The Gospel Coalition


Volume 37 Issue 2
Jul 2012

Telling the Story from the Bible? How Story Bibles Work

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

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 purpose in maintaining silence as to an actor’s emotions. It provides a gap that invites the reader to supply the emotions that the text may later confirm as appropriate or subverted.34 In the case of Gen 3, the gap invites the reader to feel for themselves the horror of what has happened: God’s generosity and goodness doubted and disputed without justification. The question, then, concerns method, and story bible authors should at least be sufficiently conversant with the Bible’s narratival strategies to justify an alternative approach.

Theologically, one might also ask which of these accounts of God’s emotions is closest to those that the biblical narrative evokes. How does Scripture suggest that God feels about the rebellion of his creatures? And what vocabulary might best capture those emotions for the young reader?

Fourth, some additions do not merely embellish but actually distort the biblical narrative. For example, a number of versions of the fall describe Eve’s approaching or desiring the fruit even before the serpent appears, incriminating Eve by varying degrees:

  • While Eve was looking at the special tree, a snake spoke to her.35
  • One day she goes alone to the tree and gazes at the forbidden fruit.36
  • One day the woman wandered on her own until she came to a beautiful tree she had never seen before. . . . as she looked longingly at the fruit she heard a rustle among the leaves.37

The last two examples are not alone in having Eve “on her own” at the moment of temptation. This is more reformulating than adding since Gen 3:6 reveals that Adam has been present with Eve, albeit silent and culpably so.38 And so with that we turn to the significance of reformulations.

1.1.3. Reformulation

This focuses not on merely what story bibles add but what they alter. We have just seen how two story bibles deviate from Scripture by saying that Eve was alone at the tree; two further examples will suffice.

In the first, modesty in the face of some of the darker OT themes motivates a typical reformulation. One story bible has Adam and Eve covering themselves with leaves not because they knew they were naked and felt ashamed but because “it was now the cool of the day.” 39

The second example reveals inattention to the subtlety of the biblical text. According to Gen 3:1, the first question the serpent asks Eve is, “Did God say,‘ You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’” In light of God’s invitation to eat from any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, this attempts to make God out to be less generous than he is. This theologically significant point is lost on many children’s bibles that offer alternative questions:

  • Did God tell you not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden?40
  • Did God really tell you not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?41
  • Did God say you could eat the fruit of all the trees?42
1.1.4. Transposition

Transposition involves the right elements of the biblical narrative but not necessarily in the right order. A significant example from the fall narrative is God’s promising that one of Eve’s descendants will crush the serpent’s head. Some story bibles omit all reference to God’s promise and provision to his now sinful creatures (see §1.1.1). Others transpose the promise to the end of the retelling so that the narrative concludes more positively than in Scripture. The Jesus Storybook Bible not only does this but also recasts the exclusion from the garden as a purely protective measure on God’s part, for Adam and Eve’s hearts would break now, and never work properly again. God couldn’t let his children live forever, not in such pain, not without him. There was only one way to protect them. “You will have to leave my garden now,” God told his children, his eyes filling with tears. 43

That this language is so reminiscent of a love story is no accident, for it is in those terms that Sally Lloyd-Jones conceives salvation history. 44 Thus, the various changes evident in her treatment of the fall relate not so much to her view of that story in the Bible but to her view of the story of the Bible. Nor is she alone, for many story bibles claim to present not many stories but one story, and this shapes how they retell each narrative. Although they achieve this by combinations of additions, omissions, reformulations, and transpositions, attempts to relate a narrative to the bigger picture are so significant that they deserve separate treatment, and to this we now turn.

1.2. Story Bibles and the Story of the Bible

As much as it is a recent trend for children’s bibles to disavow collections of unrelated stories that fail to discern a unifying meta narrative,45  the thought is not new. Jesse Lyman Hurlbut’s story bible of 1932 is subtitled One Hundred Sixty-eight Stories, Forming a Continuous Narrative of the Holy Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. 46 Given that this is a longstanding approach and a resurgent one today, any evaluation of story bibles must assess how they relate (or fail to relate) individual narratives to a wider context.

There is naturally a spectrum of approaches. In the case of the fall, the briefer versions, intended for the youngest children, make no effort to relate those events to salvation history.

The first hint of such an approach comes with the serpent, which story bibles frequently identify with Satan although Gen 3 is silent on the matter; only later biblical texts make that link (e.g., Rev 12:9). Some apparently mention Satan only to explain the phenomenon of a talking animal, but others are keen to establish him as an antagonist in the unfolding drama: “Satan crept into God’s beautiful garden looking like a snake. Satan hated God. Satan wanted to be God.”47The Jesus Storybook Bible is even more Miltonian: “God had a horrible enemy. His name was Satan. Satan had once been the most beautiful angel, but he didn’t want to be just an angel— he wanted to be God. He grew proud and evil and full of hate, and God had to send him out of heaven.”48

Related to the enmity between Satan and God is the promised conflict between the serpent and the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15). Some story bibles transpose the promise to the end of their narrative (see §1.1.4 above), and those that do generally treat it more fully. While most, in keeping with the Bible, allow the promise to be somewhat enigmatic, others give away the ending, naming Christ and some explaining his life and work in some detail. 49

