I am very particular about the Christian books that I buy for and read to my children. Personally, I operate on the principle that just because a book is labelled as Christian, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it contains Christian material nor does it mean that the author espouses the true Gospel of Jesus. In this post, I’ll be sharing some of the criteria that I use to help me sift through the Christian literature that is out there. It is my earnest hope that you’ll find some of these guidelines helpful in aiding you to pick and choose the right Christian books with sound doctrine to buy and read to your own children, or to give away to friends and family.
Do not get me wrong, I offer a variety of reading materials to my own children, including myths. However, if I were to choose to give them Christian books, it may as well be the best. Because, how will they know what a feast looks like, if they cannot recognize a good bounty? How will they yearn for the best of the best, if all they have been fed are scraps and junk? It’s quite similar with good preaching, isn’t it? If you are in Christ, having a taste of the pure Gospel will make you seek after it. Subpar alternatives will never fully nourish you.
A Reformed Parent’s Guide in Choosing Books for Children
1. Who is the publisher?
You could learn a lot about a book depending on the publishing house that chose to make the material available. If you catch book launches and sales often enough, like I do, you’ll get to know what each publishing house has to offer. One could be more conservative in terms of their theological vision, while another can be more open to authors with differing views.
I have tried to list down below some of the more trusted book publishing houses within Reformed circles. These booksellers make the effort to honor the second commandment in their materials, so you could be sure that the books you buy will not have any pictures that portray any persons of the Trinity. You can learn more about this conviction by reading my post, What is 2-C Compliant?
Trusted Reformed Publishers
With Joel Beeke heading this ministry, there is no doubt that RHB is one of the most trusted book publishers in the market. RHB makes out-of-print Puritan materials available through their work, including a lot of church history materials for children. They also make lesser known materials from Dutch Reformed writers available for purchase through their webstore. Not only that, they usually offer much cheaper options than other Reformed book sellers.
Another trusted source of books for the Reformed family is the Banner of Truth Trust, which is also a well-known publisher of Puritan works. They do not offer a lot on their plate in terms of publishing for children, but their recent historical biographies for toddlers is one that I would highly recommend for new parents with littles in tow. Sinclair Ferguson’s books for children published by Banner are also some of the more quality materials out there. In fact, local Philippine Christian publishing company CGM made his catechism materials available here many years ago. These were originally published under the Trust.
Headed by the Mackenzies way up in Northern Ireland, CF4K is an imprint of the Christian Focus Publication. The imprint is dedicated to producing quality Bible-based children’s materials. Their children’s Bible story booklets would be one of the very first materials that offer a Christ-centered reading of Scriptures. They constantly churn out historical biographies which is great for families, homeschooling or not, who wish to learn more about their spiritual heritage or hope to find true heroes of the faith. More recently, a series of books featuring the Minor Prophets such as Obadiah and Habbakuk are set to be published sometime in September of 2021.
Thanks to the enduring radio and literature ministry of late great R. C. Sproul, we have books from the beloved pastor that are as wonderfully written and as theologically accurate at the same time. Modern classics as such The Prince’s Poison Cup, The Lightlings, or The Donkey Who Carried the King, are only some of the many tales that are bound to be cherished in any covenant home. Reformation Trust is under the banner of Ligonier Ministries.
GCP is headed by the Christian Education departments of twin Presbyterian denominations, OPC and PCA. If you are on the look out for Sunday School curriculum, be sure to head to their website for quality materials. Their Vacation Bible School materials also provide solid content. Our church has used their materials and our teachers are glad that they could teach it without any scruples. Their excellent catechism curriculum called Kids’ Quest! Catechism Club could work well in a classroom or a homeschool setup. Make sure you check that out if you want an open-and-go resource for teaching the First Catechism.
Another publishing company that I highly recommend is from a conservative Presbyterian denomination. Crown & Covenant does not offer a lot of children’s materials, but they have a number of Psalmody resources for children and for family worship that are worth looking at.
Other Good Publishers
Other publishing houses that I follow which often produce good materials for children are the following:
I cannot vouch for every single material that these publishers offer, which is why the next criteria is important to follow. The publishers listed right above are committed to good Gospel content. But they do not necessarily follow Reformed confessional standards, strictly speaking. Occasionally, you’ll have good finds from other Christian publishers, such as Zonderkidz, an imprint of Zondervan. But since their philosophy retains a more open approach to other more lenient Christian traditions, you will also find that next point is just as important in choosing children’s books with sound doctrine.
