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some bible books we like

The kids and I went to Marshalls over the weekend to buy me some cheap running shoes. Remember how I was all on my high horse about barefoot running a few weeks ago? Yeah, never mind. I'm totally climbing down off that now. Barefoot running may indeed be better for my feet but the shoes look too stupid to wear anywhere other than running and I realize I need sneakers for a lot of things other than running. Like walking to Whole Foods in any weather colder than 60 degrees.

So we took a trip to Marshalls and snagged me some $30 shoes before playing in the toys section. The toys section at our local Marshalls is awesome. The boys usually play with light-up toys and balls and very rarely beg to bring them home. But on Saturday Harvey and Zion wouldn't leave the book section, asking me to read book after book, some bizarre examples of childrens' stories I never knew existed (Baby Bear Baby Bear, What do you See??? Seriously? No way am I buying ANOTHER one of those things.) Still, some of the cheap deals bowled me over, especially since Zion is all up in my face with the board books now, so I bought a picture book of baby animals and a copy of Freight Train by Donald Crews for a few dollars a piece. Hey, I need board book variety too. It can't be all Brown/Polar/Panda Bear all the time.

While I was there in the book section I spotted a new Children's bible I hadn't seen before. A while ago I read a book called The Rise and Fall of the Bible (I really recommend it, by the way) and it quoted research saying the average Christian household has something like ten bibles. And I was like, Oh yeah? Well, let's see... I have a NIV, 2 Messages, Harvey has a NIV, Dan has a KJ, and someone left a new NIV study bible here that no one will claim. So that's 6 adult bibles, plus a 2 kid bibles I got as gifts and 2 I bought so.... HOLY SHIT! WE ARE AN AVERAGE CHRISTIAN HOUSEHOLD! HOW DID IT COME TO THIS!!

Anyway, I opened this new kids bible (by Andrew Geeson) ready to be unimpressed. When I open a bible made for kids I usually ask it a few questions to see wherether it's a terrible piece of crap:

Is there a picture of the cross? If not then it's NOT REALLY CHRISTIAN. You'd be amazed how many kids bibles jump from "Jesus loves the little children" to "Jesus is alive again!" Like, yeah? Wasn't he alive before? What? Next I ask: Is there a moral at the end of each story? If so, it probably has theological errors AND will make me what to puke while I'm reading it.

The bible at Marshalls had both a cross and absence of morals, and some other things to recommend it too, like lots of words per story. I picked out the story of Goliath to read as a tester and was pleased that including something about David playing the harp. So I brought the bible home with us (in addition to the two board books and the sneakers - I can't go into Marshalls for a fortnight now.) But unfortunately some of the pictures don't match the text for historical detail. Dan was reading it to Harvey and called to me from the living room:

"When were the Levites allowed to touch the ark?"

"What? Never!" I yell.

"Well they're carrying it on their shoulders in this story about Joshua."

"What? No, they carried it on poles. They always carried it on poles. Show Harvey a better illustration from the other bible."

The other bible I refer to is A Child's First Bible by Kenneth N. Taylor. The illustrations in this book are great for accurate details. If you're the kind of person who has read the entire old testament then you'll appreciate that Eli is wearing the ephod in the story about God calling Samuel. You won't appreciate that the story of Samuel is only four sentences long. In fact, every story in that book is super short, in order to fit the whole bible into a half-sized kids book. We make most fun of the story of Job which reads:

Job was a good man. He loved God, and God loved him. But God let him get very sick. He hurt all over. But Job still loved God, even while he was sick.

OMG, leave anything out here?

Still, I think this one is a good reference for a kid to get an idea of what a whole bible is. Harvey and I have sat and read the entire thing in a morning, and it feels rather fulfilling to read the whole bible to a one-year-old. This was before Zion was born, of course. Now we don't read anything together that isn't a board book and doesn't include pictures of chickens.

Zion will read one bible, though. We got it for a present and it's called Baby's Hug-a-Bible because it has a fuzzy cover. This is a board book with less than ten pages, each with a long poem about how God helped one person or other in the bible. Zion loves the fuzzy cover, but he often (ahem, ALWAYS) turns the page before I reach the end of the poem. Which is kind of frustrating because the poem is all "Who made the seas? Who made the birds? Who made the bees? - " and Zion turns the page before I can shout out "IT'S GOD BY THE WAY! HE MADE THAT STUFF! Wait, you're skipping over Moses... now you're skipping all of Daniel..." I hated this bible at first but it's grown on me after a while. I think because I realized it was written by Sally Lloyd Jones who also wrote the Jesus Storybook Bible, so I feel like it must be somewhat reflective.