Finally, there is the issue of the ongoing effect of the fall. Theologically, these effects include the corruption of human nature, indeed of all nature, and the incursion of wrath, as a result of which the fall becomes both the once-for-all descent into sin and an event that the history of Israel in particular and humanity in general constantly recapitulate.50 Some story bibles take time to explain these things by adding commentary to their account of the fall. Others, truer to the strategy of the biblical narrative, make the point by highlighting how Israel repeats the fall throughout history. This is an undoubted strength of The Big Picture Story Bible, which, for example, describes the exile as another expulsion from God’s garden/land: “Do you remember when God sent Adam and Eve away from him out of the garden? Well, God was doing it again. He was sending his people out of his place because of their sin.”51

These then are the contours of the relationship between story-bible text and Scripture. At this stage the picture is incomplete, but we have clarified one aspect of the task of assessing story bibles: we must ask how the text of a story bible relates to the biblical text it claims to represent and what any addition, omission, reformulation, or transposition achieves, either in retelling the passage or relating it to a wider narrative. If nothing else, we hope that the reader is persuaded that the text of story bibles can be good or ill. Subtly changing the details of biblical narratives and relating details to the rest of Scripture will shape how a child forms their first thoughts of God’s character, how their life relates to his purposes, and to what end he has given us his word. §2 turns to the artwork of story bibles, which, at least for younger readers, has even greater power to shape these first impressions.

2. More Than Meets the Eye? The Relationship between Story-bible Art and Scripture

"A Bible for Children should be copiously illustrated. . . . For preference, the illustrations . . . should highlight the main theme of the relevant passages and, if possible, give some extra information as well." 52

A moment’s thought will reveal what complications might ensue from following Harm Hollander’s advice. How does one illustrate the “main theme” of the fall? If there is space for one illustration, what should it be: a snake in a tree, Eve eating a fruit, Eve offering a fruit to Adam, angels and flaming swords? What “extra information” should be given? How should it be divided between word and text? Then there is the impossibility of not giving a great deal of “extra information.” Genesis is silent on the age and appearance of Adam and Eve, on what kind of fruit it was, and whether the snake was in the tree; yet in the act of illustration, one must make these judgments.

Furthermore, any experience of reading a story bible with children will establish the importance of those judgments. The images far more than the wording on the page holds attention and provokes questions. The images are also a more fixed aspect of the books. Theological preferences, the constraints of time, the low ebbing of energy at bedtime, and the comprehension-level of the child may motivate parents to edit and reformulate the text. The picture, however, remains a stubborn presence.

Therefore, their theological and aesthetic evaluation is crucial. To that end we will adapt the Visual Narrative Analysis Model (VNAM) that Vasiliki Labitsi developed,53 a model that culls the best of recent visual narrative criticism and offers a framework by which to answer three crucial questions: (1) How do pictures tell stories? (2) How do images relate to text in a picture book? (3) How do images engage their viewers? The first of these will be the focus as we consider the relationship between story bible art and Scripture. §§3– 4 will take up the second and third in due course.

2.1. “Your Eyes Will Be Opened”: The Fall in Scripture and in Picture

Labitsi has two main headings for analyzing a visual narrative: representation (broadly speaking, what it depicts) and composition ( how it depicts it). Representation involves setting, character, narrative structures, time, decisive moments, and style/media. Composition involves positioning, salience, and book design.54 After briefly discussing each of these, we will see how story bibles make visual connections (alongside the verbal connections that §1 discusses) between individual narratives and the bigger picture of Scripture.

2.1.1. Representation


As Labitsi notes, “setting may be represented in detail or minimalist. Where a wealth of detail is provided, this enables readers to develop familiarity with the space and suggested time of the story.”55 In the case of biblical illustration, minimalist images can make the described events seem timeless, whereas detailed pictures have the power to make the setting either familiar or strange. Many story bibles make Eden a tropical paradise. In others, the details familiarize Eden to children, essentially turning it into English parkland. Some combine the two (as in Figure 1).

Figure 1. Setting 56

Within the purview of ‘setting’, Labitsi also discusses circumstantial details and visual metaphors. For Labitsi, circumstantial details are “details not referred to in the written text . . . often [taking] the form of secondary characters not referred to in the text.” 57 Given our concern with the biblical sources, this immediately raises the question whether any details “not referred to in the written text” of a story bible have any basis in Scripture. Examples abound of both kinds. Those story bibles that include biblical details visually but not textually rely to some extent on the biblical literacy of the reader to supply the significance. Some say nothing about the serpent (see §1.1.1 above) but still illustrate him. Every story bible that illustrates the expulsion from the garden shows Adam and Eve to be clothed, but few mention that God provides the clothing for them (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Setting: Circumstantial Details 58

Of the circumstantial details not found in Scripture, the most significant are frequently visual metaphors. Scripture hardly describes the appearance of the land within and beyond Eden, so artists feel at liberty to supply metaphor-laden landscapes.59 My Very First Bible is typical, populating Eden with bunnies, butterflies, and a pair of white doves: all is peace and safety. 60 By contrast, the land beyond Eden is usually barren and bare, devoid of vegetation and life (see Figures 2 and 3), although several artists depict a darker version of Eden, densely overgrown, thorny, and threatening. Story bibles frequently employ the pathetic fallacy as a form of visual metaphor: dark clouds or lightning stand for divine judgment (see Figure 3).

