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« A Very Last Minute Gift Idea: Make Your Own Hearts & Minds Gift Card | Main | BEST BOOKS OF 2009 PART ONE »

The 12th Day of Christmas gifts: Some great Children's Books and Bibles (Be sure to go to the end for two great adult books about kids' books---and a 50% off savings on a wonderful children's Bible.)

Very early on in our parenthood we came up with the idea to explain gift-giving at Christmastime (we didn't pretend to believe in Santa) by teaching how the wise men gave gifts to Jesus, which, naturally, led us to the liturgical calendar's celebration of Epiphany. Ha---what a deal! We got to shop for our kids after the grandparents and aunts and uncles gave our little ones gifts, during after-Christmas sales, and had 12 whole days to figure out how to put together our own family gift-giving ritual. And, more than 25 years later, we do much of our family gift exchanging on the 12th day of Christmas.

We think it is a fine tradition, moving from the slow and sad season of Advent into Epiphany, and we invite you to think about how you can celebrate the whole season of Christmastide. It not just to buys you some breathing room in the stress-inducing week, or allows you to listen to the great theology of Christmas carols a bit longer, but to help young ones understand the importance and flow of the season. It isn't just over after a big blowout day on the 25th!

So, here are some suggestions for children's books. I hope it doesn't sound pushy to suggest you order something now and find a child who needs a gift on Epiphany. (Most Protestant kids don't even know what that is, so you can introduce them to this celebration of Light in a creative way.) We have tons of other great children's books (and, of course, books for older readers, middle schoolers, or teenagers) so call if you'd like some recommendations for other ages.

Here is a great choice for just this occasion:

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Come Worship With Me: A Journey through the Church Year Ruth Boling, illustrated by Tracey Dahle Carrier (Geneva Press) $19.95 We love to promote this lush book of church mice learning bout the major holidays of the liturgical calendar. It has a bit of whimsy, lots of great, rich color, and tons educational aspects as traditional Christian symbols are explored. Great for pre-schoolers up to inquisitive early elementary children. The same author/artist team have done a companion volume, with the same church mice, by the way, which is a brightly rendered study (by way of story) of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany called Mouse Tales: Things Hoped For (Westminster/John Knox; $16.95) which is also a real treat

How about children's picture Bibles?

There are so many, and most are fun and lively and cartoony; I appreciate whimsy and of course understand that the vocabulary and language need to be age appropriate and understandable. Yet, too many dumb it down, or market the stories as if they are mere stories; disconnected and silly. That it is a serious matter to break open God's Word and that it is to be read coherently seems almost to escape some well-intended creators of children's Bibles.

Yet there are plenty of really good ones out there, and the variety of illustration and tone is a delight. We have oodles of different ones and many have something unique to commend them. It is fun to look at them all and recall reading them out loud. Actually, I think the paraphrase story approach can be helpful for adults, too, so we think families should have several, if they can afford them, and read them together.

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Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name Sally Lloyd-Jones/illustrated by Jago (Zondervan) $16.99 This is our hand-down favorite for ages 4-8. That she sees the coming of Christ as the center of the unfolding drama is so helpful; it removes the stories from being mere morality tales or sentiment, and moves towards this sturdy sense that Jesus is the key to God's redemptive work among His people and in His world. Kudos to Sally and to Zondervan for doing it! (By the way, we have the new deluxe edition of it which comes slip-cased with an audio CD, a male British voice doing the reading of many of the stories, which is pretty cool for $24.99.) She has other books, too, including some specific Bible stories, and some more general-market books. She's outstanding!

Tomie dePaola's Book of Bible Stories Tomie dePaola (Puffin) $10.95 This large sized

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paperback includes many Bible stories straight from the NIV, without paraphrase or comment. The artwork is classic dePaulo, with his quasi-medieval, signature style. Mr. DePaola, a devout Catholic and one of the great children's illustrators of the late 20th century, has given us a book to be treasured and enjoyed. There are bright colors on every page, with illuminations and symbols and small drawings even on the pages that are mostly text. There are over 30 stories told (and a Bible index in the back, which is helpful especially for Sunday school teachers.) Other pages are nothing but pictures. Very nice and a special gift for anyone that loves his other good work like Strega Nona or St. Francis, or Nana Upstairs.

