Volume 37 - Issue 2

Telling the Story from the Bible? How Story Bibles Work

By David A. Shaw


Is it stating the obvious to say that a children’s bible is not a Bible? Perhaps. After all, a moment’s reflection reveals they are not the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible. They omit entire genres and books, and they add a great deal, not least copious and captivating illustrations. On the other hand the confidence we have in them suggests that we receive them as something like God’s Word.

Is it stating the obvious to say that a children’s bible is not a Bible?1 Perhaps. After all, a moment’s reflection reveals they are not the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible. They omit entire genres and books, and they add a great deal, not least copious and captivating illustrations. On the other hand the confidence we have in them suggests that we receive them as something like God’s Word. It says it is a bible on the front, and it tells all the best stories; so nothing to fear here. How else are we to explain the almost complete lack of resources to evaluate these works, even though they have been in production for centuries and are read as widely as any other form of Christian literature in the home and are deeply formative for their young audiences? And yet serious reflection on children’s bibles, academic or otherwise, is hard to come by.2When, for example, was the last time you heard a thoughtful review of a children’s bible at a church service? Where are the resources to help parents, should they find the time (and they should!) to read one carefully, away from the whirlwind of a bedtime routine, with a Bible in the other hand? Academic disdain for children’s literature may play a role, but I suspect for the most part that people do not examine children’s bibles because they assume that they are safe. The result is not just that in some cases children are exposed to deeply unhelpful material; (1) it leaves parents without any real guidance as to the strengths and weaknesses of story bibles, which are as numerous as they are in any other Christian book, and (2) the complexity of these works goes unnoticed and their potential unfulfilled.

In particular, the impact of story bible artwork on children goes unnoticed—an impact that my five-year-old daughter’s recent prayer expresses: “Dear God, thank you that you show us in the Bible all the pictures that you did.” Help is at hand, however, in the flourishing field of children’s literature studies that offers analytical tools for visual, as well as textual, narratives.3Such studies highlight what ought to be obvious: pictures in books designed for young children truly are worth a thousand words, influencing how a child interprets a story. These tools, however, require calibrating for use with children’s bibles since their focus is almost entirely on the relationship between word and image within a picture book. Children’s bibles, on the other hand, involve a more intricate web of relationships. As a “bible,” it stands in some relation to the biblical text behind it;as an illustrated work, it contains within itself a marriage (happy or otherwise) of word and image; and as a work of religious instruction, it is shaped by presuppositions regarding the nature and needs of the child in fronta of it.

This last point needs a disclaimer. This article is not overly prescriptive about what a story bible ought to do. The reasons for this are several. (1) It will take the length of this article just to establish what story bibles do— how they work—and this is an essential step. Only once we are equipped to see what a story bible is doing can we decide whether it is doing what we think it ought to do. (2) I am not sure there is a definitive answer to the question of what a story bible ought to do. Put another way, there is no perfect story bible awaiting publication; rather we should think of them like commentaries or bible translations: the best choice depends upon who it is for and in what context they use it. (3) There is a place for variety especially in the case of story bibles because many families will have several which they use in rotation and find that children at different ages and stages are able to appreciate different approaches. (4) Reflecting upon the broader question of what it means to bring children up ‘in the instruction of the Lord’ (in which story bibles play a small role) will certainly include the importance of biblical literacy, a personal response to the gospel, the formation of a Christian worldview and character, and more besides, but theological and denominational differences will cause the emphasis to fall in different places. It is important for you the reader to know what you want a story bible to do; this article may help you decide if a story bible is doing that. (5) Even if there is still work to be done, resources are available to help us come to a view on these wider questions,4 but, to my knowledge, no attempt has been made to lay bare the complexity of these books that seem so simple.5

This article, therefore, seeks to make two advances: (1) to integrate disciplines that have previously been kept apart by drawing literary and especially visual narrative theories into the conversation; and (2) to offer a more comprehensive model for evaluating story bibles by highlighting the significance of four relationships:

  1. The text of a story bible and Scripture
  2. The images of a story bible and Scripture
  3. Word and image within a story bible
  4. The story bible and the child6

We give illustrations, textual and visual, from the story of the fall in Genesis, drawn from surveying over fifty children’s bibles. 7Focusing on this one biblical narrative offers some welcome limits, given the limitations of space. We conclude by suggesting ways that the substance of this article can help assess story bibles, and a forthcoming review article in Themelios will reflect on two or three recent and popular children’s bibles.

The narrative of the fall commends itself for several reasons. (1) It allows for a wide coverage of story bibles since nearly all include it. 8 (2) It is clearly significant, standing as it does at the beginning of Scripture and setting salvation history in motion. As Bottigheimer notes, “profound and enduringly important relationships are established in these opening chapters of the canonical Bible: God and humanity, women and men, good and evil, knowledge and innocence, language and suffering.” 9(3) The biblical narrative is so enigmatic that nearly every story bible feels the need to fill out and interpret the events and to set them in the wider context of Scripture in ways that lay bare many of their presuppositions. As such it allows us to observe the importance of a story bible’s treatment of a narrative in isolation and its attempt to set it in a wider biblical context.

