Simonetta Carr's Christian Biographies for Young Readers series masterfully fills a large hole in quality children's books teaching church history. Church history fascinates me. I thoroughly enjoy learning from godly men and women of the past who have followed Christ and wrestled with God's Word. It is also a thrill to teach church history and draw from historical theology in preaching. For quite some time, however, there has been an inadequate number of quality resources available for teaching children in this area.
Simonetta Carr is working to correct this with this series. Each volume is beautifully illustrated with original art, archaeological photos of historical sites, helpful maps, and images of historical artifacts. All this works together to create a very informative and pedagogically friendly tool for educating children on events, places, people, and cultures and the church's past. The design, cover, and page quality make these books not only pleasurable when reading them to your own children, but keepsakes for grandchildren as well.
In addition, each volume contains a helpful timeline and "Did You Know?" section near the end of the book. This section contains a series of facts about the subject and key events surrounding the life of the saint being studied. (I recommend reading this section first, as the data here will help put the content of the rest of the book into proper context.)
Each volume in Christian Biographies for Young Readers is written at a reading level suitable for children ages seven to ten. The author has sought to recount the key events and features of each person in this series with appropriate age-sensitivity since there are events in the lives of these men that do not belong in biography aimed at young children. The author has considered carefully how to communicate historical biography in an engaging manner to children. While children younger than seven would probably be unable to read the books on their own, nothing in the contents need prevent conscientious adults from reading these books to younger children.
What follow are a few further comments about four specific books in Carr's Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.
This initial volume of what has grown now into four volumes (with more to come) was released just in time for the celebration of John Calvin's five hundredth birthday. At a time when stacks of books were being released for pastors and theologians on the life, ministry, and theology of Calvin, Simonetta Carr helpfully offers a children's book on this great theologian.
In a relatively brief amount of space, the author ably unfolds the life of Calvin along with his major theological, cultural, and pastoral contributions while accurately setting his life within the larger context of the Protestant Reformation. As a result, children and parents alike gain a deeper understanding of the man, his teaching, and the debt owed to him and others who contended for the purity of the gospel during this difficult time in church history.
Augustine of Hippo
Like the volume on Calvin, this one on Augustine covers a large sweep of Augustine's life, from his "Growing Up" to the last days of his life. In between we learn of his desperate search for wisdom, his following of the Manicheans, the faithful prayers of his mother, his conversion in Italy and discipleship under Ambrose, and finally his return to North Africa and his "forced" appointment as bishop of Hippo.
As in each of the volumes in this series, in this treatment of the life of Augustine the author does not shy away from the theological controversies of the day. What particularly stands out is the way Augustine addressed these controversies with the Scriptures. As a result, the reader is able to get a sense for various ways in which historical theology has developed through the centuries, and how our beliefs today have been passed on to us by faithful servants of Christ through the ages.
As with the other subjects in this series, the life and ministry of John Owen is monumental. The volume of writings left to us from his pen is hugely significant not only for the formulation of Reformed theology but also for the practical life of the church. In addition, Owen lived during one of the most tumultuous times in England's history.
Given all of that, the author crafts a book that captivatingly weaves the narrative of Owen's life into the history of England, the development of church practices, and the depth of Owen's theological contribution.
In addition to the timeline and "Did you Know?" sections, this volume also contains "A Modern Version of John Owen's Lesser Catechism." This serves as a great tool for parents and children (especially those who may not be familiar with catechesis) as well as serving as an illustration of Owen's pastoral ministry. It is the inclusion of aspects like this to these volumes that make them unique, helpful in teaching, and books to which parents will return again and again.
The latest volume in this series (as of the writing of this review) is Athanasius. Unlike the other historical figures in this series thus far, Athanasius provides unique challenges for any historian, let alone one writing for children. The information we have on Athanasius is minimal compared to John Calvin or Augustine. In addition, some of what has been passed down is speculative in terms of its historiography.
Carr skillfully summarizes the key facts regarding Athanasius's life, the time in which he lived, and the theological context in which he ministered. This includes discussions of Athanasius's key role in defending the eternal deity of Christ and orthodox Trinitarianism. She writes in an engaging style that captivates and keeps children's attention while at the same time assumes they can process a substantial amount of information. Nothing is dumbed down. She helpfully explains when details given are derived from history and therefore less certain while not confusing the main storyline of the historical account.
Young readers will gain wonderful insights into the life of one of God's faithful servants who suffered and served his Lord faithfully so that others who came after him would have a sound understanding of who Jesus is and what he accomplished for his people. Ultimately, the reader will see the steadfast faithfulness of God.
One weakness regards the author's assumption throughout the book that the reader attends a church where one of the historical creeds of the church are read publically on a regular basis. One wonders if that is the case for the majority of the readers. (It will certainly not be true for most readers here in New Zealand.) It seems that those parts of the book that refer to this practice could be reworded so as not to assume that the children reading the book attend a church that follows this practice.