The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm, illustrated by Gail Schoonmaker (Crossway) $22.99 Its organizing philosophy--the historical redemptive approach which emphasizes the unfolding drama of the whole of Scripture---is somewhat like The Jesus Storybook Bible. The book is large-sized, thick and heavy, but has fewer words on the page, and a more classic sort of pastel art. It is ideal for very young children, younger kindergartners, and pre-schoolers. A great way to show the big picture.

365 Bible Stories for Young Hearts Lion Hudson (Crossway) $17.99 They say this is for ages 5 and up and, again, has that sort of coherent feel.... I like the colorful, but standard, artwork on almost every page. The size is nearly 9 x 9 and the explication of each passage is more than adequate. It has a ribbon marker, too.

Children's Bible in 365 Stories Mary Batchelor, illustrated by John Haysom (Lion Press) $16.99 I am not exactly sure why, but this is the one we most often sell, the one we have recommended the most over the years; we trust the tone and reading and vocabulary and realistic, traditional art. Perhaps not the most artful or provocative, but it gets the job done with age appropriate language and solid explanations of the Bible story. This Bible storybook contains many of the "bridging" stories that connect the better-known stories (especially in the O.T.) making it very useful for more thorough Bible knowledge. Can be read aloud to younger ones, but is best suited for middle to older elementary readers or hearers. It is indexed, too; notes the book and chapter reference for each story.

The Lion Day-by-Day Bible Mary Joslin, illustrated by Amanda Hall (Lion Press) $19.95 A

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younger version of the Mary Batchelor collection but with a tremendously rich aesthetic look. The text is simpler than Batchelor's, but is not at all babyish. (And each day's reading includes a prayer handsomely designed into the margin.) Clear sentences, but some stretching vocabulary make it suitable for older 4's to about age 10 or so. Reads aloud well. Each double page spread has appealing and colorful visuals, though not always a "scene" from the story. There are 365 stories, one to a page, with each one accompanied by book and chapter reference and a sentence prayer. A "Story Finder" index helps to locate specific stories by topic, theme or event in the liturgical year. This is really very, very artful and wonderfully attractive.

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The Bible for Children Murray Watts, illustrated by Helen Cann (Good Books) $23.99 Beautifully illustrated in an evocative, dynamic style with an art piece for almost every story. The appealing page layouts are enhanced with illustrated borders on the two outside edges making it one of the nicest children's Bibles's in our collection. It is hard to pick just one, but this may be our true favorite; wish we could show you samples of the page spreads. The language is descriptive and artful, yet very clear. (We appreciate the attention to the age appropriateness of it all, too, with some sensitivities shown about the violence and such, unlike many kid's Bible story books.) The stories do flow one to the next, and often assume that the readers/listeners remember the events or characters of the preceding story. Contains an index of people and places in the back. Great!  A joy to behold. SEE BELOW FOR A FANTASTIC 50% OFF SPECIAL OFFER.

NIrV Discoverer's Bible for Young Readers (Zondervan) $22.95  The NIrV is the "reader's edition" which means it is not a new or different translation (like, say, the TNIV) but just a young-readers version, adapted from the NIV by a group of language specialists who were very aware of vocabulary and syntax and such. They did change the NIV text a bit, but not so much that it isn't considered a real NIV Bible. It brings it down nearer a 3rd grade reading level instead of the typical 8th or 9th grade level of the standard NIV of the revised TNIV. This particular edition (although there are others) has a nice, fairly large 12-point type, making it good for early readers (or for reading aloud.) There are about 30 pictures scattered throughout, but it is not a picture Bible, just a nice edition of the real Bible for younger children. This Young Discoverer's edition, with some pictures, nice type face is also available in the NIV.

NIV Adventure Study Bible (Zondervan) This is a real "study Bible" for elementary

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aged-kids that comes in either the younger NIrV or the standard NIV, which has maps and jungle-themed (VBS-looking) art throughout, with side bars and "did you know" factoids and all kinds of clever and creative aids for middle elementary students... What a fun, fun way to help students learn to study, read-up on extra background stuff, and learn to think about ways to apply the insights of the passages to daily living.  They've got a variety of covers, some devotional books, too, even audio stuff in their "adventure" line.  Go here for the full listing.

