In 2003, five years before I had kids, I read about a project that drew me in because it combined my love of storytelling, my nostalgia for the toys of my youth, and my general admiration for out-of-the-box creativity. A guy named Brendan Powell Smith had started a website, and then a series of books, called “The Brick Testament,” where he re-created biblical stories with Legos. My husband, Eric, and I were excited to find a big stack of “Brick Bible” books two years later at the MIT Press Bookstore sale, and we gathered them up, one set for ourselves and a bunch more to give as gifts.
The project is impressive—Smith amassed tons of Lego sets and re-assembled them into unique collections for each tale. As you read them you can see the pieces of a farm set climbing into Noah’s ark, or perhaps the body of Obie-Wan with a new head to look like a biblical farmer, walking across Lego tableaus of the Garden of Eden or Pharaoh’s palace. Smith doesn’t use an official translation to tell his stories—he’s made his own based on a compilation of sources—but the stories are comparable to those I’ve learned over time.
About a year ago, my daughter, Ruthie, discovered these books on one of my bookcases. She saw the Legos—toys—and claimed the books for her own. I figured there couldn’t be much harm in reading them to her; we frequently talk about the stories behind the holidays and what it means to be Jewish, and conversations about God are not foreign to our repertoire. But as I leaf through them with her, I am both verbally and graphically reminded that the Bible isn’t all sunshine and roses. There are some pretty tough parts—violent parts, sad parts—that I don’t feel completely ready to delve into explaining to a 5-year-old.
Some kids love the scary, but Ruthie doesn’t, largely because, I am sure, her apple fell pretty close to her horror-movie-hating mom’s tree. And the challenges of getting the scary out didn’t start with the nights we read “The Brick Testament.” Even though Disney stories all end in a happily-ever-after, they also almost all contain a terrifying witch, an evil sorcerer or my least favorite villain, a stepmother out to destroy her husband’s children. And there’s bad stuff in these stories because there’s bad stuff in real life, stuff that Ruthie is getting closer to understanding with each passing year.
Intellectually, one of my primary goals as a parent is to make my kids resilient people. I know that no matter how hard I try, I cannot prevent them from everything that is scary; I can’t keep them from knowing hardship firsthand. But if I can give them tools to know that scary things don’t need to make all of life scary, and that the bad things that happen don’t need to define them, I will feel like I have done a good job. When push comes to shove, however, and the picture on the page is of biblical bloodshed, my maternal instinct tells me to skip that page—to gather my girls up in my arms and protect them from even knowing that people kill other people. If resiliency is the goal, it means that someday, and I’m sure a day sooner than I’m ready for, we’ll need to not only read about Cain killing Abel in full, but we’ll also need to talk about it for a while. And in the end, the Bible, which is reinforced with thousands of years of commentary about why things happened the way they did, is one of my best tools to open the discussion about why evil happens and how to understand it.
In this great article about introducing Torah to your kids, author Kathy Bloomfield notes: “There are times when the Torah portion is just not something you want to discuss with children. Explaining animal sacrifices, what ‘begat’ means or why there seems to be so much bloodshed can get very tiresome.” There’s also this great animated video series that presents a year’s worth of Torah portions with commentary.
Ideally I want my girls to start out understanding the richness and wonder of the stories upon which our faith is built, and gain a comfort level that will make them open to the more complex parts as they are developmentally ready. But for now, I’m going to purchase a few of the books Kathy Bloomfield suggests, along with Brendan Powell Smith’s newer Bible stories for kids, and start preparing for the days when all four of us are ready for that complexity.
Jessie Boatright lives with her family in the Boston area. Her parenting blog appears on InterfaithFamily.com.