Top 5: Spiritual Formation in Your Home

August 19, 2022

What are the best children’s Bibles? Do you desire for the good news of God’s redemptive story to be captured in an age-appropriate manner and find some children’s Bibles lacking? Which Bible or devotion book to buy? Consider these titles (with helpful descriptors) from a theologian and mother. If your children are pre-teens and younger, consider engaging these resources for dynamic and meaningful spiritual formation around the dinner table, or wherever regular rhythms occur in your home. If you’re a godparent, grandparent, church member, or neighbor, consider these titles as a guide for aiding these valuable spiritual conversations.

Bibles and Scriptures to Engage Kids 

1. Teach Us to Pray by Lora Copley and Elizabeth Vander HaagenThis is a family favorite of ours, although no doubt it would work even better for families with slightly older kids than our own. This book has daily prayer and worship, patterned after the Christian calendar. Alongside Bible reading and prayers, it introduces specific practices and songs that are picked for each liturgical season. Each day there are eight movements to walk through: preparing, inviting, stilling, singing, Bible reading, dwelling, praying, and blessing. For each liturgical season, the book invites you to a tangible act of preparation (such as Advent, where families set an extra place around the table as a way to concretely anticipate Jesus’ return), sing a particular song, and hear a blessing from scripture. Given their repetition, these words and actions are easy to memorize and become embedded into hearts and practice. Teach Us to Pray is a wonderful guide for family devotions that embodies the story of scripture in concrete practices, invites us to dwell in the story of scripture with probing questions (helpfully aimed at children), and immerses our families in the words of the Bible.

2. Little Prayers for Ordinary Days by Katy Bowser Hutson, Flo Paris Oakes, and Tish Harrison Warren: This is a delightful little book of simple, practical, everyday prayers for children. It is a wonderful way to introduce language of gratitude, delight, frustration, sadness, and more into a child’s prayer life. There are prayers specifically for mealtime that can be used around the table, not only for an everyday meal, but for a meal that we might not like all that much, and prayers for so many other moments of the day, both big and ordinary (school days, for rest time, for play time, for story time, for music, for friendship, for mistakes, for chores, and so much more). What a gift this book is, helping us teach and model the language of prayer to a God who is near, and wants to hear about every moment! In many ways, this book models the language of the Psalmist, in tangible, comprehensible ways for children (the authors suggest that this is for ages four to eight).

3. The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones: This is an incredibly popular children’s Bible, for good reason! In fact, my church gives this book to the parents of every child that is baptized in our congregation. Jago’s illustrations are striking (so much so that even my 17 month old spends lots of time looking at them!) and the stories are beautifully told. In Lloyd-Jones’ words, her love and adoration for Jesus are clear – and she does a marvelous job of tracing the redemptive work of God throughout the entire storyline of scripture.. It is a lyrical, biblically faithful, and easily understandable retelling of the stories of scripture for children.

4. Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones: This is a slightly different book from Lloyd-Jones—a devotional instead of a children’s Bible—that makes a wonderful companion to her Jesus Storybook Bible or The Story of God’s Love for You. In it, with her typical inviting, accessible, and lyrical prose, Lloyd-Jones invites readers to dive deeper into God’s truth, to sit with the words of scripture in a devotional way, and to feel the presence of God through these short, powerful devotions. A favorite of mine is on the Ten Commandments where she writes, “You obey God, not so that God will love you—he already does. He couldn’t love you any more than he does!—but because you love him. We can love God’s rules now—because they show us more about God and how to love him.”

5. Follow Me: Bible Stories for Children by Liesbeth van BinsbergenSome interpret the second commandment’s prohibition against images to include any images of Jesus. If that’s the case for you, good children’s Bibles can be a bit more difficult to find, since so many artistically portray Jesus! Follow Me is a wonderful option that has been recently published in English. Though it is a translation from Liesbeth van Binsbergen’s original publication in Dutch (Volj Mij: Kinderbijbel), it is incredibly readable and the language is very accessible for children. Throughout these Bible stories, van Binsbergen weaves together God’s promises of redemption and the fulfillment of these promises. At the end of each, there are discussion questions that can help your family think deeply about the story you’ve read. This book fills an important need for those that want a children’s Bible without pictures of Jesus, while still providing illustrated, simple stories (though, admittedly, I find the illustrations—with or without images of Jesus—in other children’s Bibles a bit more engaging).

Other children’s Bibles we use from time to time with appreciation: Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible,1 The Promises of God, and The Biggest Story Bible Storybook

Board Books to assist in Spiritual Formation

1-2. The Baby Believer Series by Danielle Hitchen: of this series, the current favorites in my household are First Bible Basics and Psalms of Praise (during Easter, we read Holy Week quite frequently, too!). I was a little skeptical of these at first, since each is a different “primer” on things like movement, emotions, counting, etc. I didn’t want to see biblical truths turned into a utilitarian way of learning other basics, and thankfully these are far from that! They are beautifully illustrated, theologically rich, full of scripture, and even have some wonderful references to hymns, creeds (the Apostle’s Creed), and theologians (like Augustine). These are wonderful books to teach the basics of the faith!

