Since I’m not a fan of most devotional books, I have a handy list of Bible storybooks and Bible translations that I recommend to families based on the ages and interests of their children. If your child is old enough to have an opinion on the matter, consider asking them their input about what they would like to read from! Most of these books I have also found at second-hand shops for considerably less than their online retail price.
This updated classic includes a retelling of a story from Scripture with beautiful illustrations, a few interactive questions for parent and child, and a short prayer. While the publishers recommend age 4-7, I know two and three year olds that use this book one-on-one with a parent regularly.
This 2014 release also utilizes pictures as a central part of retelling the overarching Scripture narrative. For instance, the page that shows Joseph’s twelve brothers who became the 12 tribes is laid out exactly like the page that introduces Jesus’ 12 followers. They look the same because visuals are how young children make connections! Rather than focusing on individual Bible stories, this book shows how the stories fit together in a meaningful way.
I chose this text as the foundation for a kindergarten Sunday School class curriculum a few years ago. On the last day, when we talked about the new garden, one of the children piped up about the first garden, and a second commented that there was a middle garden at Jesus’ resurrection! To say that she connected in a meaningful way with the visuals was an understatement.
I would be remiss not to include this new-ish classic on the list, though I suspect most families have a few copies. The strength of the text is in building anticipation for Jesus Arrival and the opportunity to be a part of establishing his kingdom. While some of the stories take a little more creative license than I would prefer, the benefits far outweigh my hesitations. The only downside is that some children I work with have heard this version on repeat so many times they are beginning to become bored with it!
Once a child hits an age of independent reading and personal investigation, I highly recommend The DK Family Bible. Use it as a supplement to an actual Scripture text for family study, or let kids explore historical and contextual facts relating to each story on their own. This Bible storybook introduces children to the ideas of Scripture context and ancient Near East culture at a time when they are beginning to learn more about these things in school. Another benefit is that each tidbit of information is just a few sentences long, manageable for a reluctant reader.
I included this Bible on my list solely for the illustrations. Whenever I bring my childhood copy to teach, kids get excited because they know the illustrations are incredible. They’re sprinkled throughout the full-Scripture text every few pages, and provide realistic, dramatic, and highly detailed perspectives on the text. Few things shaped my childhood imagination in regards to the life of the ancient world as fully as the illustrations in this text. Unfortunately, the text is out of print (the Scripture translation was discontinued by Tyndale in 1996 in favor of the NLT), and the illustrations were gathered from scores of artists around the world, so there’s not likely to be reprint even with a different version (I’ve called the publishing house personally to voice my request). You can often scoop up a used copy off Amazon for $20 or less.
Once children are beginning to read their own chapter books (deciphering words on a page that has mostly text, not illustrations), I would recommend getting them a copy of the NIrV. Take them to the bookstore (or pull up a few online tabs) and let them choose their own copy- they can choose if they want illustrations, a specially designed cover, and what kinds of facts live in the margins. The great thing about this translation is that it’s the same NIV quality and methodology but with shorter sentences and clarified wording that places it at a 3rd grade (rather than 6th grade like the NIV) reading level. If your child is a reading fiend and can jump straight to 6th grade reading level, wonderful! Skip the NIrV and use whatever translation* is common in your church community.
*Note: The ESV is a 10th grade reading level and the NIV is a 6th grade reading level. There are many reasons to use the translation common to your worship community, so I wouldn’t discourage using ESV or NIV with children, but recognize that it won’t be as easy for them to understand the text in their personal study or recreational reading. If your child is integrated into a teaching time at church that uses the ESV or NIV, your family has a regular devotional or worship time together, or you feel strongly about memorizing the ESV or NIV, skip the NIrV altogether!