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In The Beginning Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by James Kandt (TommyNelson) $17.99 There are just oodles of creation stories, and some are stunning, but a bit mature; others are stunning but a bit weird. This is fabulously done, great, colorful, creative and big, big art, with very lovely text. This author is a favorite of ours, and this simple telling of the days of creation is fun and thoughtful, in a very simple manner. It has a full page spread at the end of Colossians 1:16. Bright silver end papers (with some rich blue stars) make this really nice.

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Creation  Gennady Spirin (Zondervan) $14.99  This is one of the most visually stunning and truly interesting picture books of the creation narrative of which we know. This "Master Illustrator" series is extraordinary, and the artwork in this one evokes a sense of the spectacular art of the high Middle Ages. The renowned Russian illustrator is known especially for his work in fairy tales, mixing contemporary Russian styles with those of the Renaissance.


Creative ways to teach values, character, creative and hope


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Big Thoughts for Little People: ABCs to Help You Grow Ken Taylor (Tyndale) $14.99 This is a classic Christian alphabet book, now re-designed with a whole new fabulous look which is playful and nice. The pastel art of the children is more multi-cultural and kind of upbeat, a little silly, and yet very, very sweet. It is an ABC book and some might think the faith lessons are a little moralistic, but it is for really young children, so we think it is great. There are discussion questions after a small lesson, and one Bible verse per two-page spread. It is made for interactive use, of course, and there is lots to look at, pictures jam-packed with motion and stuff and lots of color. The artist now lives in Croatia!

I Am A Promise: I Can Be Anything God Wants Me To Be Gloria Gaither, illustrated by Kristiana Stephenson (Zonderkidz) $14.99 Here it is, the re-issued, newly designed kids book that goes with the famous kids song. Yep, this is about vocation and calling, very few words on the page, but a lovely rhyme and tons of colorfully drawn kids doing various careers and jobs. It is rooted in God's call, His promise, and His love for each of us. This is fantastic, and the art is colorful and fun, although fairly standard fare (which isn't bad, just nothing unusual.) Shows kids learning and reading and loving the world....the art draws forth the "career" aspect very nicely, while the simple words remind us that we are God's promise, living under His purpose. Includes a CD of the song. Love it.

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Fool Moon Rising Kristi Fluharty, illustrated by T. Fluharty (Crossway) $14.99 This new book is nearly genius, I'd say, although the metaphor may be a tiny bit mature for a three-year-old. (They say 3-7 on the back, though.) The fabulous art has the look of a recent Disney or Pixar movie, maybe...a close up of a large planted and a cartoony kid. Great looking picture book! The story is basically about a "crime of cosmic proportions" where the moon is stealing the sun's glory! This rhyming tale teaches children about the importance of humility and the dangers of pride (I guess) but more, to honor GOD in all things. That is, we get our glory from His greater glory. I have told customers this is John Piper for pre-schoolers. It really is about the greatness of God which transforms us from prideful to proper humility. Wow, what fun!

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The Tallest of Smalls Max Lucado, illustrated by Maria Monescillo (TommyNelson) $16.99 Lucado has a way with words, and his children's parables--many about self-esteem, God's acceptance, of trusting the love of our creator, have been real winners. This one seems to be drawn from his most recent adult work, Fearless, and is just a wonderful, wonderful story about being chosen, despite not fitting in. Learning about God's unconditional love is what matters most and this parable---done with pretty edgy, modern illustration, is one of his best. The illustrator is from Madrid, Spain. Great!

We Shall Overcome: A Song That Changed the World Stuart Stotts, illustrated by

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Terrance Cummings (Clarion Books) $18.00 I hope you know the history of this song, the courage of the students at the Highlander School who sang a new version of it in 1959 when the police had cut off their electricity during one of their raids. I get choked up every time I hear of it, or in those rare times I've heard Pete Seeger tell of it before a protest crowd. This book traces how a variety of songs gave courage and strength to anti-slavery movements, the underground railroad, the civil rights efforts, and, later, how women's and worker's rights movements used the song. It has bright art, lots of archival b/w photography, and tons of inspiring stories. And, yep, there is a CD of none other than Pete Seeger doing the song. Stuart Stotts is the son of a Presbyterian seminary professor who himself was very active in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and learned much of this first hand through his father's courageous and faithful work. The illustrator is a graduate of Parson's School of Design.

