I firmly believe that church history has much to teach us as Christians today. I also believe that it has much to teach our children. But building that bridge from the unfamiliar, distant past presents challenges even to my college students, not to mention young boys and girls.
That’s why I appreciate what Simonetta Carr is doing through her Christian Biographies for Young Readers series. In these attractively illustrated volumes, Carr introduces children to important figures from Christian history—including Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, John Calvin, John Knox, Lady Jane Grey, and John Owen. In her latest installment, she treats Jonathan Edwards for young readers (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014; source: publisher).
As an Edwards specialist, I have told my children a great deal about Edwards, especially while I was working on my recent book, Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms. Still, they lacked a single narrative geared toward their age that would give them an overarching view of his life. Carr’s volume has filled that gap for my children.
In her treatment of Jonathan Edwards, she follows his life from his childhood to his days as a pastor and revivalist in the Great Awakening to his service as a missionary to the Native Americans and finally to his untimely death in Princeton. She spotlights the high points and challenges of Edwards’ life.
Along the way, Carr does a good job of connecting her subject with children, highlighting parts of Edwards’ story with which children can identify. For example, she talks about how young Jonathan experienced education (at home) and also highlights how Edwards asked the visiting revivalist George Whitefield to speak with his young girls about their spiritual state.
Carr’s list of “Did You Know?” questions at the back of the book also gives children an interesting look at how Edwards’ world was both similar and different from theirs. For example, kids in those days played with balls and dolls, though the girls’ dolls were made out of corn husks, and the Edwards family relished chocolate as a breakfast beverage.
The book is accentuated by a one-page timeline in the back, as well as a sample of Edwards’ writing. This sample, a letter to his daughter Mary, allows children to hear Edwards’ voice, but more importantly, his affection for his daughter and his preeminent concern for the state of her soul. Children hearing these words have an opportunity to consider the priority of attending to their own souls—a crucial reminder in a culture that continually distracts children from eternal questions.
My two oldest boys (ages 7 and 9) both enjoyed reading the book together with me. The illustrations by Matt Abraxas and the photos of people and places from the time complement that narrative well and keep them visually engaged. All in all, this book—and the others in the series—offers a nice entry point for children into the Christian past.
One thing to keep in mind with these books is that they are written to edify and inspire, not to examine every shortcoming of the subject under consideration. This age-sensitive approach works well for the most part, but parents should be ready to discuss flaws in past Christians as appropriate for their age. Such recognition reminds children (and adults) that we are all in need of God’s grace.
Carr’s Jonathan Edwards does what it sets out to do well, and that is to introduce young, growing minds to remarkable Christians from church history in a compelling format. I’ve read all of the books in this series to my children and plan to read forthcoming installments as well.
With a new volume coming out about every year, families can look forward to new well-illustrated narratives to introduce their children to significant figures of the past. In the meantime, pick up a copy of her latest volume. What better place to start than with Jonathan Edwards?
*Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. That said, my family has purchased all the of the previous volumes in this series.