Featured Reviews, VOLUME 8

Two Excellent Children’s Books! [Feature Review]

Deeper into the the Way of Jesus

A Feature Review of

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Ben Irwin
Hardback: David C. Cook, 2014
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(through July 7, 2015)


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Mark Van Steenwyk
Paperback: Mennonite Worker Press, 2014
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I have been waiting for years for a book like Ben Irwin’s new The Story of King Jesus, for a book that skillfully sketches the arc of the biblical story in a way that even the youngest of children can understand. I have used Lesslie Newbigin’s excellent little book A Walk Through the Bible many times in overviewing the biblical story in a similar fashion, but despite its brevity, it is really a book for older children and adults. The story that Irwin traces is the full story of creation from its genesis to its ultimate fulfillment. At the heart of the story, as the book’s title implies, is Jesus; this is a deeply Christological telling of the biblical story. Irwin notes in a postscript for parents that:

Stories have the power to nurture children’s curiosity and to engage their imaginations. Telling the story of redemption – how God became King, how he’s making the world right again so he can dwell with us – has the power to transform a child’s life. That’s what this book is about.


Later in the same postscript Irwin encourages using the book as a conversation starter, encouraging children to ask questions and to explore the biblical story together with adults. I think I will take him up on that suggestion, when I teach a Bible class to middle-schoolers this fall. The Story of King Jesus, although probably intended for younger readers, will provide an excellent outline for a series of conversations that follow the biblical narrative from beginning to end, and that – hopefully – will draw the students and I into deeper conversations about many of the facets of the biblical story, that primary story that gives meaning and order to our lives as followers of Jesus.

I hope that you will get your hands on a copy of this book, and be as inspired by it as I was!



Mark Van Steenwyk’s A Wolf at the Gate is a delightful retelling of the story of St. Francis and Wolf. The spin on this familiar tale is that the story traces the wolf’s side of the story, and not St. Francis’s. This is a beautiful story – simply but strikingly illustrated by Joel Hedstrom – that reminds us that our actions consequences that are broader than we suspect. The wolf, for instance, comes to prey on the village because the humans there are over-hunting and taking food away from the wolf pack, and ultimately starves all but the red wolf. St. Francis eventually steps in to make peace with the wolf, making a deal with her:

Since you are willing to make peace, I promise that you will be fed every day by the people of Stonebriar as long as you remain at peace with them. You will no longer be hungry, since it was hunger that drove you to such violence. And you must never harm them.

Telling the story from the wolf’s perspective, goes a long way to disrupt what Richard Rohr has called “the birdbath image” of St. Francis. Van Steenwyk is clear that there is great risk – for Francis, for the wolf and for the village – in following the way of peace. This reminder that peace is the best, even when difficult, is important, and not just for kids, but for all humanity. A Wolf at the Gate is a profound and beautiful work, I pray that it will widely read and shared with children and adults alike.


C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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