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Praying With Our Feet Lisa Weaver, illustrated by Ingrid Hess (Herald Press) $12.99 Thank goodness that the Mennonite Publishing House continues to bring overtly Christian books about peace and justice to our families and children. Here is how they describe this fun story: "A big group of friends get together to go on a special walk. They want to remind their neighbors that war doesn't bring peace to our world. They know that Jesus wants us to love everyone. Jesus even wants us to love our enemies...The walkers wear shoes of all sizes, colors, and shapes. They're praying with their feet, walking with the God of peace." Given the current administration's commitments to war-fighting, it may be helpful to get our children aware of what peace marches are, and why some Christians join them. Sadly, this book will be only more valuable in the months to come. Happily, there are delightfully upbeat pictures, lots of text, making this a great book to teach about these themes. Nice!

The Flower John Light, illustrated by Lisa Evans (Child's Play) $16.99 This is an enigmatic

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story about a boy in a drab, gray city, who finds a book in the library that says "Do Not Read." Of course, when he sneaks it home and opens it, he sees pictures of something called flowers. He can't imagine such things in his dark futuristic city of concrete. He finally finds some seeds and continues his optimistic struggle to grow plants. A deceptively simple and haunting story, mysteriously illustrated. Books really can work magic, can't they?

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The House Roberto Innocenti, illustrated by J. Patrick Lewis (Creative Editions) $19.95 If this mature and stunningly illustrated picture book--there is no text on most pages, except a few poetic lines over dates (from the point of view of the house itself)--doesn't get nominated for a Caldecott Award, I will be surprised and disappointed. With intricate detail (think Brugel the Elder, but not as scary or weird) this traces the history of a stone house and its plot of land, starting on a rural hill in 1900, as the house is built, becomes a home, is expanded with

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outbuildings and stonewall fences, is abandoned, left in disrepair in the woods, is re-purchased, fixed up, ands the environment changes, into a...well, you'll have to see the last fun frame for yourself. I can't help but think of the powerfully moving song "If These Walls Could Speak" (popularized by Amy Grant.) Do places matter? Can walls speak? Are there stories here? What a thoughtful and suggestive book this would make.


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14 Cows for America Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (Peachtree) $17.95 This may be one of the most stunning picture books in years---both the breath-taking art and the sheer power of the story that is both sentimental and weighty. After the horrible bombings of 9-11, word got back to some Maasai tribesman in rural Kenya about this tragedy in the United State. They could hardly imagine (literally) and wanted to help. In their culture, a cow is a sign of life, literally and mythically, and an elder tribesman was dispatched to find the American ambassador. The tribe wanted to give the United States people a cow. A few more were donated by other poor Maasai warriors---these are their most prized possessions, offered as profound act of friendship to a grieving people. When the story became known, Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah (a younger man in the tribe) was promoted by Oprah, obtaining a science degree from Stanford, and was awarded a Rotary Club Peace Fellowship; he is soon to take up a degree in international peace studies. This art and text in this book is wonderful and we highly, highly recommend it.

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The Sudan Project: Rebuilding With the People of Darfur: A Young Person's Guide Melissa Leembruggen (Abingdon) $10.00 This book is colorful and bright with tons of full-color pictures of Africa and close-ups of African folks. It is arranged as an alphabet book, but (like many of our favorite alphabet books, it has content that will attract children up to middle elementary age or older.) Although the book does not back away from the horror of war and injustice and poverty, its theme is of hope, and about ordinary people around the world, who have reached out to provide help. The profits of the book go to the Sudan Project at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church and UMCOR. Excellent.


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A Year in Art: The Activity Book (Prestel) 24.95 This is a truly spectacular book published by one of the world's leading art presses, a book that could sell for nearly twice the price! It allows children to explore and respond to the world's great masterpieces every day of the year through games, puzzles, coloring and other activities. From African masks to European paintings to modern American art, this beautifully produced hardback activity book will inspire children and adults alike. By the way, the sweet (fuzzy) cat on the front? It's an Andy Warhol.