1. Did God Really Say . . . ? The Relationship between Story-bible Text and Scripture

The first task then is to ask how the text of a story bible relates to the biblical text it claims to summarise and explain. There are two parts to this question: (1) How does the story bible’s version of any given story relate to the details of the specific passage(s) where that story occurs in the Bible? (2) How does the story bible relate that story, if at all, to the Bible’s wider story? That is, does it connect individual narratives together as Scripture does, by highlighting, among other things, the fulfilment of types and promises? These two aspects of the question will be addressed in turn in what follows.

1.1. Story Bible and the Story in the Bible

In the course of discussing an 18th century children’s bible Bottigheimer outlines four possible changes to the biblical text which are helpfully concise and comprehensive, namely omission, addition, reformulation, and transposition.10

1.1.1. Omission

Even those story bibles which disavow the additions and emendations of others have omitted a great deal of biblical material, indeed whole genres, as a brief survey of any contents page will reveal. As Alan Jacobs observes, “some decisions come, as it were, pre-made: no ceremonial law, no prophecy, no apostolic theology, no apocalyptic visions.”11 Nor do the historical books survive intact, for they are heavily edited, and the common criterion for inclusion is apparently that they must either be about children or exciting to them. 12Should Jesus’ teaching about children really be so prominent at the expense of teaching about judgment or humility or self-righteousness? Would the NT support the view that if a child needs to know one thing about David, it is that he knew what to do with a slingshot?

There are, therefore, descending degrees of omission: whole genres, whole narratives, and details within narratives. In treatments of Gen 3, several omitted details are striking. Some, generally the shorter accounts, omit the character of the serpent entirely, any detail of the temptation, or any mention of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One simply states, “Adam and Eve did something God told them not to do. So God had to punish them. He sent them away from their home in the Garden of Eden.”13

The effect of this is to transform a failure to believe what creation has so clearly demonstrated—the goodness of God and the power and truth of his Word—into a generic act of disobedience. Consequently, in numerous children’s bibles, the fall does not explain what is wrong with humanity and the wider creation but is merely a cautionary tale on the importance of obedience, later complemented by positive examples such as Noah and Abraham. 14To be sure Gen 3 has both explanatory and exemplary power (it says to us “ this is how the world came to be like this” and “ this is how not to treat your Creator”), but this emphasis in story bibles on obedience tends towards a moralism alien to the Bible. In particular, several story bibles describe the events of Gen 3 in ways that echo how children disobey: Adam and Eve did something God told them not to do, broke a promise, or touched something they ought not have touched. The moral(istic) lesson seems clear: make sure you obey, or you might be sent away.

If one tendency is to omit details of Gen 3 in order to emphasise obedience in the abstract, another is to omit a detail which emphasises God’s grace.The biblical narrative balances God’s being true to his word— they will die— with his providing for and making promises to the fallen Adam and Eve. Yet many story bibles omit any reference to God’s clothing Adam and Eve with animal skins (Gen 3:21) or promising one to come who will crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15).15 The result is a distorted view of God, for much is lost if it is not clear that the same God who pronounces curses also makes promises. All of which is to say that in the writing of story bibles, as in life, it is possible to sin by omission.

1.1.2. Addition

Story bibles add to Scripture at several levels. First, even those bibles that take their text verbatim from Scripture add headings to chapters or sections, following the example of most contemporary English Bible translations.16 The ways story bibles title Gen 3 create quite different expectations: “The Serpent in the Garden,”17 “Adam and Eve Disobey God,”18 “Eve’s Temptation,”19 “The Terrible Lie,”20 or “ A Very Sad Day.”21

Second, some additions imaginatively supply extra information. For example, story bibles customarily describe the Garden of Eden in greater detail than Genesis does.22 At this level the judgments are largely ones of taste. Russell W. Dalton objects to filling any gaps where the biblical writer invites the reader to use their imagination, but this is not sustainable within the picture book genre, for the possibility of adding nothing to the biblical text disappears the moment one sets a picture next to it. 23 Dalton rightly highlights, however, a danger: additions may become so commonplace that story bible and Scripture merge. He observes, to the surprise of many, that Gen 6 does not mention Noah’s neighbours mocking him or animals entering the ark two by two.24 It is therefore important to observe how and with what success story bibles distinguish Scripture from their own text. Some story bibles have apparatus such as text boxes that quote Scripture. 25 Luther’s solution was to conclude most phrases with ‘etc.’ by which he signified a fuller text behind his own, an approach that hardly lends itself to reading aloud but demonstrates a healthy intent. 26

A third area of addition concerns the emotions of actors about which the biblical text is silent. Most prominent in the case of the fallis that some story bibles ascribe emotions to God when Gen 3 says nothing of his emotional state.27Genesis 3 does not describe God as angry or sad or grieved. That kind of language comes in Gen 6:6, but it is notably absent from the earlier passage. As a result the focus falls upon the measured way in which God interrogates and passes sentences upon the other actors. 28Story bibles, however, frequently omit the variegated curses and in their place report on how God feels:

  • God was angry because they had broken their promise.29
  • God grew very angry and put a curse on the serpent.30
  • Filled with anger God punished Adam and Eve.31
  • His voice sounded both angry and very sad.32
  • Terrible pain came into God’s heart. His children had just broken the one rule; they had broken God’s heart. 33

What is the effect of such additions? At one level they are unobjectionable, provided that the story bibles make some attempt to distinguish this as embellishing the biblical text. This does, however, raise literary and theological questions.