Copyright © 2007 by Jago Silver. All rights reserved.

Figure 3. Setting: Visual Metaphors 61


In relation to human actors, the most significant considerations are of appearance and characterization. Most story bibles intended for the youngest children have caucasian and, where possible, youthful characters.62 In early twentieth-century story bibles, Adam and Eve retain their caucasian looks, but their physiques are more classical, creating a sense of historical distance. Establishing any sense of ethnic difference is much rarer. Of our sample, only The Jesus Storybook Bible shows Adam and Eve and their offspring with Near Middle Eastern skin colour (Figure 4).

Copyright © 2007 by Jago Silver. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2007 by Jago Silver. All rights reserved.

Figure 4. Characters 63

In the VNAM, characters include not just human but also anthropomorphized animals. These abound in story bibles, which frequently use them to interpret events. In The Candle Bible for Toddlers, a troubled bee watches Eve eating the fruit. In The Jesus Storybook Bible, an assortment of animals look gravely on as Adam and Eve depart the garden, as does the dove in Taylor’s My First Bible in Pictures (Figures 2 and 3). This dove also serves as a visual metaphor: it represents the light of Eden against the developing darkness, which the raven represents on the opposite page.

Narrative Structures

In Labitsi’s third category, vectors create narrative structures. A vector is “a strong directional thrust in an image that connects characters with each other.”64 Consider the composition of the temptation scene in the Read with Me Story Bible(Figure 5): Adam and Eve mirror each other; the symmetry distributes the guilt equally. Another story bible constructs quite a different narrative: the vector highlights not their mutual contemplation of the fruit but their regard for one another. 65 Eve looks seductively at Adam, and he is tempted not by the fruit so much as by her. In this version, quite at odds with the biblical account, she has become the object of temptation, and her appearance, blonde and curvaceous, coupled with the absence of the snake, makes her the temptress also.

Copyright © 2000 Dennis G. Jones

Figure 5. Narrative Structures 66

Time and Decisive Moments

Given the complexity of illustrating the passing of time67 and the limitations of space, story bibles generally restrict themselves to one or two ‘freeze-frame’ illustrations of most narratives. For this reason, we can merge Labitsi’s categories of time and decisive moments.

Choosing a decisive moment to illustrate is clearly significant, but that is not the first choice that has been made: “the story itself [the biblical author in our case] ‘carefully and characteristically’ isolates certain moments,” and when artists reduce that number or select others, “this overpowers the meaning a written text conveys.”68

The fall can illustrate this potential for an image to overpower the written text. The pace of the narrative in Gen 2:5–3:24 slows for three phases of direct discourse: the dialogue between the serpent and Eve (3:1–5); the dialogue between God, Adam and Eve (3:8–13); and God’s monological pronouncement of personalised curses on the serpent, Adam, and Eve (3:14–21). However, given the difficulty and sensitivity of illustrating either God’s interview with Adam and Eve or the pronouncement of curses, the visual emphasis falls on the temptation scene and especially on the expulsion. 69 Even within the first of those scenes, there is often a disconnect: the Bible dwells on the serpent’s tempting Eve, but story bibles frequently depict her offering the fruit to Adam, a detail that Gen 3:6 mentions only briefly.

Careful viewers of story bibles, therefore, will hold not just the details of an illustration up against Scripture. They will also consider the pace of the biblical narrative: Do the illustrations cause the viewer to pause on the same details, or do they shift the focus elsewhere? What effects do such decisions have? Some decisions, such as an artist’s understandable reticence to draw God, demonstrate that other factors influence what artists illustrate, but the effect of these decisions needs pondering nonetheless.


The variety of artistic styles in story bibles is as wide as can be found in any other genre of children’s literature. The development in style through the last century, from black-and-white realism to cartoon colour, is probably less a declension into popularism than the result of technological advance, but its effects are worth pondering nonetheless. As Nodelman argues, generally speaking, “realistic art inevitably implies an attitude of scientific objectivity. . . . We similarly assume that impressionism is intent in capturing the beauty of an ever-changing world,” and doubtless styles and media that mirror popular cartoons suggest a degree of safety and proximity in the events they depict. 70 Hurlbut, on the other hand, uses a combination of illustration and photographs of the Holy Land, presumably to achieve some sense of realism and historical veracity.71

2.1.2. Composition

Although there is some overlap with Labitsi’s material on representation, the next three categories focus not on what story bibles illustrate so much as how they illustrate.


