Reviews for Real Reads New Testament

“These re-written versions of stories from the bible, lucidly done, but without any dumbing down, confirm the authority of their originals while introducing them to readers in new ways. They pull off the difficult trick of being simultaneously time-honouring and contemporary. They deserve to find a large audience.”

– Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate 1999 – 2009

“As the father of an eight-year-old I should like to commend most fully the quality of these books and the idea that inspires them.”

– Canon Anthony Ball, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury

A glowing review by Anne Krisman on the writeaway website, March 2010:

“It is exciting to find a new angle on biblical stories and Real Reads New Testament, just in time for Easter, have managed to do it.

Real Reads aim to offer retellings of great literature that stay true to the original texts. The syntax and tone of the books are imitated and the retelling authors’ hope is that young readers will develop in their confidence and expand their vocabulary through access to these wonderful stories. The series so far includes retellings of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Charlotte and Emily Brontë and Mark Twain, with more promised.

A neat boxed set (the six books can also be bought separately) contains the stories of Jesus of Nazareth, Mary of Galilee, Simon Peter, Judas Iscariot, Mary Magdalene and Paul of Tarsus. Each book, maturely illustrated by Karen Donnelly, has a glossy dust-wrapper with a modern design and lively font. The cover shows the main character. Inside the book is a simple introduction to the characters, with a key question that draws the reader into the text, for example, ‘As the Son of God, Jesus has been given an enormous task. What will this mean for him?’

Each character’s story is told as a first person narrative, with the clear text broken up on each double page with illustrations. The images are to be commended as they manage to capture the atmosphere of the time, without stereotyping the Bible characters or patronising the young reader.

Finally, each book shows its commitment to education by adding a ‘Taking Things Further’ section of suggested further reading, viewing, websites and very challenging discussion points, such as ‘Christians believe that Jesus was and is both human and divine. Can you find any examples of struggling to be both?’ For classroom and other education contexts, there are also very sensible and imaginative practical group activities included, such as, ‘Imagine what would happen if Jesus returned today.’ The ‘Taking Things Further’ section is extremely helpful for the educator. It feels as if it has been written by people who know the classroom and who know what would work with young people.

The first person narrative is a very fresh way of coming to stories that may otherwise seem familiar. We know how Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, yet the first person narrative gives clues into his psychological motivation. The reader is taken back to a visit to the temple at Passover when Judas watches a young Jesus speaking confidently, ‘Why couldn’t I be confident like him? The disappointment, longing and jealousy were too painful.’ When Judas is singled out by Jesus from the other disciples, and puts his arm around Judas’ shoulders, although feeling pride, his response is very believable, ‘I think he had read my mind and felt sorry for me.’

These cleverly interlocking stories manage to cram in many events – the Judas Iscariot book includes the retelling of several parables – but there is no sense of rushing through. The language is very pure and pared down almost to poetry. For example, Mary of Galilee’s story begins, ‘My son. Even now these words swell my aging heart with love before wringing it with agony. I want to shout his name from the rooftops; I want to curl up tightly and weep. My son.’ It is no wonder that Andrew Motion has commended Real Reads New Testament as being ‘simultaneously time-honouring and contemporary.’

Alan Moore and Gill Tavner are to be commended for their very special six books that explore the New Testament stories in an entirely refreshing way. Their versions of Mary Magdalene’s and Mary of Galilee’s stories give a powerful voice to female characters. At no point throughout this series do we feel evangelised. The writers’ aim, ‘to enhance both cultural and spiritual understanding and tolerance for people of any faith or no faith’ is completely realised. Real Reads New Testament should be bought for school libraries. But do read them yourself too, you are in for a treat. Just wonderful.”