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Let the pictures tell the story

Dinah Starkey recommends the illustrations in books about Jesus.

The Life of Jesus Through the Eyes of an Artist. Pictures by Paul Forsey Teacher's book by David Barton with Jo Fageant The Bible Reading Fellowship pound;12.99 Teacher's Book pound;11.99

The Jesus Encyclopedia By Lois Rock Illustrated by Peter Dennis Lion Books pound;14.99

When the Oxford diocese was looking for ways to support RE in schools, an artist, Paul Forsey, was commissioned to produce four Advent scenes.

The project proved a success and was extended to all the major events in the life of Jesus. Twenty-two of the paintings, each with an accompanying passage from the Bible, were published by the Bible Reading Fellowship and now form an unusual and beautiful picture book.

Paul Forsey has a very personal vision and his image of Jesus and the disciples is far removed from the long hair and sandals of the Victorian prints. The flat picture plane and disdain for proportion have the feel of a medieval manuscript painting but there's a hint of Picasso (Guernica was one of his influences) and even of Salvador Dali in the deliberate incongruities that lurk demurely within the main pictures.

As a storm blows up on Lake Galilee, the boat rakes across the page at an impossible angle, with a distress flag streaming and a disciple frantically setting off a flare. Vivid, direct and sometimes moving, every picture repays close study. These are illustrations that grow on you and there's plenty to explore.And it is the pictures that tell the story, although the text, taken from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible, provides a good straightforward re-telling of each incident, well within the grasp of primary age children.

The book is accompanied by an excellent teacher's guide that provides a longer complementary narrative and a page-by-page commentary on each picture to help children and teachers to get the most out of this rich and strange new version of the life of Christ.

The Jesus Encyclopedia, by contrast, is a much more traditional affair. The focus of each double-page spread is an incident from the New Testament simply told and illustrated with carefully researched, rather wooden images of Christ and his disciples. Accompanying photographs, reconstructions and snippets of information aim to set the stories in historical context. Well produced with maps and diagrams, it is a useful resource for an RE topic about the Bible. But if you're looking for awe and wonder, Paul Forsey's version wins hands down.

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