According to Labitsi,

a character placed on the left side of a visual composition suggests a ‘given’ and on the opposite side something ‘new’. A character placed at the bottom signifies something ‘real’, and at the top something ‘ideal’. Also a character placed at the centre of a polarized composition is a ‘mediator’ forming a bridge between the ‘given’ and the new and/or ideal.72

Naturally, the vertical dimension is important in relating heaven to earth in story-bible artwork, but so too is the horizontal. If a story bible considers the temptation a decisive moment worth depicting, it will almost certainly show Eve on the left (the given, having already succumbed to temptation) passing a fruit to Adam on the right (the new, confronted with a choice)—as in Figure 5 above. 73 One story bible also elevates Adam so that he is cast as the ideal, receiving temptation from the real below. Whether this demonises Eve is less clear, and the relative position of the serpent, if depicted, will sometimes enable one to judge. 74 There is, nonetheless, in the Genesis narrative itself some sense of hierarchy, minimally descending from God to humanity to the rest of creation. This feature of the narrative lends itself to visual representation, although artists have largely overlooked it.


“Salience refers to the degree to which an object draws attention to itself, due to its size, placement in an image foreground, overlapping with other elements, colour, tone, and sharpness.”75 In images of the expulsion from Eden, the enthusiasm of artists at the opportunity to depict angels and flaming swords arguably causes those elements to dominate not only the picture, but also the whole narrative, given that in some cases it is the only image offered for the fall (see Figure 6).76

Figure 6. Salience 77

Book Design

Book design involves a number of features. The balance of text to image on a page varies enormously, as does the degree to which they are distinct. Frames around images set them apart and set the reader at greater distance to them.78

Front and back endpapers frequently carry an image taken from within the bible and merit consideration. Several commission a special image to form a bridge into the story bible, showing Jesus in first-century clothing surrounded by children in modern dress. 79

Another longstanding tradition is to offer maps of biblical lands in the endpapers, which has at least two resonances, neither of which are unwelcome. The first is of history books and atlases, establishing that the events described happened somewhere in our world, albeit long ago. The second resonance is of the epic adventures of children’s literature: Middle Earth, Narnia, Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels, the Odyssey, and so on.

Finally, the front cover is clearly significant as the first impression children get of the story bible, but we would be naive to think that covers are designed for their eyes only. As Labitsi observes, “the qualities of cover design are of particular importance to publishers for their potential to promote a book and attract readers,” and parents will be purchasing on behalf of children. That said, covers are usually of a piece with the contents, and the image is often selected from those within the bible, most frequently either Noah’s Ark or Jesus surrounded by children. Either way, the scene generally speaks of warmth and safety.80

2.2. Seeing the Bigger Picture: Story Bible Art and the Story of the Bible

Biblical scholarship is increasingly sensitive to how typology and intertextual references suffuse Scripture, whereby events and texts relate to what has gone before in ways that illuminate and steer interpretation. What often goes unnoticed is how well-suited illustration is to this task: it can achieve inter-visually what Scripture achieves inter-textually, and it can do so with the same subtlety. 81 In light of this, we now consider how story bibles employ images to relate a narrative to the wider biblical context.

In this respect The Big Picture Story Bible is outstanding. Gail Schoonmaker’s artwork of the fall establishes no less thanfive motifs, all of which later artworkputs to use.

The first is a stance of worship with arms outstretched, first used by Adam and Eve and later by Abraham. An illustration of Solomon’s time later parodies this when the figures adopt the same pose as they worship idols and true worship is restored in the NT whichfrequently shows people in a similar pose, worshipping God or Jesus.82

The second motif frames Solomon’s fall into idolatry as recapitulating the fall. A piece of half-eaten fruit lies beside him, like the one discarded at Adam’s feet as he hides from God (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. “Inter-visuality” in The Big Picture Story Bible 83

The third and fourth motifs set up Israel’s conquest of the land and their subsequent exile as a parallel to Adam and Eve’s enjoyment of and expulsion from Eden. The text makes this connection (see §1.2 above), but so does the artwork with two visual allusions: (1) a family after the conquest enjoying the fruits of the land, sitting by a river, alludes to Adam and Eve’s life in Eden (Figure 8), and (2) the footprints left by the exiles allude to footprints that Adam and Eve leave as they depart the garden (Figure 9).

Figure 8. “Inter-visuality” in The Big Picture Story Bible 84
Figure 9. “Inter-visuality” in The Big Picture Story Bible 85

The fifth motif is perhaps the subtlest, and it involves a fox. The Big Picture Story Bible uses animals throughout to demarcate narratives: a cat appears throughout the Abraham narrative;a lizard accompanies Joseph; butterflies populate Jerusalem post-exile; and a fox attends Eve (and often preserves her modesty) in Eden. Unlike the other animals, however, the fox reappears later in the resurrection narratives, linking creation to the new creation, of which the risen Christ is the firstfruits (Figure 9).86 This fox, therefore, is an intertextual fox. While it might be an incongruous symbol given the fox’s reputation in biblical and other children’s literature and while this instance involves more invention than the others, it is nevertheless a rather sophisticated way of teaching biblical truth visually. 87

Figure 10. An Intertextual Fox 88

To summarize §2, it is important to attend to images. The nature of illustrated books is that they are as much ‘words about pictures’ as they are ‘pictures about words’. Most parents will recognize how children filter and interpret what they hear by what they see, if they are listening at all and are not distracted by some detail of the artwork. Any evaluation of story bibles, therefore, demands that we grasp and deploy the tools of visual narrative analysis (outlined above) to some degree as we explore how story-bible artwork relates to Scripture. This opens our eyes both to how existing story bibles work and to the largely overlooked potential for harnessing the power of images, especially their capacity to relate one passage of Scripture to another.

