One of my favorite things about being a career long Christian educator and a mother of young children is searching for books that I can use to teach children, my own and others, about the rich nuance, depth and texture of the Christian faith and scriptures. In the rise of bullying and other toxic influences our our children face I find that shaping their character around the teaching of faith urgently important. Books and the conversations that can unfold around them can be used to shape our children’s character and how they live their faith in the world.
Another aspect of Children’s spiritual formation I find urgent is the need for Christian educators be more mindful about creating and utilizing resources that de-center whiteness and tell the stories of faith of all kinds of children and people. It’s not responsible to teach our children that the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean characters of the Bible looked like white Europeans. I also love books that expose my children to different ways of worshiping written from the perspective of other communities within my own faith tradition.
My favorite children’s book on faith and scripture are not books that tell or tie up the story neatly, but rather invite children to imagine the multiple perspectives in the story and consider the complexities of human relationship, so that we can teach children how to navigate those complexities with strong sense of God’s goodness and love. Some are recent releases and some are older but all of them share the common thread of either being books my own children insist on reading over and over and over again or books that I use in teaching children that have encourage good conversation and connections. Here are 20 of my favorite children’s books on Christian faith and scripture.
Who Counts? 100 Sheep, 10 Coins and 2 Sons by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
If our personal family book collection could be ranked like Billboard, Amy-Jill Levine’s Who Counts? would rank at the top for “most read.” While the concepts and lessons of these stories are engaging for elementary aged children, this book captivated my three year old’s attention. It takes the stories of the lost sheep, lost coin and two sons and ties them together in a single visual and theological thread the way that Jesus told them.
Maybe God is Like that Too by Jennifer Grant
Seeing God at work in the world is such an abstract concept to teach kids but with Maybe God is Like that Too Jennifer Grant helps young readers see how our everyday actions and interactions can be the presence of God. This book encourages young readers to see God in lots of different ways and I love using it at bedtime to ask my kids about their day–where they saw God at work and how they could have showed up to be God’s presence to someone else in the day.
Early Sunday Morning by Denene Milner
There are rare Sunday mornings where my family moves slowly and feels reluctant to dress up, load in the car and drive across town to church but once we arrive in the presence of our beloved community and fall into our rhythm that all melts away. Early Sunday Morning is brightly illustrated book about the rhythms and joy of Sunday morning at church and a fun way to talk as a family or in Sunday School about why we gather and what it means to us.
When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner
This is not the only Matthew Paul Turner on this list, in fact all of his children’s books have made this list. I order this book for expectant parents as part of their baby gift, I give it to new parents in the church, I make sure every church I work with has a copy in the nursery and I have a colleague that gives this book to new parents at baby dedications or baptisms (depending on your tradition). When God Made You is a wonderful message with creative illustrations to teach and instill in young children their inherent worth in God’s eyes.
Peace is an Offering by Annette LeBox
This book teaches children how everyday actions can sow seeds of peace in their neighborhood. Peace is an Offering connects the everyday to the holy, inviting readers to make connections to small deeds to holy action. The illustrations in this book are sweet and joyful and we love talking about being people who value peacemaking as part of what our faith teaches us.
A Church for All by Gayle E Pitman
I saw this book an Here Wee Read‘s Instagram feed months before this book released and eagerly anticipated its arrival on my doorstep. It’s an easy book that uses accessible language and vivid illustrations of all the different kinds of people who are welcome at church. I love that this book includes bodies of all different shapes, color, ability and family structures to not just tell that church is for everyone but visually show children. A Church for All is mandatory book for church nurseries and worship spaces.
Home by Another Way: A Christmas Story by Barbara Brown Taylor
Barbara Brown Taylor is known for her writing around spiritual formation and pastoral leadership. With Home by Another Way Brown Taylor reframes the story of the wisemen to imagine their interactions with Herod, Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus and how they encounters shaped them. The illustrations are beautiful but it is the story telling that sets it apart amongst its Christmas storybook peers.
Nativity by Cynthia Rylant
Every year we wrap books and unwrap and read one as part of our Advent practice. I purchased this book this past Advent and was delightfully surprised by the unexpected twist in this book. Rylant uses the story of the birth of Jesus to talk about the Beatitudes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Nativity makes for a resource that connects the birth of Jesus with the life and ministry of Jesus. It makes for a helpful resource in Advent, Lent or in Ordinary Time. But what I most love is that it makes the abstract teaching of the Beatitudes tangible for young readers.
Have I Ever Told You? by Shani King
Sometimes children’s books are also helpful instructional tools for the grown ups in their lives. Have I Ever Told You? is a lovely book of affirmation and blessings. This book is not overtly religious but I love the way it can encourage conversations with kids about the things that matter. I would LOVE to use this book during an intergenerational teaching during Sunday School or family retreat to teach about how we bless the people we love and we encounter with our words and then things we tell them about themselves.
