Beliefwatch: Good Books

Noah's Ark is the perfect children's tale. You have animals, a big boat, bad weather, a happy ending (good luck, though, answering the question: why did God kill all those people?). It's not difficult to find a charming, well-written, nicely illustrated Noah's-ark book for children; even Lucy Cousins, the brains behind Maisy the mouse, has done a version.

Beyond Noah, though, the world of Bible stories for children has been rather dreary. There are the predictable children's Bibles published by the denominations and religious publishers. Parents who want to teach the Bible to their children but don't have a close connection to a church or synagogue community, however, have been at a loss. "We hear all the time how cheesy children's Bibles are," says Craig Walker, an executive with Scholastic Books, which recently published one with the American Bible Society. All that is changing now as profit-seeking mainstream publishers eye the $400 million to $600 million Bible market.

Earlier this year, Golden Books, a division of Random House, rereleased its 1965 classic, "The Golden Children's Bible," a lushly illustrated volume that many parents remember from their own childhoods. It has "a certain Cecil B. DeMille" look, says Kate Klimo, vice president and publisher of Random House/Golden Books. The publisher simply freshened up the cover with a picture of the Sermon on the Mount and "pronounced it still the best Bible in the business." Then there's the aforementioned Scholastic/American Bible Society "Read and Learn" Bible, published last year and written on a first- and second-grade level--complete with facts in boxes and pages of suggested discussion questions. It was a massive, five-year undertaking to make sure the pictures and the text were as accurate as could be. "We didn't want to throw anyone off this Bible, not evangelicals, not high-church Catholics," says Walker. The publisher has sold 328,000 copies and counting. The swanky British publisher Dorling Kindersley is getting into Bible stories in a big way--most recently with board books for toddlers, including "My Little Church Book of Bible Stories," with more titles in store for 2008. Shannon Maughan, of Publishers Weekly, likes "God's Kingdom: Stories From the New Testament" and "God's People: Stories From the Old Testament." For the holidays, nothing beats the Bible for good guys and bad guys, miracles and mystery.