Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review of "I Can Learn the Bible" by Holly Hawkins Shivers

As a mom of three little boys, I'm always on the lookout for devotional materials for the preschool and kindergarten set. With my oldest, I've read several children's bibles, such as The Big Picture Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible, I Can Read New Testament, and Jesus Calling Bible Storybook to name some. Holly Hawkins Shiver's I Can Learn the Bible: 52 Scriptures Every Kid Should Know, is a children's adaptation of her father's popular devotional, The Joshua Code. It is listed as being for ages 4-8, so I was keen to get my hands on it. The book is designed to be used over the course of a year, but I decided to test out a few of the devotions on my 6-year-old and 3-year-old over the course of a week. As with all devotionals and children's story Bibles, I feel that the key is to adapt the material to my children's level of comprehension and interests. In Shiver's new resource, I found plenty of material to help my boys ponder their Maker, but most of that required me to be a very active reader, tweaking some of the wordings and being open to their honest questions. Here's some of the highlights and hiccups we encountered:

I've not read The Joshua Code, so I can't comment on how much of Shivers' exposition is her original insight or thoughts adapted from her father's book. However, I liked the way she explained Romans 8:28 by comparing God's working all things for good to cooking up a batch of homemade biscuits. While individual ingredients, such as baking powder or flour would taste awful by themselves, Shivers explains, "Like those yucky ingredients, some things in life 'taste' bad to us or make us very sad" (31). I thought this was clever, and my 6-year-old was held by the metaphor. Other deep yet kid-friendly moments included Shiver's use of "Opposite Day" to describe God's Kingdom, in which the King is a servant, the greatest shall be the least and the first last. In week 17, Shivers presents the Bible's famous shortest verse, "Jesus cried." She explains that Christ's tears were not because he was sad that Lazarus died, after all, he could easily resurrect him. Instead, Jesus was feeling empathy for his friend's bitterly grieving sisters. This opened up a moment for me to ask Stephen whether he'd ever cried when someone else was very sad. My son couldn't relate to this, but quickly came up with his own example of how he laughs when his friend laughs or feels happy when those he cares about are happy.

As much as I liked Shiver's treatment of the Lazarus story, I couldn't completely rely on the text to enlighten my children. The book's illustrations are in a quirky, whimsical style and employ a mix of animal and human characters. Because "Jesus Wept" is accompanied by a cat crying a puddle of tears, my 3-year-old innocently asked, "Is that Jesus?" We all got a good belly laugh out of that. Additionally, the second part of the devotion shifts to talking about Psalm 56:8, in which God keeps our tears in his bottle. At this, my oldest shouts, "His bottle?! Does God drink our tears?" In my own reading of the psalms, I've always found this wording a little bit weird and figured something must be lost in the translation. So I told Stephen that the psalm also says God writes our cares in his book, an idea that is a little easier for him to grasp and conveys the spirit of the verse without conjuring up Alice in Wonderland scenes.

I didn't read the entire book to my boys, but read through it myself--something I recommend doing for all devotionals parents plan to read to their kids! There are a few other weeks I might skip or verbally rewrite when I do get a chance to share them with my boys. For example, week 26 features God looking at our hearts rather than external appearance in 1 Samuel 16:7. I think this an entirely appropriate topic for children, however Shivers writes that, "You might think things like, I am too short, I am too skinny, or My hair is ugly" (116). This gave me pause. Many children between the ages 4-8 are still blissfully unaware of their physical appearance. My 6-year-old has always been at least a head shorter than his classmates, but only recently realized it and doesn't see it as a flaw. For some children, hearing that they might think these negative thoughts would actually be their first introduction to these thoughts. As a side note, this is why it's so important that we as parents don't practice negative self-talk in earshot of our kids. Other parents may have kids who have already expressed discontentment with their physical appearance, and this would be a perfect devotion to read with them.

My final critique is Shivers' exposition of "God's phone number," Jeremiah 33:3. The verse reads, "Pray to me, and I will answer you. I will tell you important secrets. You have never heard these things before" (54). Despite the obvious emphasis on God speaking and, presumably, the praying person listening, the entire devotion emphasizes that we can talk to God and tell him everything and get things off our chest, and thank him when we're done. She writes, "When you are talking to a friend, one of you is talking and the other is listening. That is the way communications works. Well, prayer is the talking part of our relationship with God" (55). She also implies that God's answer is simply that He picks up the "phone" and will always be ready to listen to us whenever we pray. I don't dispute any of this, of course. But Shivers implies that we do all the talking. And, if I'm honest, many of my prayers are one-sided conversations. This is why I've been intentional about encouraging my son to listen for God's still small voice. To hear God's answers to his questions, and to even, like Samuel, hear God's speaking when he hasn't asked for an answer.

So, in conclusion, I plan to continue using I Can Learn the Bible with my sons because it is a book that opens up space to talk about God's word with simple metaphors and playful images. However, this book, like all children's bibles, requires that I tune into God's moment-by-moment rhema word to be able to flesh out some of the devotions and trim others to best meet my children's needs.

*Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

1 comment:

  1. Hey Priscilla! Thanks for commenting. Yes. Each child is so unique in their needs, comprehension level, perspectives, hang-ups, fears and curiosities. I think as parents we have to become prayerful readers of their little hearts while we read to them. And no matter how good a book is, no matter how high the truth, and no matter how wise the author, there will always be places were we as parents will need to translate the content in to the words that will best reach them. Not always easy.

    What were some specific helpful insights you found in Raising Up the Next Generation? Or a specific section you liked? I found the book online, but got a little bogged down in the introduction's Recovery-ease :)