3. On the Same Page? The Relationship between Word and Image within a Story Bible

Our third section turns to the relationship between word and image within story bibles. Bottigheimer rightly describes artwork as the “internal exegesis” of story bibles, but she oversimplifies the relationship between word and image in story bibles by describing it as one of simple “affirmation.”89 Things are decidedly more complicated since artists have two texts before them (the Bible and the story bible) and since illustrating inevitably involves supplying much more information than one can find in either text.

Labitsi’s model, therefore, is more realistic. It describes three kinds of relationship between text and image within picture books: enhancement, counterpoint, and contradiction.90 It is best to view these categories as points on a spectrum rather than as distinct categories; nevertheless, they are a helpful heuristic tool to outline the third relationship of our model.

3.1. Enhancement

Given the power of images to linger in the viewer’s mind, it is especially important to note where artists enhance additions or changes that the texts of story bibles make to Scripture. Of those that explicitly name Christ as the one who will remove the curses of Gen 3, The Children’s Garden of Bible Stories is perhaps the foremost. Accompanying the textual decision to exchange the enigmatic protoevangelium of Gen 3:15 for a fuller exposition of the atonement are two illustrations that only enhance this status. It depicts the angel’s expelling Adam and Eve with rays of light set against dark clouds. A page later there is a kind of mirror image, where rays of light set against dark clouds shine from the cross of Jesus. It implies that Jesus bears and cancels the judgment, thereby enhancing and affirming the story-bible text.

A second, less edifying example concerns the characterization of Eve. The Picture Bible has already embellished the biblical text by putting words in Eve’s mouth: “Taste it—one bite will do no harm. See I have eaten some!”91The artist further enhances this incrimination by placing Eve in the foreground, in silhouette and with a claw-like hand raised dominating both the whole picture and Adam within it.

Within this category we might also note how images can clarify ambiguities in the story-bible text. For example, one story bible entitles the fall narrative “Eve’s Temptation.” As it stands, this could refer either to the snake’s tempting Eve or to Eve’s tempting Adam. The picture, however, depicts Eve holding out the fruit to Adam with an enticing look of her face, and the composition that has the serpent and Eve aligned, facing Adam, clearly signals Eve’s tempting Adam (see Figure 11).

Figure 11. Enhancement 92

3.2. Counterpoint

Images of this kind “offer alternative information” to the text without contradicting it.93 Again, given our concerns, we must ask whether the alternative information can be found in Scripture. An example of where it can is the customary depiction of Adam and Eve clothed in animal skins when the story-bible text is silent.94 In that instance, the detail would only counterpoint the text if the child or parent were sufficiently biblically literate to draw attention to it and explain its significance.

3.3. Contradiction

Although admittedly rare, there are instances of images contradicting the text of story bibles. This can occur when an image refuses to follow the movement of the text. For example, one story bible narrates the fall across a double-page spread, by the end of which, according to the text, “everything is going wrong!”95 The image, on the other hand, by showing a smiling Adam and Eve denies any change in their circumstances. In this case, if the child has only the images to go on, they cannot construct a narrative with any resemblance to that of the text.96

4. Drawing You In: The Relationship between Story Bible and Child

The fourth and final relationship, completing this evaluative model, is between the story bible and its readers. We consider first how the author addresses the reader97 and then, with the remaining material from Labitsi’s model outlined in §2, the means by which the artist interacts with the viewers.

This fourth relationship emphasizes the degree to which story bibles are more than just works of children’s literature. Most authors and artists seek to inform and engage so as to elicit faith, meaning that story bibles are a form of devotional literature. 98This has two implications: (1) parents and teachers need to be clear on the goals they have in mind when purchasing a story bible, and (2) they need to know how to assess whether any given story bible meets those requirements.

The first implication is worth developing a little, for things are not simple. Story bibles address their audiences in myriad ways and with different goals in mind. Some do not explicitly comment on their narratives; their explicit intention may be merely to make bible stories familiar, even if, as we have seen, their textual decisions and visual depictions communicate a great deal more. Those that address the child more directly do so with very different presuppositions behind them and goals before them. Some aim for conviction of sin and conversion. Others assume faith and address young children as members of God’s family. Some address children in their individual situation while others are designed for a family to read and respond to corporately. Some of these variances reflect denominational distinctives and theological presuppositions, and the variety is by no means regrettable. What it demands, however, is clarity from those purchasing story bibles; they must know what they want story bibles to do. Then comes the work of discerning whether a story bible does what they want it to do, so we turn, finally, to consider how story bibles interact and instruct by word and image.

4.1. Textual Interaction

4.1.1. Within the Narrative

Although most story bibles retain the third person narration of the biblical histories and Gospels, some address the reader directly. 99 The Jesus Story Book Bible employs explicit commentary with the occasional explanatory gloss.100The Big Picture Story Bible goes beyond this by inviting the reader to participate:

Now Adam and Eve had a choice to make.