In literary terms, there is a rhetorical pu

  1. [1] To avoid ambiguity, children’s bibles will be referred to as ‘story bibles’, ‘children’s bibles’ or ‘bibles’ (lowercase) and the Christian Scriptures as ‘the Bible’ (uppercase) or ‘Scripture’.
  2. [2] Reviews of children’s bibles cannot be found in academic journals, either of children’s literature or evangelical theology, with the exception of Andrew David Naselli and Jennifer J. Naselli, “Theology for Kids: Recommending Some Recent Books for Younger Children,” Them 33:3 (2008): 119–24, available <a href= “–3/book-reviews/theology-for-kids”>here</a>. But even this offers only uncritical and extremely brief reviews of three story bibles. For representative popular level reviews, see Alison Mitchell, “Choosing a Bible for Children,” n.p., available at July 11, 2012); Naomi Ireland, “Children’s Bible Review,” n.p., available <a href= “ =&a=1178 &w=7003&r=Y”>here</a>. (cited 7th September 2010).
  3. [3] The field of children’s literature studies has grown significantly since the 1980’s with several key works focusing on the analysis of illustrations, e.g., Perry Nodelman, Words about Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books (Athens: University of Georgia, 1988), and M. Nikoleva and C. Scott, How Picturebooks Work (New York: Garland, 2001). A recent work, synthesising these and others is Vasiliki Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories: Proposing an Analytical Tool for the Study of the Visual in Children’s Literature,” The Journal of Children’s Literature Studies 6:1 (2009): 52–73. §§2–4 apply Labitsi’s model to story bibles.
  4. [4] In no particular order and by no means exhaustively, the works of Tedd Tripp helpfully emphasise formative instruction and heart-centred discipline: Shepherding a Child’s Heart (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd, 1995); Instructing a Child’s Heart (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd, 2008). Daniel J. Estes rightly highlights the significance of wisdom literature in constructing a biblical pedagogy in Hear, My Son: Teaching and Learning in Proverbs 1–9 (New Studies in Biblical Theology; Leicester: Apollos, 1997). There is also an increasing appreciation of educational approaches such as that of classical Christian education, e.g., Dorothy Sayers’s classic essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” (1947), or the related approach of the British educationalist Charlotte Mason.
  5. [5] Three suggestive articles are Russell W. Dalton, “Perfect Prophets, Helpful Hippos, and Happy Endings: Noah and Jonah in Children’s Bible Storybooks in the United States,” RelEd 102 (2007): 298–313; Alan Jacobs, “A Bible Fit for Children,” First Things 73 (May 1997): 22–27, available at (cited 26 November 2010); and Francis Landy, “Noah’s Ark and Mrs Monkey,” BibInt 15 (2007): 351–76. Taken together these highlight many of the problems and pitfalls of story bibles, but they do not explore their complexity or offer tools for their analysis.
  6. [6] Unless we distinguish the terms, this essay uses ‘child’ and ‘reader’ synonymously, although in the case of younger children an adult will often be the reader, the child the hearer, and both viewers of the picture books.
  7. [7] Broadly, the bibles discussed are intended for English speaking children aged 0–12 and make some claim to be ‘bibles’ (as opposed to treatments of only one narrative, e.g., Noah), but they offer less than the full biblical text. See the appendix for a full list of the story bibles this article cites.
  8. [8] Several aimed at the youngest children, however, choose to omit it. E.g., Sally Lloyd-Jones, Tiny Bear’s Bible (illus. Igor Oleynikov; Carlisle: Candle, 2008); Maggie Barfield, The Little Bible Storybook (illus. Mark Carpenter and Anna Carpenter; Milton Keynes: Scripture Union, 2007); Sarah Toulmin, Baby Bible (illus. Kristina Stephenson; Oxford: Lion, 2006); Carolyn Nabors Baker and Cindy Helms, The Beginners Bible for Toddlers (illus. Danny Brooks Dalby; Dallas: Word, 1995).
  9. [9] Ruth B. Bottigheimer, “Children’s Bibles as a Form of Folk Narrative,” in Folk Narrative and Cultural Identity: 9th Congress of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research 1989 (ed. Vilmos Voigt; Budapest: Loránd Eötvös University, 1995), 187.
  10. [10] “An Alternative Eve in Johann Hübner’s Children’s Bible,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 16.2 (1991): 75.
  11. [11] Jacobs, “A Bible Fit for Children,” 26. Perhaps the most baffling omission in story bibles is the book of Proverbs since (1) much of it explicitly aims to instruct children, (2) it is easily memorized, and (3) it is an illustrator’s dream, full of vivid and often comic images. This omission is partly made up for by the excellent (but unillustrated) Peter Leithart, Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life (3d ed.; Moscow, ID: Canon, 2003).
  12. [12] This surely explains the most ubiquitous of stories—baby Moses, David and Goliath (where David’s youth is often exaggerated or at least emphasised), the calling of Samuel, Jesus at the Temple, the healing of Jairus’ daughter, and any story that allows copious illustrations of smiling anthropomorphised animals. Thus story bible writers and illustrators reverse the actor’s maxim about never working with children and animals!
  13. [13] Kenneth N. Taylor, My First Bible in Pictures (illus. John Dillow; 2004; repr., Carlisle: Candle, 2006), 10. Cf.Taylor’s earlier My First Bible in Pictures (illus. Richard Hook and Frances Hook; Wheaton: Tyndale, 1989; repr., Carlisle: Candle, 2001), n.p: “Adam and Eve are very sorry and sad. They did something God told them not to do. Now God is punishing them. They must go away from their nice home in the Garden of Eden.” (In order to distinguish these titles of the same name, we will always list the date when citing them.) In Christina Goodings, My Little Bible Board Book (illus. Melanie Mitchell; Chester: Marks and Spencer, 2007), n.p., there is God’s instruction regarding the tree but no mention of the snake or the temptation scene.
