Looking for a Catholic children's Bible that is more than a storybook? This might be just the thing.
I fondly recall my beautiful 1970s-era Golden Children’s Bible. As a child I was drawn to the gorgeous, life-like pictures and I devoured the stories. I can still vividly picture the giant hand, writing on the wall of a banquet room, and the terrified onlookers from the Book of Daniel. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize with disappointment that my Bible was incomplete. I graduated to more traditional Bibles: the little red Gideon’s and the Good News version of the Gospel of Matthew that were given out in school. I remember that I eagerly dove into both of these but as a youngster I found the font too small and the text difficult to read, so they remained permanently tucked into my bookshelf.
Fast forward a couple of decades: after a wedding, the birth of my first three children, I found myself experiencing a massive faith-awakening conversion in 2009. Although I didn’t come home to the Catholic Church until 2013, here I was, newly on fire for Christ and I longed to educate my children and introduce them to Scripture.
I began a quest to find a great children’s Bible.
My first purchases for the kids were Protestant and — theological issues and missing books aside – they just weren’t what I was looking for. The children’s versions I was finding were either collections of separate Bible stories, texts for beginning readers that changed and omitted too much in their simplification; or sweeping storybook Bibles (like the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones) that paint an overarching picture of the salvation story and a loving God, but were heavily paraphrased, not Scripture itself.
Besides, I wanted a Catholic Bible for my Catholic children.
My goal was to share at least part of the day’s Mass readings with my kids in language that is easy to read and understand. The Catholic Children’s Bible published by St. Mary’s Press is an excellent choice for doing just that. It combines the complete text of the Good News Translation Catholic Edition with 125 two-page spreads that provide deeper examinations of key passages. Each brightly illustrated spread is organized into four sections: a summary of the passage itself, “Understand it!” (an explanation of the passage), “Live it!” (implications of the passage), and “Tell it!” (a wordless comic strip that serves as a prompt to retell the story).
This Bible has several useful appendices: timelines, maps, and more. These added tools are an excellent complement to the Scripture, and the work done in these supplements by authors Sr. Mary Kathleen Glavich and Brian Singer-Towns is impressive.
My kids and I find this Bible very easy to read. The Good News Translation is a dynamic equivalence translation, meaning it is a translation from the Greek and Hebrew, not a paraphrase of an English translation, but has a focus on preserving the meaning of the original text rather than on maintaining the grammar and word order of the original. The readability extends beyond the text itself to the layout. The Scripture itself is printed in a large, cheery font without illustrations or distracting text boxes. There is only a small, discreet leaf at the beginning and end of a paragraph to indicate when an extended examination of the passage will follow. As a teacher, catechist, and parent, I’d estimate that an average 4th or 5th grade student could read it without difficulty. For younger or struggling readers the text is not intimidating and yet it’s sufficient for older youth.
My one concern with this Bible pertains to the translation itself: compared to the translations used in the North American Lectionaries, it just feels like quite a bit of liberty has been taken in the Good News Translation in order to make it readable.
Consider Romans 8:29. In the New American Bible Revised Edition, this verse reads: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” This passage beautifully touches on the theme of the adoptive nature of our relationship with God, our sonship by Baptism. But when I read it aloud from the Good News Translation, I was disappointed to see that this aspect is lost: “Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers.”
We can’t have everything. If your goal is to familiarize young kids with the stories of the Bible, I encourage you to pick up The Catholic Children’s Bible. Containing the complete Scriptures, and with top-notch supplements as teaching tools, it is the best Catholic Bible I’ve seen for children.
But if you want to get into a deeper, exegetical reflection of the passage with your kids, or just for yourself, I would recommend keeping an NABRE translation handy, too.