What is that ratty-looking, dog-eared thing they’re trooping up and down the stairs with, clamping under an elbow and carrying everywhere? It’s dragged out to the family not-so-mini van for long car trips and down to the bus stop to read on the way to that dreaded place of doom, middle school. Pored over at night before bedtime, overly loved, pages turned and pulled so often they’re finally falling loose from their gluey mooring. Is it Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Maybe it’s a Harry Potter book or How to Train Your Dragon? Is it Percy Jackson?
None of the above.
Shockingly, over the last few years in the skeptic-rich Clarke household, the most well-thumbed book has been the Bible. Don’t fear, this is not a my-family-is-holier-than-thou humblebrag. I am in no position to Bible-thump anyone with my superior parental Scripture skills, but my kids did read the Bible with nary a carrot nor a stick in sight. The secret was simply the choice of Bible.
My kids aren’t King James fans; they have never opened a North American Standard. But all four have devoured The Action Bible, a comic-book-style Bible illustrated by the Marvel and DC Comics artist Sergio Cariello.
Upon its unveiling in our house, I viewed The Action Bible with sectarian suspicion. All those gaudy graphics and bright colors? Surely there was something, well, evangelical about the darn thing. But I can’t argue with the results. Each of my children in turn has run through The Action Bible, and they all consistently return to it—completely without any parental scolding or pleading. It is as near a painless introduction to Bible reading as I can imagine. Sure, the kids come for the comic-book storytelling, but they stay for the Gospel lessons and they remember their Scripture. The Action Bible’s images—and the Bible stories—simply stick with them.
The children maintain a largely inexplicable process (at least to me) for harmoniously sharing the house’s sole copy. I have yet to hear a major dispute about “whose turn it is” to read it. Yet The Action Bible remains in heavy rotation in various reading nooks around the house.
My wife, Megan, has been a catechism teacher in our parish and is the director of Christian service in a Manhattan high school, so she does bring some educator chops to this project. She bought The Action Bible because she had noticed the older boys enjoyed reading books “that were not quite graphic novels” but were close, like the aforementioned Diary of a Wimpy Kid and, yuck, Captain Underpants (I am not a fan).
“When I saw that they had a comic-book style Bible,” she says, “I thought that was perfect because it’s highly visual and the kids would be interested in reading and seeing it and understanding it, especially since the Old Testament has all sorts of armies battling one another. I thought it might keep their interest.”
That it did.
My oldest, Eoin (that’s “Owen” for you Irish-challenged), is now 13. A few years back he was the vanguard reader of The Action Bible. He tries to explain its appeal, beginning with the fact that, well, it’s like a regular comic book: “Unlike a normal Bible, which it’s really just words, this one also has pictures, so it’s a bit more descriptive and you can get into it more than just reading a Bible.
“Plus it’s in contemporary language, where other Bibles, they’re really complicated and they go like, ‘And then God said, “Thy must go to the mountain.”’ But in this it just says, ‘And then God told Moses to go to the mountain,’ and it shows Moses walking to the mountain.”
Eoin’s favorite book in The Action Bible?
“I kinda like the Acts of the Apostles,” he says. “It shows a little rebellion, if you think about it, because they’re going up against a huge empire which did not want them to exist, did not care about them, just wanted them gone. [The Romans] outnumbered them like a million to one and they seemed to stand no chance. They would have been gone, and they end up winning.”
His sister, Elaine, 10, is also enthusiastic about The Action Bible. “I like how there’s a lot of pictures,” she says. “There’s not a bunch of words and it really interested me since I would get bored if I read the Bible, but when I read The Action Bible I don’t get bored because there’s a lot of colors and ‘whatsonot.’” (This is Ellie’s word for “other stuff.”)
“My favorite story is Esther’s story,” Ellie adds, “when she saves the Jews from…. I forgot his name.” Ellie stumbles around a bit before Eoin conjures up “Haman” from his past reading of the The Action Bible. (Yes, it’s that sticky.)
Declan, 8, liked “all of Noah’s stories,” especially the “one where he’s building an ark and rain.”
Aidan, 11, is pretty straightforward: “I like it cuz it’s a comic and I like comics.”
Some favorite stories from The Action Bible? “The part where God sends an angel to punish someone for beating up their donkey.” Aidan is a big animal lover.
He’s also a fan of “the part where after the Hebrews get free from Egypt.”
“They finally make it back to Canaan, then they start worshiping idols and then they get conquered by another kingdom, then they finally start worshiping God again and God sets them free, but then they stop worshiping him and it just keeps going in a repeating cycle,” Aidan says. He grins diabolically. “I thought that was hilarious,” he says. Future theologian?
I overheard Aidan harrumphing through Genesis a few months back, lying on the floor of his bedroom. He was just not buying that “seven day” creation story. “Where are the dinosaurs?” he muttered. “Where are the volcanoes and the eruptions?”
Skepticism may come naturally to him, but he did get through the whole book and learned what literal, allegory and metaphor meant. Asked how it ended, he replied, “God saw that it was good.” Not a bad takeaway.
The Action Bible is not without its drawbacks. As Eoin points out, some of the drawing might seem “kinda racist,” with Semitic folk of the Old Testament or Jesus’ time appearing a little too fair-skinned to be credible. And so far we haven’t seen a significant transition from The Action Bible to the Actual Bible, but Megan remains confident that is coming.
“They’re still young,” she says. “I’m actually pretty amazed. There’s a lot of stories that they can recount to me that I, as a theology major, don’t remember or don’t know. They read it over and over again, and they definitely know the stories and learn about them much better than just going to Mass or going to religious ed.
“It reminds me of C. S. Lewis and his idea with the Narnia novels,” she adds. “You sort of want to imprint your kids with the possibility and the Christian themes so that when they get older it becomes something that is part of their own understanding of life and story structure.
“Knowing the stories,” Megan says, “is always the beginning.”