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In previous posts I have shared my favorite books for teaching history, and many of you said you appreciate those book reviews and would like more recommendations covering other subjects as well. So today I’m sharing some great living books for teaching Bible.
Now, the first one I hope is quite obvious: the Bible. This should be your main living book for the whole family. Any other books you bring into the Bible lessons should play a supporting role; the Bible should have the spotlight.
Use whatever translation you prefer, but let your children have direct contact with God’s Word as much as possible. Read a portion, then have your children narrate it. That’s what the majority of your Bible lessons should look like.
Of course, Charlotte Mason realized that some portions of certain Bible narratives (mainly in the Old Testament) might not be appropriate for young children. She recommended that we omit those portions that are not “suitable” for children under the age of nine. I interpret “unsuitable” to mean those instances that are graphic or sexual in nature. Many of those can be skipped until the child is older. But sometimes a certain event is important for continuity in the plot of the story. For example, how did Joseph end up in jail if you skip the scene with Potiphar’s wife? In those situations, you can reword the passage yourself or—here’s my favorite way to handle it—you can use a trusted retelling for that particular portion. I like to use The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. Of all the children’s story Bibles I have seen, this is one of the best. It is very living in style and it stays very true to Scripture, including many details and stories that most story Bibles omit. Catherine Vos also does a wonderful job of dealing in a tactful yet truthful way with passages that could be unsuitable for younger children. So you might keep this book on the side and use it as needed.
Another supporting book that Charlotte Mason recommended using in Bible lessons is a children’s commentary. Two things you need to remember about using a commentary: (1) It should be written for children, and (2) It should be used after the children have narrated the Bible passage for themselves. Have the children read or listen to the Bible passage and narrate it first, then share with them any particular points from the commentary that you think would be interesting or helpful. The children’s commentary that I like to recommend is the Herein Is Love Series by Nancy E. Ganz. And don’t be misled, though it is a children’s commentary, I recommend it for the whole family. It contains wonderful, God-honoring insights that will teach and interest all ages. There are five commentaries in the series covering Genesis through Deuteronomy. We have included three of those commentaries in our lesson plan book, Genesis through Deuteronomy and Ancient Egypt. We recommend using portions of the commentaries on Exodus and Numbers to supplement the family Bible readings in those two books. Then we assign the Leviticus commentary to the older students in grades 7–12 to read and narrate independently.
I’m sometimes asked why we didn’t include the other two commentaries in our lesson plans. The answer is, I’m sure the other two books are just as wonderful as the three that we specifically recommend. We just wanted to incorporate some variety during that year of studies rather than having the same format for lessons all year long. For example, in the Genesis study the focus is more on key people and events and character traits.
So the Exodus and Numbers commentaries add some good insights to those Bible narratives, emphasizing how God’s dealings with Israel show His steadfast and perfect love. And the Leviticus commentary is fabulous! It’s too easy to get bogged down in that book, reading about all of the details of the sacrifices and the jobs of the Levites in the tabernacle. But this commentary approaches those details topically. It explains the priests’ responsibilities, the holy days that God instituted, the moral law, the civil law, funding for the Lord’s work, and more. It’s an excellent and God-honoring overview of a Bible book that is too often overlooked. In fact, read it along with your older student; you will learn a lot.
I want to recommend three other books that supplement and support the Bible narrative. I guess you could call them historical fiction, because they include some speculation about details that the Bible accounts do not tell us; but these books are meticulously researched and help us to make more personal connections with the people and events we read about in Scripture.
The True Story of Noah’s Ark by Tom Dooley
The flowing narrative and beautifully detailed illustrations in this book make the account of Noah come to life. It even has a fold-out panorama picture of what the inside of the ark might have looked like. I recommend it for grades 1–6, though all ages will find the pictures fascinating.
Adam and His Kin by Ruth Beechick
This book tackles the question, How might the early history of the world—creation, the fall, the flood, and the tower of Babel—the first 11 chapters of Genesis, have been passed down from Adam to Abram? It is a speculative yet intriguing narrative that portrays what daily life might have been like for the main Bible characters through Abram. I recommend it for grades 7–12, because I want my students to already have a firm grounding in what the Bible says about those first chapters of Genesis so they can distinguish between what we are told and what the author is imagining.
The Apostle: A Life of Paul by John Pollock (grades 10–12)
This book is a superbly-crafted, extensively-researched living narrative of the life of Paul. I recommend it for grades 10–12 and for parents too. It fills in the spaces between those intermittent glimpses of Paul’s life that we see in Acts, painting a fuller picture, and along with it, teaching us a lot about Jewish culture, geography, and Ancient Roman practices. Of course, some details must be speculative, but those are clearly labeled as such and do not detract from the power of this book. What Adam and His Kin does for Genesis, The Apostle does for Acts and the epistles. However, I have recommended this book for the upper grades because of some of the descriptions of sinful cities that Paul visited and preached in. Their sinful practices are not in any way sensationalized or presented inappropriately, but they are mentioned to give a better idea of the culture in which he ministered. A fabulous living book!
And while we’re talking about Bible historical fiction, let me give you a bonus title.
Hittite Warrior by Joanne Williamson
This fictional story is set in the time of the Judges and gives students an idea of how the different civilizations of the Ancient Greeks, Hebrews, and Canaanites might have interacted. Uriah is the main character who escapes from the Greeks, hides with the Canaanites, then ends up running to the hill country of Judea with a Hebrew named Jotham. There they find Deborah and Barak mustering the Hebrews to fight the Canaanites. Recommended for grades 7–12.
If you want to clarify where these different books fit in our six-year Bible plan, here’s how it would break down.
- The Bible is used in all of the lesson plan guides. The daily reading plans tell you which passages to read and have the children narrate on which days.
- Genesis through Deuteronomy and Ancient Egypt includes The Child’s Story Bible (as needed), the Herein Is Love commentaries, The True Story of Noah’s Ark, and Adam and His Kin.
- The bonus title of Hittite Warrior would fit with the Joshua through Malachi and Ancient Greece study; but remember that it is a bonus title and not written into the daily lesson plans guide.
- The Apostle is included in the lesson plans for Matthew through Acts and Ancient Rome.
We have other books that we recommend for teaching your older student how to do Bible study, such as inductive study, character studies, topical studies, word studies, etc. I’ll cover those books in a separate post.