Long out of print and now--hip, hip, hooray!---are now again available:


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Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration David & Karen Mains (Lamplighter Publishing) $25.00 each These books are each a collection of shorter pieces in the classic fantasy style--ancient promises are recalled as the faithful work against the Enchanter and his power over the once beautiful city. As you might guess, the Mains have a full-orbed Kingdom vision, helping children or teens see the overall theme of creation-fall-redemption, with the redeemers graceful rescue plan setting off massive implications for one and all. These are some of the most beloved books among parents we have served over the years who now can't wait for grandchildren to someday read them to. It is interesting, too, how these have caught the appeal of college-age students, who like the allegory, the lovely illustrations, and the way the theological vision of God's redemptive work in His Kingdom can be seen in these fantastical tales.

(Note: for a few years in the late 90s these were available as cheap paperbacks with truly awful artwork that made the stories look terribly cheap. These re-issues are of the original '80s hardcovers, with the original art.)

And two just for the adults:

1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up General editor Julia 

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Eccleshare , (Universe) $36.95 Selected and reviewed by leading international critics, this thick book is colorful and nearly 1000 pages! It is a must-have resource for any parent or teacher---or anyone who loves great books. (I hope you know this, but some of the best literature ever has been juvenile fiction.) This is arranged by age group, and looks at everything from the world of Spot with Eric Hill to Vera Williams urban landscapes, to Hogswart's School to Narnia and Middle Earth. Yes, there are 1001 entries, so I can't even begin to describe this wonderful collection. A perfect book to dip in to when you have a few spare moments, or to wade through, making lists of what you have or haven't yet read.

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Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children's Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life edited by Anita Silvey (Roaring Brook Press) $29.99 Okay, this isn't really for children, but some of our customers here and of course our staff got a real kick out of it. Famous (and some not famous) people weigh in on how certain kids books effected them, lessons that were learned, ideals and hopes and dreams gathered from their favorite children's books. I opened it up when it first came, and read Edon Lipson describe her sense of the meaning and dignity of work gleaned from Little House on the Prairie and I was hooked. The next entry was entitled "the wonder of the ordinary" written by the editor of Slate, Emily Bazelon, from Little House in the Big Woods. Wow. Another was by Jay Leno was on Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel and I was nearly brought to tears reading Louis Lowry tell how she learned the power of words when her mother cried while reading to her The Yearling. From Steve Forbes to Julia Alvarez, from Julianne Moore to Roger Ebert, some of the contributors are not children's writers. But many are and, oh, to hear what book most influenced Maurice Sendak or David Macaulay, Jack Prelutsky or Chris Van Allsburg, Betsy Byars or Jon Scieszka---what an education! The book thankfully has a nice excerpt of the book being discussed, making this a truly great reading experience and a very useful resource for educators.

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3 Comments

Wow! What a fabulous list! I don't have any children in my life now, but I will bookmark this list and come back to it later.

I will add that the NIrV is a great translation for ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) learners, especially if you can find it as a gift Bible (and not one obviously geared toward children). Highly recommended for international students!

Thanks for the list! I love the updated version of Big Thoughts for Little People. We loved two Bible storybooks that you didn't mention--The Read and Share Bible and the Jesus Book. Have you read them? What did you think of them?

SOMEBODY ASKED ABOUT READING LEVEL:

...THANKS for asking about The Bible for Children (Good Books) done by Watts. I'm sorry we weren't more clear about the age level (as we intended to be...too much to say about each one. Oops.)

It is a bit tricky to say as the "reading aloud to" age and the age with which a child can read herself is different. This has fairly basic sentences, but some vocabulary words that are more complex and descriptive ("angrily" "terrified" and such.). They use the big words of the names of other nations and characters in the O.T. (Midieonites, Xerxes, etc.) and it doesn't shy away from complex stories. We seem to think it is suitable for older elementary ages although the color is bright and vibrant so little kids would enjoy looking through it. Yet, the art is mature enough that it isn't "baby-ish" and wouldn't embarrass a middle schooler. It's pretty classy, we think making it useful for older kids. Still the reading level is for middle or older elementary grades (not pre-school.) There are well over 200 stories, and although not comprehensive (of course) it really does cover a lot of ground. We think it is one of the best.