The Jesus Storybook Bible is the one bible I bought for Harvey out of extensive internet research. This bible tells various stories from the old testament, each demonstrating in the last two sentences how that story relates to Jesus and God's master plan. Then it tells a very moving account of Jesus's life, death and resurrection. "Moving" is one word for it... "emo" is another word I use in my head when I'm tired of reading "the cross part" for the 700th time. But on balance I think it's probobly the best kids' bible out there. The presentation of the bible as "one story" is as well done as it is heavy handed, and the pictures are beautiful and moving. It's editorializing, sure, but I don't super disagree with any of the conclusions because they're not like "be nice to your little brother" type morals. And Harvey likes the cross part.

There are several books we like that are bible stories while not being complete bibles. Harvey's all-time favorite of these is The Book of Jonah by Peter Spier. (Let's not forget the time he read it on video with much awesomeness.) We have also gotten from the library (and I'd love to own someday) The White Ram by Mordicai Gerstein. This is a jewish midrash retelling of Abraham sacrificing Issac. (I like it much better than the actual passage in the bible.) While totally Jewish, the story forshadows Jesus' sacrifice perfectly so perfectly so that's it very difficult to get through the thing without crying. I also really like a book on Adam and Eve called Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden by Jane Ray. The pictures are so lovely and not religous-y at all (look! real breasts!) and it's heavy on the agricultural ramifications of the story, ending on an up note: "In the bare earth beyone Eden, Adam and Eve planted a new garden for their family."

And while I'm extoling virtuas of books from my local library, I'd recommend A Road Down in the Sea by Lorenz Graham. This is a retelling of the exodus from egypt in African English. To give you a taste:

The Egypt people hold the Hebrews tight
And make them slaves
And make them work the farm
And work the road
And work some kind of hard.
The Hebrews cry
And sometimes they fall down and die
And all the time they moan and pray
And say "How long, O God, how long?"

Yeah, I should really buy that book one day. Next time I redeem my household coins for Amazon money.

If you are episcopalian or like the already-thought-through nature of that brand of Christianity I recommend I Believe: The Nicene Creed which I took out from the library and then immediately purchased for our home. The illustrations are done in the style of illuminated manuscript and it's just so so peace-inducing to look at (though I don't know if Harvey gets anything from the language.) I also purchased Easter by Fiona French because it's simply the Easter story with illustrations that look like stained glass. The cover of the book says, "With words from the King James bible." I should not pretend like it was simple to take four different gospel accounts from the King James bible and mash them into one narrative with words from the Kind James bible; obviously there was some editorial choices on the part of French or her editors. But whatever, there's no "moral." And a good Easter story without bunnies is hard to come by.

I'm sure there are a hundred million awesome books for kids designed to stir their faith and engage them with the bible. This doesn't pretend to be an exhaustive list, it's just our current list for an over-literary three-year-old.

And the new bible I bought Harvey? He's already says he doesn't want to read it anymore, because it's scary. "All those guys" are scary he says. He wouldn't say which guys or from which story, so there's no way of knowing. It'll have to wait on a shelf until later.

If you've read this far I feel like you should get a cookie or something. A lot of this post was written for a friend who asked for bible story recommendations. As a result it comes off as a bit listy and, I dunno, not very earnest? I'd hate to seem like I'm saying, "I read my kid this and this and this... all this educational shit! aren't I awesome???" When really, right now I read him one book while his brother is asleep MAYBE, and it might be a bible story or it might be something about robots. Otherwise, Dan gets to read Harvey his books at bedtime, and I just get board books during the day because if it's anything other than a board book Zion will DESTROY the offending creature or THROW IT ACROSS THE ROOM if there are no pictures of chickens. And I'd hate to say I give in to a one-year-old terrorist, but it's no fun to try to read when someone is screaming AND attacking you, and as a result I can recite a surprising number of board books with my eyes closed. "A cow says moo, a sheep says baa... I should be doing more educational things for Harvey but instead I'm sticking my fingers in my ears and saying LaLaLa..."

Both the children are sleeping now, fallen asleep in the stroller without even reading any bedtime books. I feel like I need some spiritual guidence that isn't about picking literature. I think I'll go read myself A Road Down in the Sea...

Now Moses never see that side before
And he don't know the way.
God say
Nev mind.
I set My mark up in the sky
You walk the way I show.
By day My mark be in a cloud
By night it be in fire."

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