They could obey God’s word,

or they could listen to Satan.


What do you think you

would have done?

Do you know what Adam and Eve did?101

A further stage beyond this reveals divergent understandings of the reader’s moral status. On the one hand there is The Bible Opened for Children:

Now you think I daresay that Adam and Eve would be so grateful to God for placing them in such a beautiful garden . . . but I’m sorry to say this was not the case: they disobeyed God.102

Minimally this seeks to capture the naivety of a first reading, but it appears also to draw alongside the reader as a moral superior to Adam and Eve. 103 By contrast, Catherine Vos makes plain our identification with the fallen Adam and Eve:

If Adam and Eve had obeyed God, their hearts would have stayed clean and sinless, and all the people in the world would have had sinless hearts. But now we are all wicked because Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The Bible says ‘There is none good, no not one.’ 104

Naturally there is merit both in promoting virtue and in confronting children with human sinfulness, without which the Christian story will make no sense. Nevertheless, any evaluation of story bibles must ask what they emphasize and how they teach the child to perceive their own spiritual condition. It can be instructive to ask what impression a story bible would make if a child read it cover to cover:

Now I know more stories.

Now I see how all the stories fit together. (This is the goal of not a few recent story bibles.)

Now I see how the good end happily and the bad unhappily. (This is Oscar Wilde’s definition of fiction and the impression that some story bibles give, but mercifully, it is not the message of the Bible.)

Now I see the goodness of God, his purposes for creation, the salvation he offers me, and the life of faith he calls me to live among his people. (This is more ambitious.)

4.1.2. Marginalia

As Bottigheimer observes, story bibles “consist of the story sections of the Bible, to which are added commentary, verses, summaries, questions and answers, or bits of ancient history.”105 They frequently embed commentary in the narrative, but more commentary may form another layer of text, occupying separate text boxes or headings (marginalia).

Kenneth Taylor’s story bibles ask comprehension questions at the end of each narrative.106 Stories in The Mighty Acts of Godconclude with “a short separate feature called ‘As For Me and My House’. . . providing parents with additional ideas for discussion or activities related to the truths presented in that particular story.”107 After the fall narrative, the questions include “List the things we can know about God from this story” and “What kinds of things do people—including you and your children—do that show they now have sinful natures?”108

§1.1.2 above explains the value of relegating this material to the marginalia as a means of distinguishing the Biblical narrative from the author’s own additions. In this section we are asking how those additions address the child. As with comments within the narrative, we must ask what presuppositions concerning the reader’s spiritual condition are revealed by a story bible’s marginalia and how authors are directing their readers to reflecton the text.

4.2. Visual Interaction

How an artist addresses the viewer is altogether more subtle.109 Labitsi describes four ways that an artist constructs the relationship between the artwork and the viewer:

  1. Gazes: how characters meet the viewer’s gaze
  2. Point of view: how the artist positions the viewer within the visual narrative
  3. Framing: how the artist frames the images
  4. Modality: how realistic and therefore how relevant a picture appears
4.2.1. Gazes

According to Labitsi, “the moment a character turns to face the reader ‘the narrative spell is broken and the boundary separating (imaginary characters) from (real) readers is breached.”110 Since many story-bible writers are concerned to assert the reality of biblical characters, it is surprising that they do not use this device more widely.

An unconventional but effective example involves the gaze of tigers (see Figure 12). My Very Own Bible illustrates the fall with Adam, Eve, the snake, and the tree, static and two-dimensional in the background. In the foreground, however, are three tigers advancing towards the viewer with gazes fixed upon them.This powerfully communicates a sense of threat, even if the nature of the threat is rather dislocated from the events transpiring in the background and, indeed, from the biblical account.

Similarly, in The Children’s Bible, Eve is looking at Adam, offering him the fruit. But because the viewer looks over Adam’s shoulder in the composition of the image, she is almost gazing at and offering the fruit to the viewer (see Figure 11 above).

Figure 12. Gazes 111
4.2.2. Point of View

That last example also highlighted the significance of the point of view the artist assigns the reader. A second example validates Labitsi’s assertion that “when point of view is manipulated upwards or downwards along a vertical axis, readers experience an increase or diminution of power over the characters represented.”112 The Big Picture Story Bible’s illustrations of the fall travel along this axis at various points, always in concert with the author’s interaction with the reader (see Figure 13). At the point of temptation, when the text asks the reader, “What do you think you would have done?” the viewer is on the same level as Adam and Eve, looking up at the fruit. Later, when the text asks the reader, “Can you imagine what God thought about all this?” the image looks down on Adam and Eve as they try to hide themselves; the viewer now stands with God, combining their points of view.113

Figure 13. Point of View 114
4.2.3. Framing

There are two issues relating to distance: (1) the proximity of the charactersand (2) how the artist frames an image. The proximity of the characters can establish a more personal relationship, especially “close-ups where only the character’s whole face or part of it can be seen.” 115

A strong frame implies distance, and “‘Bleed’ illustrations, where images extend to the edges of the paper, require active and personal involvement from readers because they symbolically invite them to enter into the book.”116 This is by far the more common today as exemplified by the Candle Bible for Toddlers, which combines bleed illustrations with a waving Adam and Eve to invite the viewer in (see Figure 14).

