The best children’s Bibles are remarkable works of faith and art. They offer young readers and their families an engaging and accessible introduction to biblical stories and the loving, holy character of God.

But there are plenty of children’s Bibles on the market, and for every wonderful option, another fails to meet this goal. Too many choose moralism over the gospel, standalone heroes’ tales over richly connected narratives, and inaccuracy over truth and care for the original text. The story of God’s love and mercy through the millennia becomes little more than a Christianese-filled Aesop’s Fables.

I’ve long worked in children’s ministry, including leading the children’s ministry at my own church, so I’ve read through and taught from many children’s Bibles over the years. There are Bibles that are a pleasure to read aloud to preschoolers, and there are some that are so simplified (or so convoluted) that story time becomes the worst part of the lesson. For this article, I chose to reread eight of these Bibles, selecting both time-honored bestsellers and promising newcomers:

When re-examining these Bibles, I focused on crucial stories of Creation, Jesus’ birth, and his death and resurrection. I also looked at how each book told the stories of biblical heroes like David and Jonah, and noted which stories the authors chose to include (or exclude). Finally, it was important to me to see how the stories were told, looking at the quality of the writing and illustration.

This research has suggested there are three main ways children’s Bibles tend to go wrong: shallow moralism, narrative fragmentation, and sheer inaccuracy. But there are also ways these children’s Bible authors can get it right, telling the story of the Bible beautifully, accurately, and accessibly.

Here’s what to seek—and avoid—on your quest to add a storybook Bible to your family’s shelf.

Creeping moralism

Moralism in children’s Bibles often happens with the best of intentions—a Bible story seems to have an obvious moral lesson, and children need to learn what is right and what is wrong, so why not use that story to teach kids what they should and shouldn’t do? Many children’s Bibles commonly use the story of Jonah, for instance, to teach children the importance of obeying God.

In The Beginner’s Bible’s retelling of Jonah, there’s a heavy focus on how Jonah and the people of Ninevah disobeyed God and suffered consequences. The story ends with Jonah arriving in Nineveh. “This time, Jonah obeyed God,” the reader is told. “The people in Nineveh were sorry for doing bad things, so God forgave them.”

There’s no mention of the self-righteous anger that consumed Jonah once God spared Nineveh, and there’s little focus on the abundant mercy that God shows both Nineveh and Jonah over and over and over. A story that should be a reflection on the mercy of God and the hypocrisy of our own sin is instead reduced to a watered-down warning: Don’t do bad things.

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The impulse to make every Bible story end with a moral lesson is understandable, but the Bible is not a how-to manual. Its climax is not the Ten Commandments but the death and resurrection of Christ. The whole story of Scripture leads up to that moment when the promised Savior comes to deliver his beloved people, and moralizing children’s Bibles severely diminish the power of that story to draw us closer to God and reveal his character.

It isn’t wrong for a retelling to note the consequences of good or bad actions. But to leave it at that is typically to miss the point.

Standalone stories

The point of the story can also be missed when a narrative is presented as a standalone hero’s tale rather than as a piece of the grand redemptive arc of Scripture. This most commonly happens with the classic biblical “superhero” stories like those of David, Samson, or Noah. In children’s Bibles with this failing, they’re presented as fun and exciting. The uglier parts are glossed over, and God’s work is minimized. We lose all sense of how God uses flawed people in a broken world to accomplish his good.

Other times—perhaps in reaction to kids’ Bibles full of standalone stories—we see the opposite problem: A story is lost (or nearly so) in the process of explaining its place in the greater story of the gospel. This happens a few times in The Biggest Story Bible, most notably in the story of Jesus’ birth. The entire narrative between the angel visiting Joseph and the birth of Jesus is condensed into two sentences: “Joseph woke up and did everything the angel told him to do. Mary had a son, and they named him Jesus, which means ‘the Lord saves.’”

The two pages before this are spent describing the prophecies and lineage of Jesus, along with a small section noting how Joseph planned to leave Mary because of her pregnancy. The Scripture foretelling the birth of Jesus is used to paint a wonderful picture of how God keeps his promises through the millennia, something too many children’s Bibles neglect to include. But more theological inclusions like this one come at the expense of the story itself. The Bible is still the greatest story ever told—so the story must be told!

Prioritization of standalone stories also fragments the Bible and leads to crucial parts being left out altogether. Very few of the Bibles I reviewed included the poetry and prophecy of the Old Testament or the Epistles of the New Testament. These biblical books are so important for understanding the character of God and his love for us through the ages—surely children should be given some taste of this feast.

Additionally, perhaps because they are less likely to slot easily into the “superhero” format, stories of women in the Bible were in short supply in the books I reread. Bibles like The Jesus Storybook Bible, God With Us, and The Biggest Story Bible Storybook excluded some or all of the stories of Rachel and Leah, Ruth and Naomi, and Esther.

These narratives were most likely left out for the sake of brevity and simplicity, not because of any ulterior motives. But it’s still vital to show young children how God uses men and women, not mostly men and the occasional woman.