  14. [14] E.g., Baker and Helms (The Beginners Bible for Toddlers) begin the Noah story, “As the world got older, people became very bad. God found one good man” (22); further, “Abraham was a good man. He lived in a place called Haran. And he loved God very much” (28). While the introduction to Noah has a clear resonance with Gen 6:9 (“Noah was a righteous man”), Gen 12:1 introduces Abraham without any such commendation, which in part allows Paul to offer Abraham as a paradigm for the justification of the ungodly in Rom 4:1–25.
  15. [15] E.g., Paul J. Loth, My First Study Bible: Exploring God’s Word on My Own (Nashville: Nelson, 1994); V. Gilbert Beers, The Toddlers Bible (illus. Carol Boerke; Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1992); the works of Taylor cited above.
  16. [16] Those that take their text directly from Scripture include Tomie dePaolo’s Book of Bible Stories (illus. Tomie dePaolo; New York: Putnam; Zondervan, 1990); Doris Rikkers and Jean E. Syswerda, eds., Read with Me Bible: A Story Bible for Children (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993; repr., Carlisle: Candle, 1998). Both employ the NIV.
  17. [17] The Children’s Bible in Colour: The Old and New Testaments (1964; repr., London: Paul Hamlyn, 1965), 18.
  18. [18] Tomie dePaolo’s Book of Bible Stories, 15; Rikkers and Syswerda, Read with Me Bible, 14.
  19. [19] Fiona Tulloch, ed., The Children’s Bible: Illustrated Stories from the Old and New Testaments (2007; repr., London: Arcturus, 2008), 12.
  20. [20] Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, n.p.
  21. [21] David Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 37.
  22. [22] E.g., Jenny Robertson, In the Beginning (illus. Alan Parry; Ladybird Bible Books 1; Loughborough: Ladybird, 1978), n.p.: “God placed man in a beautiful garden . . . . he saw flowers so beautiful that he stretched out his hands to touch them. Sounds came to his ears: the glad songs of many birds, and the sound of running water.” Cf. Anne de Vries, Story Bible for Young Children (illus. Hermine F. Schäfer; trans. Baukje Gray and David Rudston; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 10.
  23. [23] Dalton, “Perfect Prophets, Helpful Hippos, and Happy Endings,” 299–300.
  24. [24] The text of story bibles have probably popularised the former, illustrations the latter.
  25. [25] E.g., Starr Meade, Mighty Acts and God: A Family Bible Story Book (illus. Tim O’Connor; Wheaton: Crossway, 2010); Tulloch, The Children’s Bible.
  26. [26] For example, “God commanded Adam and said/ You shall eat from all trees in the garden/ But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat etc. The serpent spoke to the woman/ On no account will you die/ rather God knows/when you eat thereof/so shall you immediately be like God etc.” (translated by Alex Richardson from the German cited in Bottigheimer, “Martin Luther’s Children’s Bible,” 155).
  27. [27] We could also mention the frequent addition that God created Eve because Adam was lonely. E.g., Tulloch, The Children’s Bible, 13; Juliet David, Candle Bible for Toddlers (illus. Helen Prole; 2006; repr., Carlisle: Candle, 2007), 19. One story bible even adds that God created humanity because he was lonely: “God needed someone he could love and be close to. So he made Adam and Eve to be his friends and take care of his earth” (Mary Batchelor, My First Bedtime Bible   [Milton Keynes: Authentic, 2006], 12).
  28. [28] The order in which God judges the serpent, Eve, and Adam highlights the way in which the created order has been inverted, but it also reflects the measured way in which God deals judgment.
  29. [29] James Harrison, My Very First Bible (illus. Diana Mayo; London: Dorling Kindersley, 2005), 13.
  30. [30] Bridget Hadaway and Jean Atcheson, The Bible for Children (London: Octopus, 1973; repr., London: Cathay, 1983), 13.
  31. [31] Tulloch, The Children’s Bible, 13.
  32. [32] deVries, Story Bible for Young Children, 13.
  33. [33] Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, 33.
  34. [34] As John H. Sailhamer argues, “the author of the Pentateuch has left the reader virtually alone with the events of the story. He does not reflect or comment on the events that transpired. We, the readers, are left to ourselves and our sense of the story for an answer to the questions it raises” (The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992], 102). For further chapter-length discussions of this technique, see Daniel Marguerat and Yvan Bourquin, How to Read Bible Stories (trans. John Bowden; Paris: Cerf, 1998; repr., London: SCM, 1999), 129–39; Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 186–229.
  35. [35] Betty Fletcher, My Very Own Bible (illus. Lou Police; Eugene: Harvest, 1991; repr., Carlisle: Candle, 1993), 14.
  36. [36] Iva Hoth, The Picture Bible (illus. Andre Le Blanc; 1978; repr., Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1998), 19.
  37. [37] Robertson, In the Beginning, n.p. In an interesting redactive process, when the Ladybird Bible Books were lightly revised and bound together in the Ladybird Bible Story Book, the language of longing is delayed until the serpent has spoken; only then does Eve “long to taste some” (Jenny Robertson, The Ladybird Bible Story Book [illus. Alan Parry; Loughborough: Ladybird, 1983], 11). The same process changes Eve’s hair colour from blonde to brunette!
