A Bible for Tweeners
Author Interview with Brian Singer-Towns, Editor: Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics
by Lisa M. Hendey
I have a tweener living in my home and I’ve finally discovered a wonderful biblical resource just for him. “Tweeners” are a subset of youth, typically between ages 9 and 13. Your typical tweener feels like he is too old for things like ordering off of the children’s menu or reading from a children’s picture bible. However most of the “youth” bibles I’ve reviewed may contain issues tweeners are not ready emotionally to digest or understand.
For this reason, I was very pleased to discover Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics
(St. Mary’s Press, March 2006, paperback). Employing the Catholic Edition of the Good News Translation, this Bible carries both the Imprimatur and the Nihil Obstat, declaring that the text and articles contained in it are free of doctrinal or moral error.
That said, Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics will appeal to most middle school aged students because of the appealing design and layout of the book. This bible doesn’t talk down to them, but rather challenges them to study, pray with and live out the precepts of sacred scripture. Featuring frequent illustrations and the ever popular “anime” style full color drawings and interviews with major biblical characters, this bible is visually interesting and attractive even at first glance. “Catholic Connections” link biblical passages to Church teachings. Each book of the bible is prefaced with an introduction giving helpful thematic and contextual information on the upcoming book. Helpful features at the end of the bible include a glossary, an index and several maps.
In my home, I can see this bible as being the tool that helps my tweener transition from reading the bible to help him with his homework to reading the bible as a part of his own spiritual development. He may find, however, that he has to share his new bible with his mother, as I too find the format both enjoyable to read and thought provoking. The following scripture passage, shared in the opening pages of Breakthrough!, sums up the approach this wonderful resource takes at reaching out to young Catholics:
“Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for believers in your speech, your conduct, your love, faith and purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
I am pleased to share the following interview with Brian Singer-Towns, Editor of Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics.
Q: Brian, please tell our readers a bit about yourself and your family.
A: I grew up in a Catholic home in a small town in Michigan. During my college years my life goals changed significantly because of my involvement with a campus Christian organization and the Catholic campus parish. I went from wanting to be an electrical engineer to wanting to look at a career in ministry. And what kick-started this whole process was my involvement in a Bible study on the Gospel of Mark. Talk about God’s grace at work!
This year I will be celebrating my 25th year in ministry. My career has included a wide range of experiences: parish ministry, diocesan ministry, national committees, and publishing ministry, to name a few. My wife, Betty, has been my partner and first line of support through it all. She is also a full-time ecclesial minister, working as a parish pastoral associate. We also celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this year.
My two sons are both college age now. My older son, Tim, will be finishing his Masters in Education and looking for a teaching position soon. And my younger son, Peter, is in his first year of college.
Q: What prompted the idea for Breakthrough! and what makes this bible different from other resources currently available for children?
A: What motivated us to create Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics was the mission of Saint Mary's Press. Our mission is to enliven the hearts and minds of young people, 10 to 19 years old, with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Several years ago we created the first Bible specifically aimed at Catholic high school youth, The Catholic Youth Bible. This Bible was so well received that we began looking at the possibility of a Bible specifically created for middle school young people.
What makes Breakthrough! unique is that it is the first Catholic Bible specifically created for “tweeners.” We started by choosing the Good News Translation Catholic Edition, the only approved Catholic translation written for a sixth grade reading level. Then we added short book introductions and over 700 articles that connect God’s word with young people’s questions and their life experiences. The articles were written by a team of five ministry professionals who work regularly with middle school youth. And of course we included lots of study helps, such as lists of important Bible stories, a dictionary, maps, etc.
Q: Who is the target audience for your bible and what have you done to make it attractive to students in that age range?
A: Breakthrough! was written primarily for young people 10 to 13 years old. We were very concerned to make it engaging for young people of this age. To accomplish this, we paid close attention to the visual design. We found an artist who could create biblical art that in an anime style. Young people are immediately drawn to this because they see this style of art every day on television, video games, and magazines.
Another thing we did was to include a feature that focuses on the people of the Bible. We have forty full-color insert pages with an illustration and a brief “interview” on forty different biblical characters. Again, this is a literary style that young people are familiar with and it immediately draws them in. Just recently, while at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, I watched several young people who came with their parents sit down and just start reading Breakthrough! without any prompting. They wouldn’t leave until their parents purchased a copy. Now that’s a problem I like to have as a parent!
Q: How can parents encourage their children to read and pray with the bible?
A: I love this question because parents have such a key role in helping their children become Bible readers. My answer is very simple: read to them, read with them, and let them see you reading.
What I mean by that is, when your children are young establish a practice of reading Bible stories to them. One of our boys’ favorite books was an illustrated children’s Bible that we read to them at bedtime. As your children grow older, establish some practices of reading the Bible together. We used to pick a Bible book to read from at dinner time during Advent and Lent. Breakthrough! is perfect for that since the added articles often give you a starting point for discussing what the Bible stories mean for life today.
Finally, it is important that your children see you using the Bible. Our children have seen us taking our Bibles to our married couples sharing group, on personal retreats, and to weekly Bible study. I cannot say that either of my sons is currently a regular Bible reader, but I am a firm believer that this modeling has planted seeds that will flourish later in their life.
Q: Can you please tell us about your upcoming Breakthrough Bus Tour? Where will you be stopping and what is the goal of the tour?
A: As I write this, the Breakthrough Bus Tour is finishing its first week and we have been getting exciting reports. The bus is traveling from Los Angeles to Atlanta, with stops in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Dallas, Memphis, Birmingham, and Atlanta. At each city the bus will stop at a Catholic school or parish and a team of people will put on a program for the 5th and 6th graders. The team will be dressed as Bible characters and put on a fair with six hands-on stations to show what life was like during biblical times.
While in Atlanta, the bus will be on display at the National Catholic Education Association conference. From there it will stop at Chicago and Minneapolis and end up at Winona, MN, where Saint Mary's Press is located. You can find out more about the tour and read a blog on its progress by going to www.smp.org.
The tour has one main purpose, to help middle schoolers get excited about reading the Bible. We want to get the word out that we have this great new Bible just for them. And it doesn’t hurt to let the rest of the world know that Catholics read the Bible, too!
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to share with our readers?
A: This year Pope Benedict has declared the theme of World Youth Day to be, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 118). The pope is using this theme to encourage Catholic young adults to meditate often on the Word of God. Let’s join the Holy Father in helping our young people become Bible lovers and Bible users by showing them how God does indeed speak to us through the sacred word!
For more information on Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics visit
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.