Figure 14. Framing 117
4.2.4. Modality

Labitsi’s final category of visual interaction is perhaps the most indirect, for she simply observes that realism in artwork makes its content more credible.118 In the case of story bibles, this faces the artist with a dilemma, for realism can emphasise the distance of biblical events from a present-day child’s life experience. On the other hand, a cartoon format runs the risk of making the events and characters seem imaginary. Nevertheless, story bibles generally prefer the cartoon format (see Figure 14), with increasing realism as the intended age of the audience increases.

5. Conclusion

Assessing children’s bibles is not child’s play. The relationships between them, the Bible, and their readers are complicated, yet because we too easily see them as simple and trustworthy, we have not learned how to read them carefully or critically enough. Nor, I suggest, have we exploited their potential to the full, a potential recognised by no less a theologian than Martin Luther.

In 1529, Luther published a collection of illustrated stories from the Bible “for the sake of children and simple people who are more apt to retain the divine stories when taught by picture and parable than merely by words or instruction.”119 Luther’s preface expresses the hope that his work “may mark a beginning and set an example for others to follow and to improve upon as their talents allow.” 120 Others most certainly followed, but whether they improved upon his offering is less clear. Indeed, until now it has been hard even to attempt an assessment, given the lack of a clear methodology by which to evaluate story bibles.

The aim of this article has been to aid that task by laying bare how story bibles work. In particular, I have attempted to do two things:

1. Highlight how any evaluation of a story bible must consider four relationships:

  1. the story-bible text and Scripture;
  2. the story-bible image and Scripture;
  3. word and image within the story bible; and
  4. the story bible and the child.

2. Equip readers of story bibles to explore those relationships with the resources of textual and especially visual narrative analysis.

The end of this article is therefore but the beginning of the work. In a forthcoming review article, I will apply these tools to two or three of the more influential and widely read story bibles published in recent years. For now, however, and in closing, let me offer a couple of suggested strategies for assessing children’s bibles, distilling the essence of this article for a couple of different contexts:

Scenario 1: You are at your local bookshop/church bookstall; you have five minutes and want to check out the new children’s story bible.

1. If there’s a preface, read it. What goals if any does the author/illustrator have for their work?

2. Look over the table of contents. Does it include any biblical genres other than narrative? Is there (minimally) creation, fall, Abraham, Moses, incarnation, crucifixion (yes some omit it!), resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, the church, and the new creation?

3. Choose a few stories you know well. Is the language clear? Excerpted from the Bible or heavily paraphrased? What’s omitted, added, changed, and/or moved around? Does the story bible attempt to fit the stories into a wider context? Do the pictures reflect the emphasis of the biblical narrative and the story-bible text? Are there comprehension or application questions? Are they appropriate to the meaning of the story in its biblical context? Often the most revealing stories are the fall, the flood, Jonah (rare is the story bible that includes Jonah 4), and the death of Jesus.

Scenario 2: You have an hour or two to spare with a story bible in one hand anda Bible in the other.

1–2. Repeat steps 1 and 2 above.

3. Read it cover to cover. First impressions? What stands out? Any recurring phrases or refrains? Does the artwork repeat any motifs or echo earlier illustrations? In a sentence, what is the story bible trying to say?

Relationship 1: The Text of the Story Bible and Scripture

4. Choose a few stories you know well. Re-read the biblical version and then the story bible. Is the language clear? Does it excerpt or heavily paraphrasethe Bible? Does it distinguish its text from the Bible? How? What’s left out? What’s added? Does it fill gaps? What’s changed? What’s rearranged?

5. Does the author make any attempt to link the story to the wider story of salvation? How?

Relationship 2: The Images of the Story Bible and Scripture

6. Consider the setting of the illustrations, the landscape, and the use of animals and other visual metaphors. Will they help or hinder comprehension and concentration? (I had to spend a few minutes the other evening reassuring one of my daughters that the mouse in the jar got out okay before Jesus filled it with water at the wedding in Cana!)

7. Do the characters correspond to the biblical description if there is one? If not, what is the effect of the artist’s decisions about appearance (e.g., age)? Are characters easily distinguishable from one another? Easily recognised if they recur later?

8. How are the characters relating in the image? Where has the artist freeze-framed, and how does that fit with where the biblical narrative lingers?

9. Is the style of illustration fitting? Does it vary?

10. As your eye moves from left to right across the images, how are characters positioned? What has the artist decided to show you happening? Do they pause on the same scenes in the narrative that the author and/or Scripture does?

11. What does the artist draw your attention to by foregrounding, enlarging, or highlighting in some other way?

12. What’s on the cover? Front and end papers? Does this confirm the story bible’s overall emphasis?

13. Does the artist make connections to the wider story of salvation? If so, is it by using visual motifs or metaphors? Are they well-chosen?

Relationship 3: Word and Image within the Story Bible

14. Do the images enhance a biblical detail or something the story bible has added?

15. Do they counterpoint the text by supplying some additional information? What is the impact of seeing but not hearing about that detail?

