Friday, 26 April 2013

Children of God: Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Over the next little while, I'll be spending some time taking a look at various Storybook Bibles. If you're curious about what types of guidelines I use when looking at books of this nature, check out a previous post which provides my background thoughts on Storybook Bibles. In this post and those that follow I'll be looking at books in a somewhat more general way for what gifts I see in them or specific drawbacks, rather than analyzing each against a set criteria, however the guidelines that I presented earlier are always in the back (or front) of my mind. 

So for today the Children of God: Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu 

This is a gorgeous book. The real gift I see in its presentation is the amazing artwork that
represents the creative renderings of various biblical stories by a multicultural and international group of artists. There is a tremendous richness in the images that I find difficult to describe. Not only are there pictures that portray stories in ways I've never considered, but since each story is illustrated by a different artist, there's always room for re-imagining the nature of the Divine as one moves through the book. I also deeply appreciate the depth of colour that's used in the majority of the artwork.

Since the illustrations come from artists from numerous countries and ethnicities, the portrayal of persons is likewise varied. People come in every shape, size, and colour imaginable and there is fairly good representation of women and children as well. Indeed, if one reads the acknowledgments it is clear that representation of all the children of the world was a central focus.

As for the stories themselves, I think it's very important to note that this book is not intended to be a comprehensive Storybook Bible. It includes 56 short stories (usually one per two page spread) and the book states that these are Tutu's "most beloved" stories. So I consider the selection to be testimony to what stories in the Bible most deeply touched this particular man's heart.

That being said, there is a fair spectrum of stories from both Old and New Testament though rather weak in the typical areas such as the prophets and the letters. And though there's not a specific focus on highlighting stories of women, the usual cast of beloved female characters all make an appearance (Eve, Ruth, Esther, Mary, the women at the tomb etc.). Further, it is clear that as he comes to these stories, he comes with a profound knowledge of God's love both in his own life and as the foundation for the biblical narrative.

If I had to identify a weakness in this book, it's probably one that I also see as a strength in many respects. The stories are fairly short and in some ways feel a bit like summaries as Tutu has not taken great artistic liberties to flesh out the biblical text. In this regard, I find some of the stories somewhat less engaging. However, I also see this as a gift since there is less of the sort of moralizing and explaining of the stories that one often finds and it allows much of the story to be told through the illustrations. This is often the case in children's Storybook Bibles, however, rarely is such care and intentionality given to every single illustration as is the case in this book where one image most often tells the entire story.

The book is recommended for children ages 4-7 and it does include a short prayer at the end of each story that is certainly suitable for young children. However, the illustrations would have impact for almost any age. You can also get the book with an accompanying audio cd of Tutu reading the stories, a sample of which is available here. I personally love listening to Archbishop Tutu read these stories. His voice conveys gentleness and genuine emotion that makes one feel like you're sitting on the lap of a beloved grandfather.

Even if you already have a cherished Storybook Bible in your home, I highly recommend this book for the ways in which it expands the visual interpretation of God's story. 

If you have a particular Storybook Bible that you'd like me to look at, feel free to make suggestions and I'll try to get a hold of a copy if I don't already have it. 

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