Local Resellers in the Philippines
If you are living in the Philippines, I trust these local sellers that provide good selections in terms of their offerings for children:
I am quite partial with Coram Deo Books, to be honest. The couple who is operating this small business attend our church. They are Presbyterians, too. Not only that, I have had the privilege of recommending a number of their selections for children’s books. They also have, I believe, the most reasonable rates among all the Reformed book sellers in the Philippines. The only downside though, is that they usually offer pre-orders, instead of ready stocks. But do watch out for flash sales on their Facebook page! The rates are great!
The Wretched Bookworm, on the other hand, is owned and operated by the people behind Evangelical Outreach Inc (EOI), the OG bookseller for Reformed offerings in the Philippines, which is under the ministry of Cubao Reformed Baptist Church. A visit to their warehouse would be wise choice once quarantine restrictions ease up a bit. I trust that they will have a few gems hidden in some corners.
Not only that, you could also check out Paulo’s Library, who is based in Lapu-Lapu in Cebu. A lot of the children’s books they make available at this shop are from the Good Book Company, particularly the Tales that Tell the Truth series. We have a number of these books and these provide excellent retellings of Bible stories. But they have a some pictures of Jesus in the majority of these books. In our home, however, we covered a lot of the pages with washi tape as a temporary solution. You could try that, too.
2. Who is the author?
If you are not familiar with the publisher, or if you are unsure about the material, one way to know about the working theology of a certain book is to find out more about the author. This applies to all sorts of books, not just for children’s materials. Here are some of the questions that you could ask to help you learn more about a specific Christian writer:
- Which church/denomination/organization is the author affiliated with?
- Which seminary is this author teaching at?
- Where did the author study?
Once you find information about one or two of the questions above, you’ll get a clearer picture of where the author is coming from theologically. If you could track down the author’s website, that is well and good. Read up on their statement of faith if they have made it available. In connection with that, I will say that if a Christian writer is quite ambiguous about their religious affiliation, you must stay away from their writing as much possible. A Christian writer should have ecclesiastical roots. That is to say, any Christian must be an active member of a local church. Otherwise, they are not worthy of your time and money.
3. Who recommended the book?
Tried as you might, you may still remain clueless about a certain author. This is particularly true when the book has been published overseas. Or it could well be the very first book that a writer has ever put out. One thing that you can do is to check and see the book recommendations from other trusted writers or pastors, if this is available from the publishing company. More often than not, publishers include familiar names in the blurbs in order to introduce a lesser known author.
Another thing that you can do is to go to book sites such as Amazon or GoodReads to get a “feel” of the book or see the general sentiments from the readers. However, you can only find a substantial amount of reviews when the book has been around for a while. Reviews from other readers may not be available when the book is newly released. Back in the day, about ten or so years ago now, the small Reformed community in the Internet had The Discerning Reader for times such as this. But it’s long gone now. So, what can you do if you still remain clueless about a certain book?
Some Practical Tips to Help You Discern Better
Ask your pastor (or your pastor’s wife).
If you need a little more help in discerning a children’s book, maybe it’s time to tap your pastor or some elders in your church to see if they know if the book would be worth your peso or not. Also, I think you could chat up the pastor’s wife if you are too shy to bring it up to the eldership. If the pastor’s wife is raising her own covenant children, she is most likely bound to know about good children’s books. Her taste may have also been influenced by your pastor. This may be one of the few times that she can actually share her opinions and know-hows. I would know, because I am a pastor’s wife. Other than that, you could also inquire with your children’s Sunday School teacher. And if they are unsure, they can also ask the pastor on your behalf. I think that by the time you have exhausted all the questions and connections that I have listed here, you would have already found the answer that you are looking for.
Study the Bible. Learn theology.
Learning what about is good, true and beautiful helps us identify the bad and the ugly. And so studying God’s Word will help us discern better other messages that purport to be the Gospel, the good news of God saving sinners. This may be a long-term goal. But any effort invested in knowing God and His Word, is always a noble task and a wise way to live in this world. Don’t you think? Good doctrine helps us grow in grace and knowledge, because the Spirit of God works through the sound teaching and preaching of His word.