Last night, I began to ponder this review. What makes this book I'm about to review different? How can I explain why it's different than others I've reviewed before? Were the others bad? No. Would I change my reviews about them? Maybe, maybe not. The more books I read, the more I'm challenged to think about what I read, what I read to my children, and what I let them read. Over the past two years, I've read and reviewed several devotionals for children. Among them a few stood out...
Big Thoughts for Little Children for the preschool set by Kenneth Taylor. Simple, sweet illustrations. Language and ideas very appropriate for the 2-4 year olds.
God's Mighty Acts in Salvation and God's Mighty Acts of Creation, both by Starr Meade. Wonderful devotions for middle schoolers and parents. I was impressed at how she simplified big theological concepts without watering them down.
But, I didn't find any devotionals I loved for Elementary Age children. I do love the story Bible by Starr Meade for this age, Mighty Acts of God. It explains very difficult concepts so well, including things like missions, predestination, and free will. That book could very easily be used for nightly devotions. But, if you're like me you may enjoy reading more than one book, which brings me to the book on my desk in front of me, God's Names, by Sally Michael. This book would be perfect for 5-8 year olds.
Sally Michael is the cofounder of Children Desiring God, the children's branch of John Piper's Desiring God ministry. A few years ago, I previewed their Sunday school materials and liked them, but couldn't afford the cost of them to use them in my home. This book reminds me a lot of the lesson I previewed from that curriculum. The devotionals are straightforward and simple, but not watered down. The best way that I can describe how this devotional is different than the others that I reviewed last year is that it's primary purpose is not to entertain.
There is a prominent theory among youth ministries that I've been involved in over the years that you need to entertain kids before they'll listen to you. You have to make it fun. While it is nice to enjoy church and lessons about God, that isn't why we go. We go because we love the Lord. And the same could be said of what we want for our children. I believe that we can engage our children's hearts and minds without entertaining them. Entertainment is self focused, worship is God focused. So, when we are choosing devotionals, are we choosing ones that will help children put their eyes on God or on their hearts and laughing bellies? Forgive me if my words sound too blunt. I think we can make what we say interesting to kids without it becoming entertainment. This book does a great job of engaging with children's hearts and minds without entertaining them.
The title of the book is God's Names. There is an introduction for parents, a first devotional lesson about names, 24 devotional lessons for 24 of God's names, and then a final concluding devotional lesson. The hope of the authors is that reading this devotional as a family will help children to "see that God is who He says He is, and act in response to the truth."(p.12) I've seen books written for adults about the names of God, but haven't actually read one. I began to see as we read this book that the names of God are truly important because in this age of cynicism, our children need to know that they can trust that God is who He says He is! Cynicism has permeated our culture deeply--the belief that we can see through things and that people aren't really who they say they are. Our children will likely be questioned or attacked by cynics over and over in their journeys through life. Even one popular pastor encourages his young congregation to question everything. I just connected a moment ago, that that is one of the strategies of cynics--to question everything and not accept the answers people give as true. Our children need to know what is true. They need to know the Truth of God's Word and the truth of who God is and how He loves us. This book will likely start many good discussions between you and your children.
One friend asked me recently what prompts me to like one book over another when it comes to Bible stories and devotionals. First, I consider content and what the book says about God. If I have any concerns, I go straight to the Bible and compare what the Bible says to what the book or Bible story says. I've actually found many differences. Second, I consider formatting. Is this a book that is easy or hard for parents and/or children to read? I've covered this first question. As for the second question, I like the formatting of this book. The font is large and easy to read. The headings are clear. The illustrations don't take away from the text, but add to it, though there is only one primary illustration for each lesson. The formatting makes this a very easy and enjoyable book to read.
Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from P&R Publishing for review.