16. Do any images contradict the text or the flow of the text that is set beside it?

17. Could a child retell the story based on the illustrations, or would the illustrations mislead them?

Relationship 4: The Story Bible and the Child

18. Does the main body of the text engage the child? How? With questions? Assertions? Giving what impression of the child’s standing before God and their moral capacity?

19. Are there discussion questions? Are they focussed on comprehension or application? Are they appropriate? Moralistic? Is that approach consistent through the story bible? What response does it call for? Any suggested prayers?

20. How does the artist engage the viewer? Do characters look out at you? Which ones?

21. Whose point of view does the artist give you? God’s? Jesus’s? The disciples’? The crowds’? Does the point of view shift within individual narratives? To what effect?

22. How, if at all, does the artist use close-up or distance you from the action?

23. Is the artwork realistic? Are the children you will read the story bible with likely to identify with characters? Do the characters look like them? Which characters? Is that a good thing?

6. Appendix: Story Bibles Cited [121]

Amery, Heather. The Usborne Children’s Bible. Illustrated by Linda Edwards. London: Usborne, 2000.

Baker, Carolyn Nabors, and Cindy Helms. The Beginners Bible for Toddlers. Illustrated by Danny Brooks Dalby. Dallas: Word, 1995.

Barfield, Maggie. The Little Bible Storybook. Illustrated by Mark Carpenter and Anna Carpenter. Milton Keynes: Scripture Union, 2007.

Batchelor, Mary. The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories. Illustrated by John Haysom. 1985. Repr., Oxford: Lion, 1995.

Baxter, Nicola. Stories from the Bible. Illustrated by Roger Langton. Wigston, Leics.: Armadillo, 2004.

Beers, V. Gilbert. The Toddlers Bible. Illustrated by Carol Boerke. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1992.

Bradford, Mary. The Bible Opened for Children. London: Cassell, Petter and Galpin, 1866.

The Children’s Bible in Colour: The Old and New Testaments . 1964. Repr., London: Paul Hamlyn, 1965.

David, Juliet. Candle Bible for Toddlers. Illustrated by Helen Prole. 2006. Repr., Carlisle: Candle, 2007.

deVries, Anne. Story Bible for Young Children. Illustrated by Hermine F. Schäfer. Translated by Baukje Gray and David Rudston. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978.

Edwards, Anne. A Child’s Bible in Colour: The Old Testament. Illustrated by Charles Front and David Christian. London: Wolfe, 1969. Repr., London: Pan, 1973.

Fletcher, Betty. My Very Own Bible. Illustrated by Lou Police. Eugene: Harvest, 1991. Repr., Carlisle: Candle, 1993.

Goodings, Christina. My Little Bible Board Book. Illustrated by Melanie Mitchell. Chester: Marks and Spencer, 2007.

Gross, Arthur W. A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. Illustrated by Rod Taenzer. Saint Louis: Concordia, 1948.

Hadaway, Bridget, and Jean Atcheson. The Bible for Children. London: Octopus, 1973. Repr., London: Cathay, 1983.

Harrison, James. My Very First Bible. Illustrated by Diana Mayo. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2005.

Helm, David. The Big Picture Story Bible. Illustrated by Gail Schoonmaker. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

Hoth, Iva. The Picture Bible. Illustrated by Andre Le Blanc. 1978. Repr., Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1998.

Lloyd-Jones, Sally. Tiny Bear’s Bible. Illustrated by Igor Oleynikov. Carlisle: Candle, 2008.

———. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. Illustrated by Jago. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Loth, Paul J. My First Study Bible: Exploring God’s Word on My Own. Nashville: Nelson, 1994.

Mackenzie, Carine. The Christian Focus Story Bible. Illustrated by Kevin Kimber. Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2004.

Meade, Starr. Mighty Acts and God: A Family Bible Story Book. Illustrated by Tim O’Connor. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Rikkers, Doris and Jean E. Syswerda, eds. Read with Me Bible: A Story Bible for Children. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993. Repr., Carlisle: Candle, 1998.

Robertson, Jenny. In the Beginning. Illustrated by Alan Parry. Ladybird Bible Books 1. Loughborough: Ladybird, 1978.

———. The Ladybird Bible Story Book. Illustrated by Alan Parry. Loughborough: Ladybird, 1983.

Taylor, Kenneth N. My First Bible in Pictures. Illustrated by John Dillow. 2004. Repr., Carlisle: Candle, 2006.

———. My First Bible in Pictures. Illustrated by Richard Hook and Frances Hook. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1989. Repr., Carlisle: Candle, 2001.

———. The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes. 1956. Repr., Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1980.

Tomie dePaolo’s Book of Bible Stories . Illustrated by Tomie dePaolo. New York: Putnam, 1990.

Toulmin, Sarah. Baby Bible. Illustrated by Kristina Stephenson. Oxford: Lion, 2006.

Tulloch, Fiona, ed. The Children’s Bible: Illustrated Stories from the Old and New Testaments. 2007. Repr., London: Arcturus, 2008.

Vos, Catherine F. The Child’s Story Bible. 6th. 1940. Repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003

  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.

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