Group seeks realistic illustrations of Bible characters

Published 9:24 pm Friday, December 11, 2009

Six years ago, Kathy Lewis was frustrated with children’s Bible stories being illustrated by cartoons or unreal characters, including the Veggie Tales and a Charlie Brown Nativity scene featuring Woodstock as the baby Jesus. She felt that illustrators needed to show a more realistic — more human — version of Jesus that children could relate better to.

“Jesus is real!” is her slogan, and with that began a movement called CRIBS — Characters Realistically Illustrated in Bible Stories.

“This started about six years ago, when my niece spent the night with me,” she said. “I realized that she did not know one thing about Christmas. She was born and raised in America, but she had never set foot in a church.

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“I started out for her mother’s with her, and it was about a 50-mile trip. We went through the country, and it was pretty early in the morning, and she was singing Christmas songs. She named all the reindeer — she’s a very smart child. We drove along, and I asked her whose birthday it was, and she said, ‘Jesus’s!’ I asked her who his mother was, and she didn’t know; and I asked her about his earthly father and where he was born, and she didn’t know.”

Being a former kindergarten teacher, Lewis said she wanted to bring books with more realistic-looking illustrations to kindergarten classes.

She then went looking for a book of Bible stories for her niece and a book about the meaning of Christmas. She went to several bookstores and found several books, but none with a realistic-looking representation.

“I found Veggie Tales and Woodstock (from the “Peanuts” comic strip) and cartoon characters, but no realistic books,” she said. “They carried the stories of Christmas, but it had Woodstock representing Jesus. I’m not a rebel — I can’t believe that I’m doing something like this today! — but it bothered me to the extent that I started looking.”

Most of the books she found were illustrated with more cartoonish, less realistic characters.

“It’s not so much the book that bothers me,” Lewis said. “It’s the availability of it. You can go to any Christian bookstore or anyplace that sells children’s books — and you can’t find a Bible or a storybook about Christmas with realistic illustrations.

“A child can see Santa Claus, touch him, touch his beard, have his picture taken with Santa Claus — he’s real. Now, you tell him about Jesus — you can’t see him, you can’t touch him, and yet you say he’s real, and you see Woodstock in the manger, what’s going on?”

The mission of CRIBS is to instill in the minds of children that “Jesus is real” by providing realistically illustrated Bible storybooks to churches and schools.

“Last year, we priced out a book called ‘Joy,’ and it had what I’d call semi-animated pictures in it,” she said. “I ordered 1,600 of those, and they covered five counties. Last year, one group bought more than 200 books.”

The response in this region has been great, Lewis said. Someone from North Carolina that she met here in Alabama heard about idea and wanted to order a number of books for churches in his area.

“When you talk about 1,500 books, that’s not much,” she said. “Now, we’re talking about 15,000, up to 200,000 — now, we’re looking at something.”

For more information about CRIBS, call Kathy Lewis at (205) 457-2275 or e-mail her at

With such a great emphasis placed on Santa Claus and unrealistic representations of the characters in the Christmas story, Kathy Lewis was frustrated that children don’t get to see a realistic representation of Jesus and the Christmas story. Now, through her CRIBS project, children are able to see realistic illustrations of Jesus and other Bible characters to make them more real to children.