Friday, March 10, 2017

Guest Review: Catholic Children's Bible by SMP

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.

Christopher Buckley holds an M.A. in Religion from the Claremont School of Theology. He began as a United Methodist and passed through the Episcopal Church before being confirmed into the Catholic Church as an adult. He lives and works in Seattle with his wife and two children, and blogs occasionally at Connect with him on Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Flickr, LinkedIn, and on YouVersion Bible.


Steve Molitor said...

Thanks Chris for the wonderful and informative review. I'm ordering this for my kids.


Jerry Mc Kenna said...

It looks good. I remember how I 'read' many science and nature books when I was a child. I would turn pages until I found something interesting. So, this can work. I doubt many children have the ability to read long sections of text anyway.

Erap10 said...

You know, I heard one complaint that this Bible retains the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to the point that it actually has Gn 19:5 "“They called out to Lot and asked, “Where are the men who came to stay with you tonight? Bring them out to us!” The men of Sodom wanted to have SEX with them.”
If this really is in the Children's Bible, how would you approach this?

Christopher Buckley said...

It's part of the translation because it's part of scripture. I make it a point not to apologize for scripture's uncomfortable little moments, because it's often in those moments that God is trying to speak to us. I mean, why let that stop you? There's enough incest, genocide, and extreme violence in the Bible that the Sodom story is pretty tame by comparison. I'm actually more guarded about reading the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac to young children.

It's a complete book of scripture, so it contains the entire Bible, warts and all. That said, although I don't have it in front of me, I doubt that the Sodom and Gomorrah story is one of the two-page breakout stories they feature for this edition. [In fact, I'm not even sure the Abraham and Isaac story is.]

Gen 19:5 is what it is. You can't avoid what it's about: a society so corrupt that it violates the ancient bronze age custom of hospitality so severely that Lot's guests are to be violated in a way that would "defile" them according to the standards of the day.

The RSV (and the Challoner) translates it "Bring them out to us, that we may know them." The NABRE: "Bring them out to us that we may have sexual relations with them." It's what's written. We don't get to censor scripture.

You may remember Mark Twain's satirical letter to the New York Times skewering those who wanted Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn removed from children's libraries. He famously made his point saying how damaging it is for yound minds to be exposed to age inappropriate content like his, and attributes his own moral decline to the effects of being exposed to an unexpurgated Bible at a tender age.

"The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave."

Erap10 said...

I wonder how awesome the Maccabean section is :)

Christopher Buckley said...

Ha. Or Song of Songs.

I checked last night: they walk a balance. It's a complete book of scripture, that children can grow into. But they guide entering readers through the selection of 125 stories they built into the two-page features, and choose the most approachable stories for young children.

As expected, it doesn't include the Sodom and Gomorrah story. The Genesis selections feature the Eden, Cain and Abel, and Abraham/Isaac/Jacob/Jospeh stories.

Pleasantly, the sacrifice of Isaac is not one of them, which is age-appropriate yet bold, given how important the sacrifice of Isaac is to christology in the New Testament.

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

I think parents need to be prepared but no overly worried about what children find in Bibles. Many years ago I saw the word prostitution in a book I was reading (it was about crime), I simply read the confusing definition and moved on.

Christopher Buckley said...

I generally advocate that if your child can formulate an actual question about something, then they are also mature enough to process your honest answer to it.

Therefore, the issue isn't really "can they handle it" or "is it appropriate?"
It's do YOU understand what our faith actually teaches about the question enough to answer it.

Chances are, if it's making you uncomfortable, then you probably need to study the matter in Scripture and the Catechism yourself before you try to talk about it.

Biblical Catholic said...

To be honest, I don't think children need a Bible, a little book of Bible stories is sufficient. Not only is the reading level likely too complex for them, but the content is not always age appropriate.

I think it is important to remember that the Bible was not written to be read privately, it was written to be read aloud during worship. The private reading of scripture is a new idea that only dates from the late Middle Ages and the invention of the printing press.

I don't think it is impious to admit that there are parts of the Bible that don't make for the most interesting or inspiring reading.

And I don't just mean the sex and the violence, but also the long genealogies, which, while important, can get pretty boring after a couple chapters.

Other examples of stuff that isn't necessarily very interesting or age appropriate for younger readers would include the long lists of military statistics and census information, the long descriptions of items, such as the 8 chapter long description of the new heavenly temple in Ezekial, and the chapter after chapter devoted to describing the temple of Solomon in the books of Kings, and the long lists of laws in Exodus, Leviticus,, and Deuteronomy.

I don't think any of that should be in a Bible intended for younger readers, it not only won't interest them but will likely lead them to conclude that the Bible is really boring and not worth their time.

In fact, I have in the past encouraged even adult readers, to skip over the less interesting parts when reading the Bible for the first time. If one isn't a serious scholar with a degree in theology, one is unlikely to find anything of use in any of it or understand why it is important.

I don't think children should be given their own full Bible until they are about 15-16 years old at least. In fact, a Bible would make an excellent present for confirmation. I first read the entire Bible from cover to cover at age 17, it was the Revised Standard Version, and at that age, I was ready for it. If I had tried to do that when I was younger, I likely never would have finished it and would have concluded that it was 'boring.'

Andrea Woolums said...

As a DRE in a Catholic Church, I was sent a copy of this Bible from another highly respected DRE. I was excited to see a Bible that would give children access to the scriptures in their own language and still have the navigation aids that many children grow to adulthood not understanding how to use.
I confidently bought a hardback copy for each classroom K-5th grade. The first day of class, a teacher read the scripture from Genesis and came to me afterwards, appalled by the words in the Creation story that Adam and Eve had "sexual intercourse." I, too, was a little shocked and surprised at the choice of words used in a Children's Bible. I understand that the content is there, but couldn't there be a way to word it so that we aren't shocking catechists, parents and students alike with such graphic language?
I guess, since I have spent the church's money on these books for each classrooom, the only thing to do is just caution my catechists to pre-read there scripture selection so they aren't surprised by the language used.

That particular catechist is now on a hunt to find a children's bible to give each student a copy, but she doesn't want to give this one. Do you have any suggestions?
Thanks so much!