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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

iShine Bible: pre-teens are important to God!

(Today I'm taking a break from my Bible series to review a new tween Bible that comes out today. We'll be back to the Bible series tomorrow!)

My son Mikey will turn 11 years old in April. When he was five years old, we bought him a fabulous Bible for small children called the NIrV Super Heroes Bible (you can read more about that Bible purchase in this post). That Bible was amazing for him at the time, but now that he's a bit older, the NIrV translation is starting to feel a bit pedestrian to him. The sentences are choppy because they are shortened on purpose for beginning readers; when he was five years old this was an advantage, but at ten, he reads very well... and as he approaches his teenage years, I think the cartoonish illustrations may be looking a little childish to him, too. When I heard that the tween-targeted iShine Bible was coming out, I requested a review copy right away! I was hoping it would be something he could enjoy at the age he is now as much as, or even more than, he enjoyed his Super Heroes Bible back when he was little. And I think I can safely say that he's loving the iShine Bible!

There are actually two slightly different versions of the iShine Bible: the "for Boys" version that Mikey has, and a "for Girls" edition which I have not actually held a copy of. The contents of the book are not gender-specific, and I'm guessing that the only difference is the cover itself (predictably, "Backstage Blue" for boys and "Lip Sync Pink" for girls). The cover is a nice soft faux leather, very flexible and comfortable to hold; our boy-targeted copy has a picture of a boy playing a guitar on it (you can see part of him through the triangular hole in the cardboard packaging in the picture above). Most of the Bible is printed in black and white on the traditional thin Bible paper, but there are some special color sections inside; I'll talk more about them in a minute, but right now I'll say that they carry on the trendy tween theme, with pictures of Christian rock band Mission Six and several other musicians and speakers from the iShine universe (learn more about iShine at There are also QR codes to scan with your cell phone (they take you to relevant videos and other materials), and even the pictured artists' and speakers' Twitter handles. The whole thing has a fresh, trendy feel to it; I imagine in five or ten years the supplemental material might seem outdated to the trendiest kids, but by that time (hopefully) they will have developed a love for God's Word and graduated up to an adult Bible anyway. But even if those iShine features begin to show their age at some point, the Bible itself is of course timeless.

The Bible text itself is the New Living Translation, Genesis to Revelation. My son loves it. He thinks it is much more readable than the choppy NIrV in his other Bible. For myself, I did some side-by-side comparison between it and my beloved ESV translation, and although I still prefer the ESV for my own use, I really liked what I read in the NLT text. I actually wouldn't recommend the ESV for the average teenager or tween, because I think it might be too complex language-wise to be fun for them to read; I would heartily recommend the NLT for a tween or young teenager, though.

My son's favorite part of the iShine Bible is called "The Bible Talks About..." in the front of the Bible in a section called the "iShine Index." It's about a 40-page topical list of question after question that a tween might want a Biblical answer for. Some of the questions are pretty straightforward: "Smoking looks cool. Should I try it?" "Is it right to treat people differently based on how they look?" "I dislike one of my teachers." "Is swearing okay or not?" Some of them are things that adults wonder about as much as kids do: "Does God really listen when we pray?" "Is there really a hell?" "Can I trust God?" "Why is there evil in the world?" And there are some that, as a dad who is also a former teenager, I find positively heartbreaking: "I can't do anything right." "I'm afraid of dying." "I'm being abused. Is it my fault?" "My friend is hurting. What should I do?" "I wish I weren't so afraid." "I feel dirty. I'm not good enough for anybody." Each question is followed by a quoted Scripture verse, a short paragraph giving an answer to the question, and an "Other verses..." section with several Scripture references that are relevant to the topic. I love the sensitivity of the questions themselves (just reading the questions takes me back to how it felt to be a Christian kid growing up in a confusing world!), and I appreciate the thoughtful way the questions are answered. I also love, both here and elsewhere in the iShine Bible, that the Scripture references always have page numbers next to them. Why assume that a child knows how to find Ephesians 4:31-32 when you can help them out a bit and tell them to look right on page 897? And the page numbers are really easy to spot on the pages, too, right up next to the traditional book+chapter at the top of each page of the Bible text. My son liked this "The Bible Talks About..." section so much that he read it straight through the first time he picked up the iShine Bible; that's how well-written it is.

There are three more articles in the iShine Index: "What Is the Bible?", "Finding Your Identity in Jesus", and "Growing In Faith". All of these articles are written in the same warm, friendly style as the "The Bible Talks About..." section. They don't talk down to the reader, but they aren't over the head of a 10-year-old, either. I think the execution is fabulous.

I mentioned before that there are some colored sections midstream in the Bible text; these are of a thicker paper than the traditional Bible paper that the rest of the pages are made of, and they contain some tween-friendly design elements, but they aren't just about style and flash. There are three of them, and they are each focused on a specific thing: "value" in section 1 ("What matters to you?"), "identity" in section 2 ("Who are you?"), and "purpose" in section 3 ("Why are you here?") Did you notice that the initials let you know that you are a "V.I.P." to God? Each of these could easily be used just as it is by a youth pastor as a message to his youth group. They are surprisingly dense with information, but the page design and typography make them so visually interesting that you almost don't notice that you're learning something as you read! And the three topics are well-chosen for tweens... in fact, if more of us adult Christians got a firm grasp on what really matters in our lives, who we are in Christ, and what God has created us to accomplish with our lives, we would be much more effective Christians. I hope a lot of young people get a great head start on those topics through reading this Bible.

In the back of the iShine Bible, there are some very interesting lists: "Great Chapters of the Bible," "Great Stories of the Bible," and "Great Verses of the Bible to Memorize." These lists are short but sweet; the chapters/stories/verses are well-chosen, and page numbers are included to make it simple to find the right spot. I suspect that these short sections are going to be the antidote for many a "bored" teenager's idle afternoon, and I think that's great! Traditional Bibles have a concordance and maps in the back; those features have not been included in this Bible, but in an age of computer technology, I'm not sure those things are as necessary as they might have been in years past. Young people certainly won't miss them; the topical approach will seem much more immediate and relevant to them.

If I had to come up with something to criticize about the iShine Bible, it would be the small print. The Bible itself is small; at 6.13" X 4.13" I can nearly cover the whole thing with one hand. The compact size is nice to carry, but it does mean that the font used for the Bible text is pretty tiny. I asked my son if he even noticed it, and if it bothered him. He did notice the small text, but he wasn't bothered by it: "I wouldn't recommend it for someone who wears glasses, though," he added. This 40-year-old who wears contact lenses can make it out all right, so younger eyes should have no problem, but if you see your tween reading it in low light, make them turn on a lamp so they can avoid eyestrain.

The "This Bible belongs to" page in the very front of the iShine Bible says that it is "...a reminder that I am loved, valued, and called by name." I can't think of a better description of the Bible... any Bible. But this Bible goes to great lengths to approach pre-teens on a level they find interesting and engaging and bring the truths of God's Word to them, organized in such a way that it's easy to discover something they find relevant and useful. My 10-year-old loves it. If your child is a two-digit that doesn't yet end with "-teen", I think they'll love it too.

Want a quick tour of the iShine Bible? Here's the video you see if you scan the cell phone QR code on the title page.

I was provided with a review copy of this book by Tyndale House Publishers. The opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.

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