  38. [38] Also the plural verb forms by which the snake addresses Eve imply Adam’s presence. See Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (2 vols.; NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 1:188. Adam’s culpability in God’s eyes is clear from how (1) Gen 3:9 explicitly calls “the man” (not Eve) to account and (2) Gen 3:24 explicitly expels “the man”(not Eve).
  39. [39] Anne Edwards, A Child’s Bible in Colour: The Old Testament (illus. Charles Front and David Christian; London: Wolfe, 1969; repr., London: Pan, 1973), 7. It is just possible that shame remains the motive here for Adam and Eve if they clothed themselves because they knew that ‘the cool of the day’ was when God habitually walked the garden, but a young audience is unlikely to conclude anything other than that they were cold, and Edwards makes no other reference to God’s habit or its timing.
  40. [40] Arthur W. Gross, A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories (illus. Rod Taenzer; Saint Louis: Concordia, 1948), 6.
  41. [41] Tulloch, The Children’s Bible, 13.
  42. [42] Heather Amery, The Usborne Children’s Bible (illus. Linda Edwards; London: Usborne, 2000), 8. Helm’s The Big Picture Story Bible rightly catches the import of the serpent’s question (“He told them to doubt God’s goodness” [38]), but (I am sure unintentionally!) it strengthens the serpent’s case by mentioning only God’s prohibition regarding the Tree of Knowledge and not his permission to eat from all the other trees. This makes God appear less generous than he is.
  43. [43] Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, 34.
  44. [44] “The Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story . . . . It’s a love story” (Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, 17).
  45. [45] E.g., Meade, Mighty Acts and God emphasises that we should trace a single covenant of grace from Genesis to Revelation. Helm’s The Big Picture Story Bible expresses and demonstrates a debt to Graeme Goldsworthy’s Bible-overview material, following the fortunes and failings of God’s people living in God’s place under God’s rule (13). Lloyd-Jones acknowledges the influence of Tim Keller’s christocentric hermeneutic from which she admits to have “liberally borrowed” (The Jesus Storybook Bible, 7); that Lloyd-Jones weaves this thread throughout the whole story bible is evident in the subtitle: Every Story Whispers His Name.
  46. [46] Hurlbut, Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible.
  47. [47] Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible, 38.
  48. [48] Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, 28.
  49. [49] Those that explicitly mention Jesus include Anne deVries, The Children’s Bible: Bible Stories Simply Told (Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 1996); Carine Mackenzie, The Christian Focus Story Bible (illus. Kevin Kimber; Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2004), 14; Catherine F. Vos, The Child’s Story Bible (6th ed.; 1940; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 9–10; Gross, A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories, 9–10. Vos and Gross give new subtitles or chapters to the promise of salvation, further emphasising it. The open endings of some biblical narratives are a particularly powerful form of narrative gap (e.g., giving the reader only as much information as the disciples in Mark 16 and leaving the reader to piece together what occurred or asking the reader hihow they would answer God’s question in Jonah 4). Genesis 3 is open-ended: it hints at hope, but that hope is as yet insubstantial; supplying more information this early relieves tension that the biblical text builds and then relieves only at the end. For a survey of how story bibles omit or reformulate the ending of Jonah, see Dalton, “Perfect Prophets, Helpful Hippos, and Happy Endings,” 306–8.
  50. [50] Romans is a case in point: 1:18–32 describes Gentile idolatry in ways that both echo Israel’s idolatry and suggest that all such sin recapitulates the fall, whereas 5:12–21 focuses on Adam’s transgression as a watershed moment, matched and overcome only by Christ’s obedience.
  51. [51] Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible, 208–9. The Big Picture Story Bible borrows its scheme from Graeme Goldsworthy, who arranges his Bible-overview materials under the headings people, place, and rule (see Graeme Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy:Gospel and Kingdom, Gospel and Wisdom, The Gospel in Revelation [2000; repr., Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003], 51–57). What we must ask, however, is whether Helm ever imposes that scheme on the biblical text. For example, Helm introduces the Goliath episode with the statement that the Philistines “ruled over God’s people” (158). Judges 14:4 says that the Philistines ruled over Israel in the time of Samson, but this language is absent from 1 Samuel; Helm presumably imports it to sustain the theme.
  52. [52] Harm W. Hollander, “A Children’s Bible or a Bible for Children,” BT 37 (1986): 425.
  53. [53] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 52–73 (cited in n. 3 above).
  54. [54] To my mind the distinction between ‘representation’ and ‘composition’ is somewhat murky; ‘style/media’ more naturally comes under the heading ‘composition’, but it matters little. As is often the case with such tools, it would be tedious to assess each story bible by working through each of these aspects mechanistically. The point of this article, however, is to demonstrate the sheer number of factors involved in evaluating artwork and to show the significance of these categories by applying them to Gen 3. A forthcoming review article will draw on these categories without necessarily taking them in turn.
  55. [55] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 56.
  56. [56] Juliet David, Candle Bible for Toddlers (illus. Helen Prole; 2006; repr., Carlisle: Candle, 2007), 18–19.
