround the text on nearly every page, making it a colorful “page-turner” that even young kids will flip through like a big lap-sized picture book, whether they are readers or not.
The publishers didn’t ignore children who read, though. They have wisely selected the approved Catholic edition of the Good News Translation (formerly, Today’s English Version, second edition). If you remember the Good News Bible of the 1970s, you know what to expect, but you may not be familiar with the improved, revised edition of 1992, formally approved for Catholic use in 1993. Though still a “thought-for-thought” translation using syntax and vocabulary for about a fourth-grade reading level, the new GNT is to the old Good News Bible what the NLT is to the old Living Bible. Today, it’s a proper translation from the original texts, no longer a paraphrase of a standard English text, hence the imprimatur. I have far more confidence in it as a proper book of scripture for beginning reader. (By comparison, the publisher’s Catholic Youth Bible comes in both NRSV-CE and NABRE varieties.) If you’re going to create a Bible for kids out of an approved Catholic translation in English, this is the text to use.
But it’s what they do with the text that makes this Bible so wonderful. Instead of the traditional Annie Vallotton line drawing that typically accompany the Good News Translation, the publisher has introduced its own full-color illustrations that tie into the learning aids. In mid-flow of the scriptural text itself, the publisher introduces 125 Bible stories told in two-page illustrated spreads. Each spread follows the same format: the scripture text from the page before continues directly onto the left hand page so that the Bible passage itself becomes the “story,” surrounded by illustrations and definitions of any challenging vocabulary. The right-hand side of the spread employs a standard format for every story (also adopted for older readers in the Catholic Youth Bible):
● Understand it - a brief exegesis of the passage for children
● Live it - A devotional tip for how to put the teaching of that passage into practice
● Tell it - A simple storyboard an adult can use as a prompt for the child to retell (and thus internalize) the story in their own words
Then the Bible text continues uninterrupted on the next page. By making the scripture itself into the stories, and by including so many passages, this book is now the best of both worlds: a full Bible that can also function as a “big book of Bible stories” most Catholics are used to. With 125 selections interspersed throughout scripture, using it as a bedtime storybook and reading one story a night, a parent and child could literally work through the entire canon of scripture together in about 17 weeks. Simply amazing.
It concludes with colorful, yet simplified Biblical aids using photographs and illustrations in place of the typical essays and maps an adult study Bible might have. It has a brief section full of catholic Prayers, instruction on the rosary, and a final page of “Bible Passages for Special Times” to help children find consoling passages for specific life events or challenges. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but this is a functioning “Study Bible” for children, covering the same spread of textual and dogmatic instruction as something like the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. Along with the companion Catholic Children’s Prayer Book, it’s a terrific resource. This isn’t the Bible to give at first communion. Rather, it’s the Bible to give in kindergarten and read together on their journey toward the sacraments.