The assignment suggested a depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion showing love and sacrifice but not violence and blood.
The final product illustrates one of Holy Week’s key moments in The Peace Table, a new children’s storybook Bible published by Herald Press and Brethren Press.
LaTonya Jackson drew on her art history background to create an image of Jesus cradled in the arms of his mother. Rather than focus on a solitary body hanging from a cross atop a bleak Golgotha, she thought of The Pietà, a Michelangelo sculpture of Mary and Jesus.
“I wanted that same tender moment, and we are trying to not emphasize the violence since this Bible is for children,” said Jackson, of Shreveport, La. “We didn’t want to scare children and be gory, for lack of a better term. We wanted to capture the death of Christ in a way that still centers children. And then they can connect with the love of a parent. I wanted to make sure that was an overarching theme in that picture.”
The Peace Table: A Storybook Bible is an extension of the Shine: Living in God’s Light Sunday school curriculum. In addition to resources for Sunday school, the series has produced three biblical storybooks — and now turns to something more comprehensive.
Weighing in at 384 pages, The Peace Table is one of the publishers’ biggest projects. A team of writers and theological consultants — along with 30 artists from seven countries — worked for a year and a half to create a Bible inspired by Anabaptism specifically for children.
“I think this one is different,” Jackson said. “Because you have several illustrators representing stories of the Bible, you get different representations of Jesus and his life. When we create art, that is filtered through our culture or our race, so you’re getting a more diverse representation of Christ because you have so many different illustrators.”
Stories from Genesis through Revelation are accompanied by illustrations in a wide variety of styles. Jackson appreciated the freedom she was given to insert children and symbolism into her heavily textured digital art.
The story of Jesus encountering Bartimaeus in Mark 10 highlights the crowd silencing the blind man. With the crowd and Bartimaeus, Jackson added a young girl and butterflies. These are subtle but significant touches.
“They have a layered meaning, not just metamorphosis or transformation,” Jackson said. “We as adults often overlook those small miracles happening around us. This girl is reaching out to the butterfly while the adults are trying to shush this man, and she sees the miracle right in front of her.
“It’s just how connected children are. It’s probably one of my favorite images.”
For the whole family
The Peace Table follows the curriculum’s Shine On: A Story Bible, published in 2014. Besides being bigger, the new book goes further to encourage family interaction.
“The COVID pandemic had a lot of impact as more and more families were doing faith formation at home with churches not meeting,” said project director Joan Daggett. “Shine worked with that to develop home resources for families.
“The Peace Table fulfills our mission to create curriculum resources for churches, but also something for families to share their faith with children.”
It can be preordered for 25% off until June 1 at mennomedia.org before it is officially released in July.
Every story highlights the interactive nature by including questions for discussion, a prayer prompt and an activity suggestion.
Chrissie Muecke, editor and a member of the writing team, said peacemaking was emphasized not just in story selection, word choices and art but in additional resources.
“Peace Paths” gathers stories from the Old and New Testaments to show how peace is woven throughout the biblical story.
“One path, titled ‘God is Amazing,’ has miracle stories. The ‘I Am Special’ and ‘I Need Comfort’ paths help children think about how to have inner peace,” Muecke said. “ ‘Love Your Enemies’ and ‘Family Problems’ explore our relationship with others. ‘Nature Trail’ and ‘Let it Grow’ are two of the paths that look at how to have peace with creation. These paths help people read The Peace Table in a different way, not just front to back, so families or children can explore a particular peacemaking theme.
“Some conversation prompts ask how characters responded to each other. How did they use or not use a peace strategy? And it points them to the back of the book, where there are examples of strategies for having peace with God, self, others and creation. It’s trying to give points of conversation for parents. Peace is more than just how to get along with other people.”
The title’s focus on a table represents the invitation to all people, even those who disagree or don’t look the same, to gather around God’s table.
“It was important to us to have this sense that Jesus is for all people, at all times, in all places, so children see the image of God in themselves,” Muecke said.
Focusing on children in kindergarten through fifth grade, age 5 to 11, the writers faced a challenge to strike a balance with violent or uncomfortable stories.
“We don’t want to traumatize a 5-year-old,” said Muecke, citing the stories of Noah and Job. “And we don’t want to sanitize for other children when they get older: ‘What? That’s not what I was taught.’ When is conflict essential for a story to make sense, and when is a violent or terrible thing a sidenote that is not core to the story children need to hear?
“Because this has a peacemaking theme to it, we were trying to draw out specific elements to stories. People always choose an emphasis when they retell a story.”
Muecke pointed to Jackson’s crucifixion image as an example of conveying a story’s meaning without focusing on its brutality.
Poetry, song, prophecy
One editing choice that sets The Peace Table apart from other children’s Bibles is the inclusion of poetry, not just from Psalms but also Song of Songs. A pastor on the theological consultant team suggested making a place for the occasionally racy book.
It became one of Muecke’s favorite parts of the new book: a celebration of love between people and the types of caring relationships children can develop with other people.
“We were trying to reflect the different types of texts in the Bible — poetry, song and prophecy,” she said. “That was another way to include something that is often left out and not considered. I think the poetry’s connection of love and the strength of love is worth children thinking about.”
Ruth Goring worked to capture that love in seven pieces of collage art she created to illustrate the Psalms. A member of Living Water Community Church in Chicago, Goring uses layered fabrics, found objects and other materials to create images.
Psalm 23 dwells not on the valley of the shadow of death but on a shepherd caring for playful lambs. Psalm 91 depicts a mother eagle protecting her chicks.
“Those little chicks are made of packing plastic, a very slippery material,” said Goring, author of Picturing God. “But it reminded me of how mischievous little children can be.
“It’s a picture of a relationship with God. We can be slippery and difficult to corral. The experience of making them was prayerful. It was an experience of getting closer to God.”
One of several Anabaptist artists who contributed to the project, Goring appreciated the opportunity. Herald Press is the book imprint of MennoMedia, an agency of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. Brethren Press is the publishing house of the Church of the Brethren.
“It feels good to be part of a project where I know that the Scripture and the movement of God’s work in the world are radiating out from Jesus,” she said. “Before Jesus and after Jesus, but Jesus is the center. That’s something I love so much about Anabaptist theology.”
Tim Huber is associate editor of Anabaptist World.