  57. [57] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 56.
  58. [58] Taylor, My First Bible in Pictures (2004), 10–11.
  59. [59] Other biblical narratives make much more use of geographical and temporal settings, and we might farily judge story bible illustrators at least in part by their ability to highlight these details (e.g., the recurring significance of wilderness landscapes in the life of Israel and of Christ). As Leland Ryken insists, setting is “much more complex, more interesting, and more important to the meaning of a story than is often realised” (Leland Ryken, Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987], 54; see 54–62 for the subsequent discussion).
  60. [60] Harrison, My Very First Bible (cf. Figure 1). There is also no subsequent illustration of the expulsion or the land beyond Eden but only of Adam and Eve looking chastened, still surrounded by sunflowers (13).
  61. [61] Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, 34–35.
  62. [62] David appears as a very young boy in My Little Board Book; in My Very First Bible, a child takes the place of Moses leading Israel through the Red Sea, and both the account and image of Solomon focus upon him in his youth. In the Candle Bible for Toddlers, not only are Noah, Abraham, and Moses all friendly grandfatherly figures; they are also hardly distinguishable from one another, all conforming to a benign image of old age.
  63. [63] Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, 32–33.
  64. [64] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 56.
  65. [65] Robertson, Ladybird Bible Story Book, n.p., which regrettably we are unable to reproduce here.
  66. [66] Rikkers and Syswerda, Read with Me Bible, 16.
  67. [67] Demonstrating the passage of time visually is difficult, as Labitsi notes (“How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 57): “the representation of time passing in a single frame is a paradox,” so story bibles rarely attempt it. ‘Continuous narrative’ is one option for artists, where they show a character in more than one place in any given frame, but the potential for confusing young children means that artists often avoid this. A rare example in treatments of the fall is Nicola Baxter, Stories From the Bible (illus. Roger Langton; Wigston, Leics.: Armadillo, 2004), 8–9.
  68. [68] Perry Nodelman, “How Picture Books Work” in Only Connect: Readings in Children’s Literature, (ed. S. Egoff, G. Stubbs, R. Ashley and W. Sutton; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 252, quoted in Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 58.
  69. [69] Story bibles do not illustrate God’s interview with Adam and Eve probably because illustrators are understandably reticent to depict God. So artists may rather incongruently welcome the fall, which cuts humanity off from direct discourse with God, because it spares them the challenge!
  70. [70] Perry Nodelman, Words about Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books (Athens: University of Georgia, 1988), 88. This does mean that the cartoon format is an inferior or childish style, for as Nodelman observes, “the extraordinary expressiveness of cartooning seems to make it a particularly appropriate means of communicating narrative information. To suggest that all picture-book art is a form of cartooning is no insult; it merely stresses the extent to which the purposes and pleasures of this art differ from those we assume of other kinds of visual art” (100).
  71. [71] Others distance their readers not so much by Near Middle-Eastern or historical detail as by artistic styles that reference another historical period altogether. In this vein is Hoth’s The Picture Bible: its comic-strip format reflects vintage comics, and its prelapsarian characters look like they are on the set of a 1950’s Tarzan film. After the fall, the characters appear much more Near Middle-Eastern in appearance and costume. It appears to attempt to make Adam and Eve appear pre-historical or a-historical, but they look like generic westerners.
  72. [72] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 62.
  73. [73] The only exception in our survey is Harrison, My Very First Bible, which shows Adam on the left, hand extended, and Eve on the right, holding and looking at the fruit. So strong is the positional convention that it is ambiguous as to whether Adam has just passed the fruit to Eve or whether he is about to receive it.
  74. [74] Ruth B. Bottigheimer (“Publishing, Print and Change in the Image of Eve and the Apple 1470–1570,” ARG 86 [1995]: 207–10) detects an alternative left-right scheme that she believes has incriminated Eve for centuries. Drawing upon iconography of final judgment since the third century A.D., which places the damned on the left and the saved on the right, Bottigheimer argues that this places Eve among the condemned and that this iconography is sufficiently well known for readers to grasp the point. However, Labitsi’s argument that visual narratives assume a movement from left to right in the same way the eye moves over text explains the composition of many more images than iconography can account for. As Nodelman comments, “we tend to read pictures from left to right, as we have learned to read print” (Words about Pictures, 135), and he cites the interesting example of a Hebrew children’s book whose text and images flow in the opposite direction (176).
  75. [75] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 62.
  76. [76] Note the use of colour to highlight the sword in Taylor, My First Bible in Pictures, against the background of muted greens and yellows (Figure 6). This and the 2004 story bible of the same name illustrates Taylor’s version of the fall with one image: angels expelling Adam and Eve. In A Childs Bible, simply a flaming sword accompanies the text.
