Reading the Bible and Religious Books with Your Children

This post is part of a nine post series about teaching the faith to your children.  Today’s post is about the Bible and religious books.

“Reading is the magic key that takes you where you want to be.”  This is a quote from one of my favorite book series growing up, Alice in Bibleland.  In it, a young girl is transported back to Bible times to learn some of our favorite Bible stories first hand.

One of the best ways to get started teaching your children the faith is to read the Bible and other religious books to them.  Making faith-based books a central part of your library will help your child grow up learning about God’s love, Bible stories, and how to treat others.  Here is what you need to know to get started building a faith-based library.

The Bible

It seems there are about 16.8 million versions of Children’s Bibles out there.  Not only are board books available for your baby, but there are picture Bibles galore for older children, too.  How do you decide which Bible to get?  Here are some things to consider:

  • How do you like the pictures?  We have a book on Jesus where he frankly looks like a hippie, so it’s not my favorite.  There’s an obvious trend toward cartoon figures when making baby books.  But you can still look for pictures that you find attractive as well.
  • What stories are included?  Take a moment to plan out in advance which Bible stories you want your child to learn first.  Also think about what stories your child will be exposed to through play groups or in the nursery – Noah’s Ark is a favorite first story, so it might seem weird if a Bible doesn’t include it.
  • What should the New Testament look like?  Do you want a lot of stories about Jesus’ miracles?  What about the Crucifixion – can your children handle it?
  • How long do you want the book to be?  Are you going to read the entire Bible at story time, or are you going to read one story a night?  If you are only reading one story at a time, you probably want your Bible long enough that the stories are printed on two or more pages.

For young children and toddlers, I recommend the Zondervan’s Beginner’s Bible and for older children and preschoolers I recommend the Read With Me Bible.

I would include shorter books that are individually devoted to one Bible story as reading “the Bible,” especially for younger children.  (For instance, the Alice in Bibleland series mentioned above).  If you collect several books within a series, you more or less have what a child’s first Bible would look like.

The Picture Bible

I cannot say enough wonderful things about the Picture Bible.  My sister and I got this Bible as children, and we read it through a dozen times each.  To this day, we have some of the best Bible knowledge among anybody we know – including adults who have attended Bible colleges.  The book is set up to read like a comic book, and the pictures are very engaging.  What’s more important – the Picture Bible doesn’t cut out stories, except in cases where they would be too graphic for a child.  In other words, reading the Picture Bible is almost like reading the real Bible, content-wise.

Because it is based in pictures and stories, it does leave out a lot of the most important content of the actual Bible: the prophecies, the Psalms, the epistles.  However, it does its best to summarize these books.  Your child may express interest in understanding the rest of the Bible after reading through the stories in the Picture Bible.

I used to think the Picture Bible was pretty expensive, but it only runs about $17 at Amazon.com, which is very comparable to most kids’ Bibles!

Similar Bibles have come out, all following the same general concept of putting the Bible into a graphic novel format.  The Action Bible is also very popular for its modernized drawings.  However, it is larger in size and less portable.  I still prefer the Picture Bible for children 8 and older.

Other Religious Books

The number of religious books your child can be exposed is literally without limits.  There are books related to major holidays, books about saints, books about church and the mass.  Then there are general lifestyle books: books on prayer, on sharing, and thankfulness.  You can have access to these books as board books for babies, all the way up to chapter books for young adults.  In fact, the older your child gets, the more religious themed books you should send his way.

Holidays

It’s very easy these days to get caught up in the secular celebration of the holidays.  There’s nothing wrong with the fun traditions we have at Easter and Christmas.  However, as Christian parents, we want to teach our children the true meaning of the season.  One way to do that is to make sure that the books we keep on hand describe the religious significance behind the Holiday.

I have a great piece of advice for finding religious books – look for half price books after holidays, especially at stores like Walmart that still espouse some family values.  By doing this, I have been able to stock our bookshelves with books about Christmas and Easter that celebrate the true meanings of the holidays.

Going to Church

Our church stocks St. Joseph Picture books in the lobby that we can pick up for our children to look at during mass.  These books range from how to celebrate the mass to famous saints and cover all aspects of the liturgy.  Even at a year old, Bugaboo loves to look at the pictures.  We also have a board book at home that shows how mass is celebrated.  This is a nice book to read to Bugaboo on a Saturday night so she learns what to look for and expect at church.  You can also read this on Sunday night and review what you did during the day.

Random thought – all these books tend to show the priest wearing red!  There’s only two Sunday masses per year where the priest wears red – Palm Sunday and Pentecost Sunday.  And yet every single book shows the vestments as red.  I asked an unofficial child expert, and she said they used red as a bright color to attract the children’s attention.

Prayers

There are a lot of good books out there that help children say their prayers.  Sometimes they list various prayers – one per page.  These are more common in Catholic children’s books.  Others may walk through a favorite prayer with pictures added to help your child understand what is going on.  My favorite is a nondenominational book of thanksgiving called Thank You God.  On each page it shows something that we should be thankful for – including the “cross on the hill and the Bethlehem star.”  (In other words – including the gift of God’s Incarnation and sacrifice for humankind).

Treating Others With Respect

One of the best ways we can use books to help teach our children the faith is by showing them how to live out the faith by being kind, sharing, compassionate, loving, caring, etc.  Not all books that teach these skills are Christian or mention faith, and that’s ok.  When reading books on interpersonal skills we can still explain to our children why we have to be nice to each other.  This is a good opportunity to talk about God’s love

The Lives of Saints

For Catholic parents, a great way to introduce the faith to your children is through books on the lives of saints.  Most of these books come as picture books that feature one saint per page with a child-appropriate story of the saint’s life, such as the St. Joseph Picture books on saints.  Look for books that have your child’s saint featured.  Otherwise, look for saints names from your own family and saints whose lives you really appreciate.  Consider what struggles your family may be going through.  Is there a special saint for this time in your life?

Incorporating Religious Books Into Your Child’s Life

The easiest way to incorporate religious books into your child’s life is at bedtime.  Make a point of reading a few books before bed each night.  Perhaps one “fun” book, one book on how to live a good life, and then say a prayer or use a book to read through a prayer.  You can also set aside reading times during the day to look at religious books.  If your children are older, and especially if they are homeschooled, make reading religious books a “lesson” that they go through at a minimum once a week.  Set aside certain days or periods where only religious books are to be read – for instance Fridays or Lent.

How to Raise a Bible Geek

As Catholics, our children don’t read during church.  Many Protestant denominations have Sunday School or nursery to occupy children during church.  But when I was growing up (Protestant), we went to a small church with a really boring service.  And we didn’t just go on Sundays – we went on Wednesday night for a prayer service.  My parents had a rule – we could only read religious books or the Bible during these services.  That’s the back story to why I read the Picture Bible a dozen times growing up.  I would read it two hours a week!  I’m not ashamed, and I don’t regret not paying attention at church because I got more from reading that Picture Bible than I would have gotten out of any of the best sermons.

So that’s my ultimate advice to you.  Find a way to read religious books two hours each week!  If at least one of those hours is spent reading the Bible, all the better!

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