Review: The Biggest Story Bible Storybook by DeYoung

The Biggest Story Bible Storybook written by Kevin DeYoung and illustrated by Don Clark, is a lighthearted, playful, yet faithful summary of the most important story ever told. It is one in a series of illustrated story Bibles by the duo. The Biggest Story ABC is a board book written for the youngest non-readers under three. The Biggest Story Bible Storybook (hereafter The Storybook) is recommended for children 6–12 years. The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden shares the same age range as The Storybook, but it is a much shorter, bird’s eye view of redemptive history. The Storybook, a hefty 529 pages, includes short introductions to each section and a one sentence prayer after each chapter, filling the space between a young children’s storybook Bible and a teen study Bible. The introductions before each section introduce the genre of the section and provide helpful background information for both parents and older readers. Each short chapter is roughly 3–4 pages with lots of illustrations sharing the page with the text. The chapter length seems ideal for a 6-year-old being introduced to reading and chapter books. The humor and nomenclature are at approximately their level of understanding, but the book provides enough information to the parent reader to help explain further, if needed. On the other hand, the 12-year-old can comfortably read the chapters by themselves as an excellent devotional book because it provides them with a redemptive historical summary of Scripture without much need for further explanation or exposition.

Unlike some storybook Bibles, the art is neither childish nor is it too serious or literal. They are uniquely colorful, modern, whimsical, and abstract, but still manage to convey the main gist of each story and make every full-color page a captivating journey. Unlike The Biggest Story ABC or The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden, this book contains images of Christ. In the author’s Note to Parents, DeYoung explains that by leaving Christ absent from the illustrations of which he is the main character would be misleading. The illustrations are meant to be “obviously artistically stylized,” avoiding the common pitfalls of depicting Jesus in “culturally unrealistic,” “cartoonishly silly” or misleadingly lifelike (p. 11). The illustrations are relatively abstract with strong geometrical features, but the classic beard and shoulder length hair are unmistakably the classic Jesus figure.

The Storybook is a chapter book, broken down into seven parts, reflecting the various genre divisions of scripture. Most books receive at least one chapter, but some do not receive any, such as the Song of Solomon. Some books receive more, such as Genesis, which receives 12 chapters. DeYoung’s goal was not to “take creative license with the text of Scripture” or repeat it. Instead, the sections and chapters are written in such a way as to be a “theologically minded and redemptively focused interpretation of the main stories in the Bible” (p. 10).

The Storybook opens with an introduction to the Pentateuch and covers Genesis to Deuteronomy. In Chapter 2, “A Very Bad Day,” DeYoung introduces the promise of the Snake Crusher, illustrating the proto-evangelium and the cosmic struggle that would unfold. This theme of the Snake Crusher is repeated often throughout the entire book, tying together redemptive history. The story of Abraham is covered thoroughly in four chapters, introducing the promises made to Abraham to make him a great nation with a people and place. Each chapter points to the biggest story unfolding as God reveals his plan. The promise of the Son of God, the “rescuer who was yet to come…to suffer and die and be our substitute” is beautifully articulated in chapter 17, “The Tale of the Two Goats” (p. 103).

The second Part, History, covers the historical books from Joshua to Esther. With so many good stories to choose from, DeYoung had his work cut out for him. Unlike many storybooks for younger children, DeYoung quickly covers David in one chapter and dives into the messy stories of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. He chooses the highlights and explains the stories thoughtfully and clearly.

The smallest section is part 3, Poetry, covering Job in two chapters, Psalm 23 in a single chapter and Proverbs in a single chapter. Song of Solomon is omitted, not receiving a chapter of its own. The chapter on Proverbs is devoted to describing biblical wisdom, but no proverbs are quoted or paraphrased in the chapter.

A somewhat unique and very valuable part of this book is Part 4, The Prophets, where at least one chapter is dedicated to each of the major and minor prophets. Many storybook Bibles gloss over the major and minor prophets, but DeYoung redemptive-historically summarizes each one.

In true storybook fashion, the main events of the four Gospels are covered in a chronological selection from each book. The section starts with the first seven chapters of Matthew, then moves on to the first six chapters of Mark, and back and forth between the two, mixing in about five chapters from Luke and one from John. DeYoung carefully goes through many of the stories in the gospels, explaining the what and why of Jesus’ words and deeds. The last few chapters of the Gospels have an anticipatory sense of drama building up to the death and resurrection of Christ.

In Part 6: Acts and Epistles from Acts to Jude, the book of Acts is thoroughly covered with twelve chapters, mostly focusing on the first half of the book. DeYoung retells the stories of the Apostles with simplicity and clarity. The Epistles are covered in more of a best of album, including Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 13, Philemon, and James 3. Each chapter on the Epistles summarizes the main gist. DeYoung always keeps the focus on the work of Christ and what he has accomplished, rather than turning this portion of the Storybook into a laundry list for the young Christian reader.

The final section covers Revelation in one chapter, drawing the biggest story to a close with a beautiful illustration of the new heavens and new Earth. The final page closes with a completely dark page full of drama and a promise, “Count on it,” the Snake Crusher said, “I am coming soon.”

