I meant to interview Sally Lloyd-Jones just so I could tell you how much I love her book, The Jesus Storybook Bible. (I love the simple language for kids. I love the context it provides. I love that all stories point to Jesus.)
But when I read her answers, they were dripping with hope so I saved them to share with you during Lent.
What inspired this project?
Sometimes I go into Sunday schools and ask two questions of the children. “How many people here think you have to be good for God to love you?” And, “How many people here think God will stop loving you if you stop being good?”
I wrote this book for the children who put up their hands.
Unfortunately quite a few do. And these are not children who don’t know the Bible. These are children who know their Bible stories very well, who could answer all the questions, who go to Sunday school, who are “good.” But somehow they’re missing the most important thing of all. The true heart. What the Bible is all about.
And why is it important to you that our little ones see the story of Jesus woven throughout the Bible? What does that teach them?
If we don’t see that it’s all about Jesus we will end up in despair. Because we will think it’s all about us. And we will quickly see that we cannot live up to the moral code.
We need to teach children that the Bible is not about them and what they should be doing. The Bible is about God and what he has done. The Bible is not not a book of rules or a book of Heroes, the Bible is most of all a Story.
It’s the glorious Story of how God loves his children and has come to rescue them.
That brings children hope.
I could only include just over 40 stories. So it was very hard to choose. In a children’s storybook Bible you have various criteria in choosing which stories to include:
- Obviously there are the non-negotiable ones. You need as many of the classic stories as you can fit (Creation, Fall, Noah, Moses, Joseph, Daniel, Jonah, John the Baptist, Paul, etc.). And if you’re going to tell the central through story of the Bible which I think you must—the great Rescue Story—you need to be sure to include certain others stories too
- I wanted an approximate equal number of stories from the OT and the NT
- I wanted the stories that are good for illustration potential (e.g. Noah is great, so is Jonah) because this will keep the young reader engaged
- I wanted to bring out the variety in the Bible itself (psalms, parables, healings, teachings, prayers, etc.) so that determined other choices
Beyond those criteria, as I prayed for wisdom in choosing, I went with the stories that moved me the most, knowing as Frost said, “no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” So for instance, when I had a choice between Rachel and Leah and Ruth and Naomi (for space limitations I could only have one), I chose Rachel and Leah and wrote “The Girl No One Wanted” because at the time my little niece who’d only just started in kindergarten was suffering from a poor self-image (even at this early age) because of what some child had said to her. I wanted my niece to know what God says about her: that God chooses her and says she is a princess.
And when you were simplifying and trimming stories, how did you make sure to keep the most important parts? (That can be tough!)
Simplifying someone said is removing the unnecessary that the necessary may speak.
The Bible obviously is an adult book. To retell it for children you are going to have to simplify. And a very important distinction to make is that this book is a retelling–a storybook. It’s not a translation.
My overall goal in the story book was to paint a portrait of Jesus through every story. Each story bringing out another facet of who Jesus is (a Prince, a servant, etc.) so that by the end of the book children hopefully would have met him in the pages of the book.
Was it difficult to simplify the language?
I imagined myself with children sitting around me. If you do that, it keeps you trying harder to find the right words. It keeps you honest. You can’t use jargon with a 5 year old. You have to find another way to say it. So It is a great work out! It takes all of your strength and discipline to distill something profound down into its core truth without dumbing down. Being simple isn’t being simple-minded. It is finding language to convey the profound in words they can understand. It takes longer to be shorter. Blaise Pascal apologized for writing a long letter because he didn’t have time to make it shorter. Miles Davis said “listen to what I can leave out.”