Who Is My Neighbor? by Amy-Jill Levine & Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
Another instant classic at our house, Who Is My Neighbor? imagines the story traditionally referred to as “The Good Samaritan” in a way that connects to small children. The yellows and the blues live in separate communities and are suspicious of their different ways of living–different songs, different foods, etc. But then an accident occurs and a blue and yellow are forced to see each other and their communities differently. A sweet and accessible book for all ages to understand the story with a fresh perspective on a timeless classic.
When I Pray for You by Matthew Paul Turner
I love using prayer stations to teach all ages. When I Pray for You can be used with preschoolers and families to introduce and teach the practice of intercessory prayer. This book could easily be paired with a lesson on all the places and ways that we pray and used with preschoolers through early elementary aged kids, as it talks about all the ways that a parent prays for a child. It can also be used by families at home to start a conversation on family values, hopes and dreams. When I read this book to my little ones I like to ask them “do you know what I pray for you?” and then share all those kind things I want to sew into their hearts. Sometimes I will flip it and ask “what do we pray for grandma?” or some other friend or relative as a way of helping them expand their sense of compassion and mindfulness for others.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
This children’s book is not overtly faith based but it is none the less an excellent teaching tool for faith. It follows a boy that is quieter than his classmates and often overlooked who discovers the gift of being seen through friendship. I have used this book to teach children when they were anticipating a new pastor’s arrival, when teaching how to create welcoming space at school, with Promotion Sunday and in a lesson on noticing people in their community who might need God’s love to shine through them. Bonus? In the back of The Invisible Boy the author has created conversation suggestions for parents and educators to use to open the story up and drive home points with little ones.
The Marvelous Mustard Seed by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
I am always appreciative of books that can imaginatively tell a Biblical story without compromising the theological integrity. The Marvelous Mustard Seed book has theological integrity and opens the story up to be considered in new ways. It’s not just a favorite of my children but it is a personal favorite of mine. This book has cracked open new ideas for preaching and personal study that I didn’t previously see in the original Parable of the Mustard Seed.
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands by Kadir Nelson
Kadir Nelson’s art work is prolific and captivating as he captures “the personal and collective stories of people.” He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands uses a mix of classic and fresh lyrics to the old children song, illustrates the song in a way that captures little (and big) imaginations. While the language is not inclusive, at our house we just read it with inclusive language to our little ones. And what little inclusive editing we do is well worth the captivating story telling that Nelson’s art is known for as it is applied to this classic. We love singing the song and talking about the illustrations as a calming part of our bedtime ritual. This is a great addition to your church nursery or as part of a baby gift to expectant parents.
The World is Awake: A Celebration of Everyday Blessings by Linsey Davis
Kids see beauty and blessings in every day, but often don’t have the words to share those moments. Our dinner questions are about “what beauty and struggle did you experience today?” “Where did you see God in your actions or others?” The World is Awake helps connect what kids see in the world with how to talk about those everyday blessings. It can also be used to talk about God’s creation and all the ways that God shows up through the creation. The illustrations are bright and accessible for younger kids.
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev
This book has been a classic in our house for years, because it combines teaching inclusion and kindness with lots of really cute and creative pets. There is a pet club, but they only allow traditional pets and specifically NO ELEPHANTS. So the kids with all the non-traditional pets like skunks and narwhales and elephants start a pet club where everyone is welcome. Strictly No Elephants books is simple but NOT simplistic, there is a subplot that runs through it about what it means to be a friend and care for one another that runs under the plot about inclusion.
Paul Writes (A Letter) by Chris Raschka
This book is quite unique and I was grateful to add it to my resources. Paul Writes (A Letter) tells about the apostle Paul and how he wrote letters to the different churches. It summarizes each letter in a way kids can understand and uses the letters to explain that writing about faith can be a ministry (which obviously I love). I used this book in a Sunday School lesson where we learned about Paul and his conversion story, we had a fun exercise where we wrote (or dictated depending on age level) letters to our friends and classmates telling them about God.
When God Made Light by Matthew Paul Turner
I love this book for the way that it uses the worlds from the creation story to launch into an imaginative, lyrical and beautifully illustrated story about God’s light in us and shining into the difficult places in our world. When God Made Light is a favorite in our home and one I use as a pastoral resource to help kids who are struggling with grief, fear and anxiety.
I Am Peace: A Book fo Mindfulness by Susan Verde
This is an excellent book to use to introduce meditation into a Sunday School or Children’s Church lesson. I have used it to teach the beatitudes, the Psalms and Fruits of the Spirit. While I Am Peace is not an explicitly faith based book or Christian, it teaches the fundamentals of centering your mind and heart to receive the world in all its beauty.
Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table by Vanessa Newton
This is one of our favorite books, it’s silly and playful and the illustrations are well done and full of joy. It is also a great example of communal prayer and building intergenerational community in families. Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table is accessible for toddlers and up as its brief but fun rhyming style keeps the story moving.
What titles are your family favorites?
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