Highlights

DeYoung demonstrates skill in explaining difficult and theologically complicated subjects to children. He also repeatedly explains throughout the unfolding story that God’s people were never perfect and needed a savior, even the heroes. The book is sprinkled with humor throughout, from jokes about unicorns eating ice cream to one of the most unique quotes in the book that wouldn’t be found in any other storybook Bible and a perfect example of classic Kevin DeYoung humor: “Every other hero is a mixed bag–like a sack full of jellybeans and baby carrots” (p. 128).

The summary of Hosea demonstrates the gentle skill of summarizing biblical stories for children while keeping the redemptive historical aspects of the story intact. He describes the command given to Hosea as a command to marry a “bad wife.” After explaining the difficult tasks that God assigns Hosea, he concludes that the main point of the whole biblical story is that “we have a loving God who loves unlovely people” and God “showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (p. 254).

In Chapter 80, “A Meal for the Ages,” DeYoung writes about the Lord’s supper and it is a great example of the level of theology covered in this book. He point blank and matter of factly states, “Jesus wasn’t saying the red wine they drank was actually his blood.” He succinctly describes the supper by saying, “If you feast on me in faith, God will wipe away your sins and you will live forever…It’s food to help our faith, a supper to give us strength.” (p. 410).

Evaluation

While The Biggest Storybook Bible is a lengthy, faithful summary of the greatest story ever told, there were a few omissions that would have made it even more helpful. In general, there could have been more of an emphasis on the family line of Adam and the promised seed of Abraham leading up to Christ, the Snake Crusher. In Part 1 and 2, for example, tracing the line from Adam through Ruth and so on would have been very helpful. The chapter on Ruth ends with a quick genealogy leading up to king David from Ruth, but taking it one step further to explain why that is important would have been helpful.

Interestingly, chapter 7 titled “Let’s Make a Deal” covers the cutting of the covenant with Abraham and mentions that “God guaranteed on His own life that he would do for Abram all the good things he had promised,” but there is no mention of Christ or the New Covenant in the chapter (p. 54-57). It seems like this would have been a perfect chapter to expound on faith in the promises of God in relation to the future work of Christ. To a child, this new concept of cutting a covenant and God himself laying down his life would be very foreign without further explanation. These concepts are further expounded upon later in the text, but the missing explanation in this chapter seems like a missed opportunity.

There are other peculiar omissions such as the story of Hagar and Ishmael from the Abrahamic narrative as well as the absence of Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah from the narrative of Jacob. In general, DeYoung doesn’t avoid talking about multiple wives in other parts of the text, so the omission probably has more to do with keeping the narrative focused in limited space.

Warning: in Chapter 65 there is an illustration of John the Baptist’s decapitated head. For a 6-year-old, this might be a somewhat grotesque and frightening image. To the 12-year-old, this would probably seem pretty cool. It is a good example of how DeYoung doesn’t shy away from the difficult parts of the story, but it may depend upon the individual child if it is appropriate.

Despite these minor critiques, The Storybook is clear and concise with its aim and scope, with plenty of that signature Kevin DeYoung humor mixed in. Often, children’s film and literature is written to inspire adults as much as it is for children and that is DeYoung’s very intention, as stated in the introduction, that this book would serve the adults reading it as much as the children. The text is substantial enough to introduce parents and children alike to the “biggest story” and dip their toes in the depth and texture of Scripture while being visually stunning.

© Tricia Howerzyl. All Rights Reserved.

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10 comments

  1. No matter how you excuse it, images of Jesus are a violation of the second commandment. As HC 98 says, we should not presume to be wiser than God.

    • I am a little surprised to see DeYoung making what is essentially the Greek Orthodox argument for images contra the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Standards. We know that DeYoung is familiar with the Heidelberg’s exposition of the 2nd commandment since he published a popular commentary on the catechism several years ago.

      This is interesting since DeYoung has sided with those who are concerned about antinomianism. What I don’t understand is why his rejection of the Reformed confession regarding the 2nd commandment isn’t also a form of antinomianism? On what basis does DeYoung excuse himself from the prohibition against images and the clear, unequivocal confession of the churches regarding the same?

      The Reformed churches were merely re-stating the ancient Christian prohibition against images of God the Son. See the resources below.

      Resources On Images Of Christ

    • Using images of the God Man for the “purposes of teaching” is all the rage and a common exception to the WCF in the PCA. You could not be the Senior Pastor of a PCA megachurch and not be a little hip.

  2. Fun Fact….. illustrator Don Clark is co-founder of Christian metal band, Demon Hunter, a truly excellent band.

    • Haha dude, I really wanted to comment on that too but I didn’t say anything because I doubted any HB readers/Reformed people enjoy that stuff. (Same reason I don’t mention I was a vocalist for a small local band back where I’m from.) But I loved DH when he was in it. They haven’t been as good in my opinion since his time in the band. He’s a very accomplished artist with his brother (DH vocalist). I think their father is a pastor if I’m not mistaken. Your comment made my day haha.

  3. I like how the band has evolved by throwing in more mid-tempo, melodic elements while retaining some bone crushing riffage. And those lyrics – wow. Some deep, faithful sentiments. I’m digging the new Exile tunes and War/Peace…. not a major fan of the older stuff that sounds very dated to me.

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