Review of The Beginner’s Bible and Kid-Sized Devotions

I remember when I was growing up my mom got me my very own copy of The Children’s Living Bible. I remember cherishing it. The edges of the book were a red color, which was different than the orange color of my brother’s and sister’s Bible. The cover had a picture of Jesus holding a little lamb and there were prints of various oil paintings of Bible scenes inside that I loved thumbing through to see. Even at an age where I’d just barely begun to be able to read, there was something in me that appreciated having a full Bible, not a dumbed-down abridged version, that I could carry round with me and flip to even as the adults were opening their Bibles.

The Beginner’s Bible is also a full-sized Bible. It’s a beautiful hardcover edition. Unlike other Bibles it doesn’t spend too much time on extraneous material–there’s a two-page Q&A on “Getting to Know Jesus”, a four-page preface about the version of the Bible (the New International Reader’s Version), and then you go right into Genesis. In the back of the Bible there’s a short eight-page dictionary and then a six-page list of “150 famous Bible stories” with the verses you can flip to. There’s a book introduction and an outline before each book that nicely sets it up. I was a little surprised to see the lack of maps, the one thing that as a child kept me awake during so many long sermons.

The highlight of this Bible, of course, are the full-color cartoon pictures. Every 100-150 pages or so there’s an insert with a detailed cartoon illustration in the style the Beginner’s Bible is known for–sort of comical illustrations of people with big round googly eyes. What they lack in any kind of theological significance they certainly make up for in capturing the attention of very young children, although they’re the sort of thing that kids will quickly grow out of.

The version of the Bible, the nIRV, is one I wasn’t familiar with before, but it follows along the same lines of the Living Bible and the Good News Bible of trying to paraphrase the Word into simple, accessibly, easy-to-understand language. Because the translation was based on the NIV (which itself was intended to be easier to read), it does a fairly good job at being both easy-to-read and accurate to the text. Since the NIV itself is already quite simple, it’s really up to you and your child’s language level as to whether you want to give them this version. I do like how where it doesn’t try to inject a layer of interpretation to verses with more difficult-to-understand concepts, but simply rewrite the verses in simpler English, still leaving it up to the reader to do his or her own interpretation.

Overall this Bible is an excellent “first Bible” for your child. He or she likely won’t read it cover-to-cover, but it’s nice to know that the whole thing is there if he or she ever needs it.

The “Kid-Sized Devotionals” that comes in this bundle was a little less impressive. On the surface it sounds like a great idea–365 bite-sized readings along with a prayer and a Bible verse, copiously decorated with Beginner’s Bible illustrations. The main problem is that you can kind of tell that they put all their work into the cartoon illustrations (which are excellent) and seemingly “phoned in” the devotional text itself. Each “devotional” isn’t really a devotional but just a part of a Bible story. This would be fine, but each “day” is also only about 3 sentences long, making for a very short reading each day that isn’t likely to stick with the child nor pique his or her interest. Likewise, the “prayer” consists only of a short 5-7 word sentence. I find I have to read a couple “days” at a time to engage the child.

Overall, the whole bundle gets 3.5 stars; the Bible is well made and the cartoons are engaging, so it’s no wonder it’s been a best-seller. But as they try to extend their brand, I do think they need to put a little more effort into understanding the substance of what makes things like devotionals “work” and not just go through the motions of what sounds good in a boardroom.