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Outright inaccuracy

Most worrisome is inaccuracy in children’s Bibles.

Sometimes, extrabiblical details are added, often with the apparent intent to make a standalone story more interesting or relatable. When describing the creation of Adam and Eve, for instance, The Beginner’s Bible goes out of its way to tell us Adam and Eve were in love. And while this unnecessarily saccharine addition makes it to the page, the idea that Adam and Eve were “very good” images of God is never mentioned. Likewise, 365 Bible Stories and Prayers says the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is covered with “ripe, rosy apples,” though the original account in Genesis never states what type of fruit the tree bore.

In other cases, perhaps as part of the effort to pare down and paraphrase, Scripture can be misinterpreted or misattributed. The Beginner’s Bible is again an offender here; it has the angel saying “with God, all things are possible” to Mary as a reference to her own pregnancy rather than to the pregnancy of her cousin Elizabeth .

And inaccuracy doesn’t only appear through the words of children’s Bibles—it also finds its way into illustrations. One of my most frustrating discoveries when reviewing these Bibles was how many of them used Westernized illustrations, depicting various people groups of the Middle East as lily white. The Beginner’s Bible, 365 Bible Stories and Prayers, Precious Moments, and The Big Picture Bible were all guilty of this.

This misrepresentation is a disservice to the historicity of the Bible, and it’s a disservice to the impressionable young children who read these books. It isn’t difficult to depict ancient Middle Eastern people with a correct range of skin colors, and that should be the bare minimum in the illustration of children’s Bibles.

These mistakes are all likely innocent, but they demonstrate a lack of care for the original text of the Bible and the reality of its history. As the Bible is the true, infallible word of God, even retellings for the hearts and minds of little children require the highest regard for truth.

A few storybook Bible favorites

These problems are widespread in the children’s Bible market, but there are also some truly great options available. The three standout picks from my review—The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Biggest Story Bible,and God With Us—each tell the story of the Bible beautifully and accurately, making it accessible and engaging for little minds without weakening the redemptive narrative that runs through Scripture’s pages.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones has become a modern classic for a reason. It has easy-to-understand prose that moves even the hearts of adult readers. (In fact, being pleasurable for readers of all ages is a commonality among all three of these favorites. As C. S. Lewis was inclined to say, “a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.”)

The Jesus Storybook Bible does an excellent job of drawing the reader into each of its Bible stories, but it also concludes every tale with a gesture toward the larger narrative, and it does so in a way that feels neither forced nor tangential. The Jesus Storybook Bible’s greatest weakness is its length. Each story is told carefully, with most running at least six pages long. That means that this Bible has fewer stories than other children’s Bibles do, which is likely why stories like Ruth and Esther are left out.

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Similarly, The Biggest Story Bible Storybook by Kevin DeYoung does an excellent job of weaving the truth of the gospel into each page, and Don Clark’s colorfully abstract illustrations bring a unique addition to a well-worn genre. It’s a recent addition to the shelves, as it was only published in 2022.

The Biggest Story Bible contains a good deal of basic theology within its pages. It reminds readers of God’s sovereignty amid the crucifixion story, for example, and points readers toward God’s glory in the creation story. This also leads to the largest weakness of this book, however, which is that it sometimes focuses too much on teaching theology and too little on telling a story. Some parts feel less like stories and more like sermonettes. Despite this, it’s still a great children’s Bible pick for older kids or kids who are already familiar with the basic narrative of many Bible stories.

Lastly, another newer children’s Bible pick is God With Us: A Journey Home by Jeremy Pierre. God With Us tells the story of the Bible from the perspective of two unnamed angels who open each chapter and provide narration throughout the book. This narrative device ensures that none of the stories feel standalone or without context, as the angels constantly remind the readers of God’s character, his promises, and his love.

The unique storytelling in God With Us is matched by Cassandra Clark’s stunning illustrations—she uses watercolor and pen (along with inspiration from medieval illuminated Bibles) to lushly depict life in the time of the Bible. The book’s weakness, however, is the same as that of The Jesus Storybook Bible: its length. Each chapter is around 10 pages long, and the book only has 30 chapters, focusing mostly on the larger arc of the biblical narrative rather than delving into details. It too is missing several classic stories, again including Ruth and Esther.

The weaknesses of each of these excellent children’s Bibles demonstrates a truth we must remember about all of them: Storybook Bibles are no substitute for the Bible itself.

They can be wonderful tools for helping kids get to know God’s Word, but adults must use them alongside the actual Bible—giving fuller context and meaning and telling children the stories, poetry, and wisdom left out of their storybook versions. God’s Word is for everyone, and he speaks through his text to each of us, even the littlest ones. So choose a children’s Bible that tells the story of the Bible well, but don’t forget to read the “grown-up” Bible to your children too.

Rabekah Henderson is a writer covering faith, architecture, and the built world around us. She lives in Raleigh, NC, and has been featured in Mere Orthodoxy, Common Good, and Dwell.