Wow. I’m always intimidated when I have to review things written about Jesus. I mean, with that kind of subject matter, is there really an appropriate way to say, “I didn’t like this aspect of it.” without sounding nit-picky… unless of course they say something that is absolutely anti-biblical.

That said, Gwen Ellis did a MASTERFUL job in Read and Share Stories About Jesus of using simple language and selecting stories with points small children could understand. The illustrations are unique and friendly and the overall book practically exudes comfort and love as any toddler book should.

A few things that are neither positives nor negatives but may be the ‘clincher’ as to whether this is what you are looking for.

-This is a board book, but is the size of a traditional story book.

-It contains 13 stories that from start to finish are a paragraph or two long.

-As I mentioned above, this book was written and illustrated in a style that simply envelopes the reader in comfort. As such, the book skips the trial, crucifixion, resurrection in a rather masterful way by using, “Before Jesus went back to heaven to live with God,” as the opening for the story of the ascension. Again, very suitable for children who need the love and assurance, and just aren’t ready for the grisly details.

-The author included a recap and/or discussion question at the end of each story which is great if you wish to use this as a sort of devotional.

And here we hit the nit-picky portion of this review.

I LOVE making Bible stories accessible to kids, which this team did. I appreciate the effort to get kids involved in discussing/retelling stories so that they will better remember them by using follow up questions. I applaud the author for the effort, but I think a few of the questions were not designed for the otherwise targeted audience for this particular book.

Children the age this appears to be written for would certainly be able to recall the story. They may not, however, be able to explain “How is Jesus like that shepherd looking for his one lost sheep?” based solely on the story read prior to this question, since the story is merely a short version of the parable without any explanation of what the parable taught.  Nowhere in the story does it state plainly: “Jesus is like the shepherd because….” Now that’s a great concept for the adult to explain, but unless the child has already heard the comparison made at another juncture, they simply will not be able to answer it based on the text. The follow up thought is great, though. “Remember you are as important to Jesus as that one lost sheep was to the shepherd.”

Now parents could explain the answers to these or ad lib the answers as part of the story if they read the question first. I will be the first to admit that though answering a question of that nature would be difficult for a toddler, even the smallest toddler can handle HEARING and absorbing deeper discussion like: Jesus loves you just like the lamb in that story and He seeks out one lost person just as wonderfully as the shepherd sought out that little lamb.

Another spot that seemed age in-appropriate was “Have you been baptized?” I might expect a question like that after an elementary age story that perhaps included an explanation of what baptism is and why it is done, but not at the end of a two paragraph tot-age story about Jesus’ baptism. Perhaps the author’s intent with regard to the questions that I mentioned was for the child to say, “I don’t know” so that the parent could explain? Even so, questions posed to toddler/pre-k children that expect (however simple) reasoning and extrapolation just doesn’t fit with the rest of this book’s layout.

To be fair, some of the questions and thoughts were spot on, requiring simple recall or use of imagination: “If you had been in the boat, what would YOU have done?” or “When you are frightened, what do you do? Remember Jesus is always there with you. Just ask Him to help you and He will.” That one is excellent. Likewise, I appreciate the non-question of “When we ask God for something, sometimes He says yes and sometimes He says no. The most important thing is that He always hears us and does what is best for us.” that follows up one of the stories.

So for a welcoming, first Bible story book for an infant or toddler, it would work.  Due to its limited scope and nature (though it excels at what it does), I would probably appreciate it as a baby/toddler’s gift, but would not purchase it on my own simply because I have children between the ages of 1 and 6 and may as well use a single Bible story book that works for all of them at the same time. The Big Picture Story Bible has filled that need for us and includes a general overview of the whole Bible where this one would probably only be instructive for my youngest two and is only about select portions of Christ’s life.  Nevertheless, if you have a sensitive child who needs to hear a gentler version of Christ’s life, or who needs extra assurances this one might be just the ticket for you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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