  77. [77] Taylor, My First Bible in Pictures (1989), n.p.
  78. [78] We return to this point in §4, which considers how the viewer interacts with illustrations.
  79. [79] E.g., Taylor, My First Bible in Pictures (1989); Gross, Child’s Garden of Bible Stories; Vos, Child’s Story Bible.
  80. [80] That an illustration of Noah’s Ark could have such domesticated connotations demonstrates the truth of Landy’s observation that the story “is a pervasive cultural object, and one largely detached from its biblical moorings. It has entered a different canon, along with Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit, Franklin the Turtle, Mother Goose, Thomas the Tank Engine, Curious George” (“Noah’s Ark and Mrs Monkey,” 351–52).
  81. [81] Perhaps some might object precisely because illustrations make the connections only subtly. But why should story bibles not enable the same kind of delight that comes from piecing together the clues and allusions of Scripture? That a seven-year-old can return to a story bible and see connections missed two years earlier makes story bibles truer to Scripture rather than obscuring it, for the child is learning to how to read in a more mature fashion.
  82. [82] This pose is also used to forecast the future. One pre-Fall scene has Adam and Eve with arms raised in worship of God, but the shadows they cast are reaching for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible, 32); the Solomon narrative echoes this. The same effect is put to good use on a poster for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace where a young Anakin Skywalker’s shadow falls in the shape of Darth Vader (; accessed 11 July 2012).
  83. [83] Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible, 44–45, 189.
  84. [84] Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible, 28–29, 154–155.
  85. [85] Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible, 53, 209.
  86. [86] The physical resemblance of Adam and Jesus in The Big Picture Story Bible reinforces this Adam-Christology.
  87. [87] Jesus calls Herod a fox in Luke 13:32, viewing him, in Darrell L. Bock’s understated words, “with something less than respect” (Luke [2 vols.; BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994–1996), 2:1247. Whether this characterisation of Herod makes him out to be deceitful or destructive is disputed, but it is hardly complimentary. So also Ezek 13:4 and Song 2:15. See the discussion in Bock, Luke, 2:1247. Any familiarity with the fox in children’s literature confirms the same range of characterisation. There is, however, biblical precedent for this use of recurring motifs in relation to one individual that warrants imitation in children’s bibles. For example, in Genesis Jacob sleeps on stones (Gen 28:11), sets up commemorative stones (Gen 28:18–22; 31:45–54; 35:14), and moves stones (Gen 29:10). As Robert Alter highlights, “Jacob is a man who sleeps on stones, speaks in stones, wrestles with stones, contending with the hard and unyielding nature of things, whereas, in pointed contrast, his favoured son will make his way in the world as a dealer in the truths intimated through the filmy insubstantiality of dreams” (The Art of Biblical Narrative [London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981], 55). The same holds for Joseph, who is twice deprived of clothing (Gen 37:23; 39:12–13) before clothing his brothers (Gen 45:22), much as Christ is stripped that we might be clothed with his righteousness—all images that cry out for illustration. What The Big Picture Story Bible lacks, however, is this correlation between motif and character or narrative, for the choices seem somewhat arbitrary.
  88. [88] Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible, 22–23, 384.
  89. [89] Bottigheimer, “Children’s Bibles as a Form of Folk Narrative,” 187.
  90. [90] In reference to my outline of Labitsi’s model at the beginning of §2, §3 is concerned with ‘Written and Visual Narrative Interaction.’ Labitsi (“How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 63) credits the taxonomy to Maria Nicolajeva and Carole Scott, which they develop in How Picturebooks Work (New York: Garland, 2001).
  91. [91] Hoth, The Picture Bible, 20. This goes quite against the biblical text, for as Nahum M. Sarna notes, “The woman is not a temptress. She does not say a word but simply hands her husband the fruit, which he accepts and eats” (Genesis [JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989], 25).
  92. [92] Tulloch, The Children’s Bible, 12–13.
  93. [93] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 63.
  94. [94] See Figures 2 and 3.
  95. [95] Goodings, My Little Bible Board Book, n.p.
  96. [96] Nodelman (Words about Pictures, 194–96) applies this revealing test to secular story books. A second example of contradiction comes from Lloyd-Jones,Jesus Storybook Bible, 168–69: it pictures Jonah emerging from the mouth of the fish in the pose of a superhero in flight. It is an amusing image, but it contradicts both the story bible’s treatment of Jonah to that point and the Bible’s characterisation of the unwilling prophet.
  97. [97] Frequently, a preface establishes this relationship by addressing either the child or the adult reader. For example, the first words of some story bibles directly address children: “If you will listen carefully, I am going to tell you a wonderful story” (deVries, Story Bible for Young Children, 6); “Dear Children, Here is a book telling stories from God’s holy book, the Bible. . . . I hope this book will help you know and love Jesus even more than you do now” (Taylor, My First Bible in Pictures [2004], 5). Those that address parents include Taylor, My First Bible in Pictures (1989) and Meade, Mighty Acts and God, 14.