3. Loved, Nearand Foundall by Sally Lloyd-Jonesfor fans of The Jesus Storybook, Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote three small board books, on Psalm 139 (Near), Psalm 23 (Found), and the Lord’s Prayer (Loved) with the same wonderful retelling, in child-friendly, lyrical language of scriptural passages. They are also, once again, beautifully illustrated by Jago. We love these for a short read before naptime! 

4. The Biggest Story ABC, by Kevin DeYoung: unlike other alphabet books, which often focus on an individual concept for each letter, this book tells the story of scripture, through the alphabet. This way of storytelling may not be the best for learning each letter of the alphabet (everything was Beautiful in God’s good world is for B!), but for young children, that’s not the only goal. This book gives a concise, but rich (it includes everything from the plagues in Egypt, to the prophets, and even has a reference to the intertestamental period!) telling of God’s promises throughout creation: from the garden to the new Jerusalem, in child-friendly language. 

5. At Your Baptismby Carrie Steenwyk and John D. Witvliet: this is a favorite of ours for a baptism gift. It uses the language from the French Reformed liturgy for baptism, affirming to young children the depth and breadth of God’s love for them, signed and sealed in their baptism. As a bonus, the top of each page has the simplified text, which is perfect for the younger years. As they grow, you can also read the smaller text on the bottom of each page, which digs even deeper into the promises signed and sealed in baptism.

Books to assist in Children’s Spiritual Formation 

1. God’s Very Good Idea by Trillia NewbellThis is a wonderful book that tells the story of God’s good plan for diversity in humanity through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Newbell introduces children to the basics of a Christian worldview with an eye towards God’s “delightfully different family.” We love this book for its vivid and colorful illustrations, and gospel-centered message. For slightly older kids, check out her book Creative God, Colorful Us. This book is also part of a series, Tales that Tell the Truth, which includes so many other gems.

2. The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross by Carl Laferton: this book is also part of the Tales that Tell the Truth series (this series is a favorite around our house!). Laferton also helps solidify the basics of the Christian story and worldview from creation to restoration, but his focus is on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Children will learn about God’s plan of redemption that weaves throughout the entirety of scripture—Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—and how they can join into this life-changing story. Like Newbell’s, this book tackles tricky questions—why did Jesus have to die? How is Jesus’ death for me?—in theologically fruitful, child-appropriate language.

3. Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit by Esau McCaulley: McCaulley is well known as a first-rate biblical scholar. In his latest work, he shows not only his biblical knowledge and wisdom, but his ability to relay deep truths of God in memorable and accessible ways. This book marvelously expounds on several key themes: the image of God, the beauty of diversity, and the story of Pentecost. McCaulley teaches us about each of them through the story of Josey, a young black girl who is preparing for Pentecost Sunday. As Josey goes through her day, especially in her trip to the hair salon, we learn about the beautiful ways God makes us all different—“each of us is God’s unique work of art . . . (and) are special and worthy of honor.”— and then as she puts on her red dress and goes to church, we learn about how God brings so many different people together, to worship him, “Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is for all people”! McCaulley helps us notice the differences in the people around us and celebrate the good diversity in God’s creation.

4. Psalms for Young Children by Marie-Hélène Delval: many children’s Bibles focus on the stories (they are, after all, called storybook Bibles!). This book helps introduce children to the wisdom literature of scripture by paraphrasing the Psalms, with all their highs and lows – in ways kids can understand (one of my favorites: “when I trust in God, it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket”). This book, like the Psalter, encompasses a range of emotions even in its paraphrasing: scared, mad, happy, sad, calm, angry, etc. It’s all there in these short Psalms, teaching children that they can bring all of it, the good and the bad, to God! They are short and impactful, perfect for reading after a meal or before bed!

5. When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner: this little book explores what it means to be formed in the image of God. With rhythmic beauty, Turner reminds children that they are special, unique, and known by God and he urges them to go out into the world and use the unique gifts that God has given them to “Discover. Explore! . . . Use your talents and passions, those gifts that God fashioned.” In many ways, this book takes a theological idea like the “filling” inherent in the cultural mandate and translates those ideas (whether the Turner had these in mind or not!) into child-appropriate concepts and language. He urges children to go (and fill!) the earth that God has made, as image bearers of the creative God.

This summer In All Things is light-heartedly including recommendations, tips, and joys that we would love to share with you, readers, in the format of Top Five Fridays, switching up our themes each week. Enjoy these great resources!

About the Author
  • Jessica Joustra is Assistant Professor of Religion and Theology at Redeemer University (Hamilton, ON, Canada). She also serves as an Associate Researcher at the Neo-Calvinism Research Institute (Theologische Universiteit Kampen).

  1. note: in this book, the stories are arranged differently than in the Bible  

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