In 1965, The Netherlands Bible Society (NBG) had the idea to publish a series of bible stories for young mentally disabled people. To develop their thoughts further they formed a committee by bringing together experts in the fields of psychiatry & theology, a rehabilitation center director, professors, clergymen, pastors, rabbis, teachers and Lady-in-waiting to H.M.the Queen. The group suggested that the series be published in successive volumes. And, that the drawings would have to speak so much for themselves that the text wouldn't need to be more than a mere foot-note.
Out of the numerous artists that responded to the NBG's call to send in a sample drawing relevant to the theme, the committee chose Kees de Kort.
The collaboration between the NBG-committee and Kees resulted in the 28 volume series, ‘What the Bible tells us' which indeed was published over a period of twenty years. It is now more than forty years ago that the first book, ‘Jesus is born' came out. Ten volumes are dedicated to the Old Testament and eighteen volumes to the New Testament.
In order to understand his audience better Kees de Kort visited mentally disabled youths. It was at that time that it struck him how wide ranged their learning disabilities were and how greatly their reading levels varied. He assessed that the majority of the group could read very little or nothing at all. That didn't deter him, instead he realized that this was something they had in common with children, which was another important audience he would be able to reach. Kees de Kort taught himself to see things through the eyes of a child. His figures stand along a baseline and perspective is used rarely. The compositions are made up of large colourful shapes. People are almost always the focal point and one can immediately read the expression on their faces. It's amazing how recognizable his bible figures are: whenever a character is seen in more than one volume their appearance is similar and their clothing the same. As is Jesus, who is always wearing the same robe and therefore instantly recognizable as the person everything revolves around, yet also a man between men.
The books illustrated by Kees de Kort aren't children's bibles but are bibles for children. This comes down to an approach in which the bible stories have not been interpreted by an author - but are revised in a plain and direct manner to reveal the pure essence of the stories. Always with the original biblical texts as starting point the texts are short and terse. The 'Kijkbijbel', as the collection is titled in Dutch, is not so much a narrative to be read aloud but one to look and learn from, it's ‘A Show and Tell Bible'.