  98. [98] There are, of course, a few story bibles that treat the biblical narratives as of literary interest only, assigning them a place in a separate canon alongside Aesop’s fables and Greek mythology, but the majority of publications have a devotional aspect.
  99. [99] There are biblical exceptions of course. Luke 1:1–4 addresses the first reader and by implication subsequent readers. So too John 20:30–1. Authors can interact with their readers without breaking from the narrative mode. deVries’ version of the feeding of the 5,000 concludes with Jesus’s instruction to gather up the leftovers because “You must never waste food” (Story Bible for Young Children, 181). Thus deVries rather boldly puts words in Jesus’ mouth rather than addressing the child herself.
  100. [100] E.g., “You see, sin had come into God’s perfect world” (Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, 34). For discussion of the significance of ‘explicit’ and ‘implicit’ narration, see Marguerat and Bourquin, How to Read Bible Stories, 102–6.
  101. [101] Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible, 41.
  102. [102] Mary Bradford, The Bible Opened For Children (London: Cassell, Petter and Galpin, 1866), 3.
  103. [103] This appeal to the child’s sense of virtue arguably reveals deeply held convictions about the nature of a child. Bottigheimer’s history of story bibles, The Bible for Children: From the Age of Gutenberg to the Present (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), reveals a radical process of editing that purged all the more violent and sexual episodes from story bibles. She attributes this to a misogynistic desire to erase powerful biblical heroines such as Jael and to whitewash the patriarchs whose drunkenness and license were an embarrassment. See especially ch. 9, “Philogyny, Misogyny and Erasure” (142–51). She argues elsewhere, however, and more persuasively, that these changes reflect an altered view of the child under the influence of John Locke (Ruth B. Bottigheimer, “The Bible for Children: The Emergence and Development of the Genre 1550–1990,” in The Church and Childhood[ed. Diana Wood; SCH 31; Oxford: Blackwell, 1994]). This is also the view of Alan Jacobs in “A Bible Fit for Children.”In Locke’s view the child entered the world not with a mind full of innate ideas but as “unfurnished cabinets.” As such, exposing children to only what is virtuous preserves their innocence. Locke himself applied his theory to the writing of story bibles for children, calling for “A good History of the Bible for young people to read, wherein everything, that is fit to be put into it, being laid down in its due Order of Time, and several things omitted which were suited only to riper Age [so that] Confusion, which is usually produced by promiscuous reading of the Scripture, as it lies now bound up in our Bibles, would be avoided” (quoted in Bottigheimer, “The Bible for Children, 49. The degree to which other theorists of child development (e.g., Piaget) influence story bibles could be significant and is yet to be examined, but it is beyond the scope of this project.
  104. [104] Vos, The Child’s Story Bible, 9.
  105. [105] Bottigheimer, The Bible for Children, 4.
  106. [106] See Figure 2.Taylor’s three published story bibles are: My First Bible in Pictures (2004), My First Bible in Pictures (1989), both cited above, and The Bible In Pictures For Little Eyes (1956; repr., Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1980).
  107. [107] Meade, Mighty Acts and God, 15.
  108. [108] Ibid., 22. The latter question reveals a distinctive feature of this story bible: it addresses parents as well as children. It is, as its subtitle claims, a family story bible.
  109. [109] The artist’s intentions usually are less explicit than the author’s since generally authors (not artists )write a preface.
  110. [110] D. Lewis, Reading Contemporary Picturebooks (London: Routledge, 2001), 162, quoted in Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 60.
  111. [111] Fletcher, My Very Own Bible, 15; see also Tulloch, The Children’s Bible, 12–13.
  112. [112] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 60.
  113. [113] In a related way, it is interesting to reflect on the perspective story bibles show for Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. Do viewers stand with God in Eden and watch them go, or do they join Adam and Eve east of Eden and look back to the way that angels are now barring?
  114. [114] Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible, 42–45.
  115. [115] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 60. The Big Picture Story Bible further emphasises the viewer’s participation in the fall with this device. See Figure 13.
  116. [116] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 61.
  117. [117] David, Candle Bible for Toddlers, 18–19.
  118. [118] Labitsi, “How Illustrations Tell Stories,” 61.
  119. [119] Martin Luther, Devotional Writings (ed. Gustav K. Wiencke; vol. 43 of Luther’s Works; ed. Helmut T. Lehmann; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 43. The Passionalbüchlein (“Book of the Passion”) includes eleven stories from the OT and thirty-eight from the NT; it was added to the 1529 edition of the Personal Prayer Book. The first edition had fifty full-page woodcuts (illustrations), and later editions adopted woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer.
  120. [120] Luther, Devotional Writings, 43.
  121. [121] The sample was taken in 2010, so it does not cite a number of more recent story bibles. The forthcoming review article will offer an up-to-date survey before evaluating several from recent years in depth.

David A. Shaw

David Shaw is a PhD candidate in New Testament studies at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

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