The Church History ABCs (children’s book review)

The Church History ABCs is a fun way for kids to learn about great figures in Christian history. Twenty-six heroes of the faith march through the alphabet, boldly telling their stories in language children can understand. This wide range of characters—men and women from across the centuries and from all over the globe—reflects the breadth of church history and reminds children that these great figures of the past were living, breathing people who lived and died for the glory of God.

from the back cover

We’re a little late to this review, as The Church History ABCs was published in 2010, but for me as a parent, it’s quite a gem of a book that I look forward to reading again and again with my kids. Each page covers a letter of the alphabet and a figure (or two) from church history who explains his or her role in the first person with a paragraph of text. These are:

  • Augustine
  • Anne Bradstreet
  • John Calvin
  • John Donne
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • John Foxe
  • Lady Jane Grey
  • Hippolytus
  • Ignatius
  • Absalom Jones
  • John Knox
  • Martin Luther
  • Monica
  • John Newton
  • John Owen
  • Patrick
  • Queen Jeanne of Navarre
  • Bishop Nicholas Ridley
  • Charles Spurgeon
  • Tertullian
  • Zacharias Ursinius
  • Antonio Vivaldi
  • John and Charles Wesley
  • Francis Xavier
  • Florence Young
  • Ulrich Zwingli

The style of writing is lighthearted and enjoyable for the parent to read. While the back cover recommends ages three through six, the range might reasonably be adjusted up to eight given the complexity of some of the writing. The back matter contains an additional one or two paragraphs for each figure in extremely small font, and they do well to explain a plethora of what one might otherwise consider obscure reference or inside jokes within the illustrations. For example, the page for Jonathan Edwards depicts a large tarantula (obviously a reference to “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”) and Edwards himself eating a de-branded Hershey bar (not at all obviously a reference to his enjoyment of chocolate; I had to learn this one from the back matter). While the main text of the page explains neither, inquisitive children might ask their parents why he’s eating chocolate or what the deal is with the spider. This is a good thing.

Concerning the downsides, the physical book is very large by necessity, measuring 9 x 0.36 x 12.06 inches, so don’t try to pack it in your “kid bag” for church. Those who hold to an iconoclast view of the Second Commandment should know that there are images of Jesus present. And by this point, you’ve looked through the alphabetical list, and you’re a little perturbed at the letter ‘W.’ The illustration even makes a joking reference to John Wesley’s perfectionism in the form of a button on his shirt that reads “Almost Perfect.” Worry not; George Whitefield made his thoughts known on the back cover:

I really enjoyed this church history book for young people, until I got to the letter W.

Unfortunately, TAU emails to Polycarp went unanswered. But author Stephen J. Nichols is president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and earned his Ph.D. from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He’s not Wesleyan. Illustrator Ned Bustard’s style is a mixture of his own illustrations with some embedded photographs and paintings, such as John Foxe holding up a couple of pages from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a photograph of an imposing hippopotamus adjacent to Hippolytus, and tulips alongside John Calvin (obviously).

I happily and heartily recommend it.

More in children’s books

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Nichols, Stephen J., and Ned Bustard. The Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2010.

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