Today I’m focusing on picture books centered on matters of faith, a topic that I’ve included only sparsely over the years on Orange Marmalade, but which I’ve been gathering titles for recently. The events of last week encouraged me to tackle this subject now.
The attacks on Muslim worshipers in New Zealand this past Friday brought shock and revulsion in the same way as the Charleston AME church shooting, the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, and other murderous attacks against people of faith.
Violence against followers of various religions is certainly not a new thing, but the ferocity and ugliness of hatred never fails to stun and grieve us.
Intolerance of those unlike ourselves is not the only reality of our current human condition and I don’t really want to fixate on intolerance itself, but on solutions. In fact, later this week I’ll be reviewing a lovely book heralding some amazing folks who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize over the years. Living peaceably in pluralistic societies is a stance we can affirm within our circles of influence.
To that end, I’ve collected a smattering of faith-oriented books today, hoping they might inspire some good conversation in your households. Over the years, I’ve reviewed a number of other titles spotlighting spiritual beliefs and I’ve also pulled most of those together in a list that you can find at the link here.
Often I don’t feel qualified to discern what is good vs. inaccurate in books depicting faiths other than my own. I feel flat out ignorant, for example, of which portrayals of Native American spirituality are authentic and which are careless misrepresentations.
I find myself asking, in many cases, whether the tone or slant of a particular book is one that adherents to a faith would approve. Who is correctly handling essential elements and who is glossing over them or distorting them such that no real understanding is to be gained by those of us looking in from the outside?
I apologize for any omissions or inclusions today which disappoint some of you. If you are a person of faith, especially one not represented on today’s list or past lists here on Orange Marmalade, I invite you to comment sharing a helpful picture book title with us.
Whatever our own beliefs, we need to find ways to introduce children to the reality of differing faiths, to promote a respectful engagement with the ideas and practices of our neighbors.
This is the society we want to build:
one where we freely, peacefully, graciously allow one another to worship as our hearts direct. We do not need to eliminate or downplay differences to achieve this. Quite the contrary!
We can encourage a warm curiosity towards diverse beliefs, practices, holidays, and outward symbols of faith;
an inclination to approach rather than back away from people who practice a faith different from our own;
a protective sense of welcome for those of other faiths in our communities, especially those who face discrimination.
We will live more peacefully among a diversity of faiths if we work towards a measure of understanding, a level of familiarity, rather than only a sense of strangeness, fear, or suspicion. And peace is what the world needs.
Hats of Faith, written by Medeia Cohan, illustrated by Sarah Walsh
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books
I love this little, unassuming board book, surveying the many different kinds of head coverings worn by practitioners of various faiths.
For one thing, these hats, hijabs, turbans, and so on, do attract the curious gaze of our children — and ourselves! — don’t they? Often prominent, colorful, striking, unusual, they are a particularity that separates their wearers from others of us, marks them as belonging to a group we don’t. So, they’re fraught with the potential to intrigue kids, at best, but also amuse, concern, alienate, or at worst frighten them.
Here, colorful, friendly portraits gaze out at us, eye-to-eye, with just one sentence telling the name of their type of hat, the name of their religion, and the gender and age of person who wears it. Brilliant. This book needs to be widely known! Ages 2 and up.
Diwali, by Hannah Eliot, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
published in 2018 by Simon & Schuster
Discover a snippet of background as well as the present-day traditions of Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights and India’s biggest holiday of the year in this joyful, colorful board book.
It’s part of Little Simon’s Celebrate the World series so if you like it, you can look for more of them. Ages 2 and up.
Farmer Falgu Goes to Kumbh Mela, written by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Kanika Nair
first U.S. edition published in 2018 by Karadi Tales Company
There are several Farmer Falgu stories and each one is a lively, happy, thoroughly Indian tale illustrated with distinction.
This episode is on the list today because Falgu is off to the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu festival revolving around the sacred Nectar of Immortality. Ages ago this nectar was contained in a pot, but as the demigods hurried to keep it away from the demons, the pot spilled, anointing four of India’s rivers with its sacred liquid. Pilgrims flock to these rivers from all over India, just once every twelve years! Find out what happens when kindhearted Farmer Falgu travels to this crowded, chaotic, uncommon holiday! It’s a great little story for ages 3 and up.
Paul Writes a Letter, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka
published in 2018 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
I was blown away by the appearance of this book! A collection of excerpts from the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letters?! For children?! By the phenomenal Chris Raschka?! What??
But yup, that’s what it is! Helpful, colorful maps of Paul’s travels through the Ancient Roman empire are located on the endpapers. Then two-page spreads follow, each featuring a verse or two of Paul’s writings to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, and on down the line through Philemon, rephrased in wonderfully engaging language. Plus a bit of Hebrews thrown in for good measure even though, hey, not really sure Paul wrote those letters.
There’s a final page telling how Paul died and what his impact has been on the world. A-swirl with warm color, dancing with Rashcka’s hand lettering, and focused on the charitable, peaceful exhortations from Paul, this is a rare gem for ages 4 and up.
Rock of Ages: A Tribute to the Black Church, written by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2001 by Alfred A. Knopf
Bolden and Christie’s soulful, robust tribute to the centering, strengthening, mothering persona of the Black Church in America is one of my favorite finds in this process of seeking out titles about faith.
Bolden’s expressive, honest, muscular text is packed with substance, taut with the suffering and triumph, the hardships and stouthearted community found in these congregations. Christie is the perfect illustrator for this, with his gripping, salt-of-the-earth, sinewy figures. Their free-verse approach is followed by pages of fascinating historical notes about African-American churches. An out-of-print gem about this hearty expression of Christianity. Ages 7 and up.
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, a traditional spiritual illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2005 by Dial Books for Young Readers
This extraordinary book created by Kadir Nelson is the ideal accompaniment to Bolden and Christie’s book and a dynamic choice for just about anyone, anytime.
Nelson’s resplendent paintings of one African American boy and his family interpret this old spiritual powerfully, warmly, joyfully. Oh, how I love this book! Nelson’s afterword gives more background on spirituals in general and this song in particular. A simple line of music is included. Ages 2 and up.
Under My Hijab, written by Hena Khan, illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel
published in 2019 by Lee & Low Books
A little girl introduces us to her grandmother, mom, aunt, scout leader, sister, and cousin, six women in a wide range of ages, all of whom wear the hijab when they are out and about — at work and school, on scout outings or at the karate studio…
and take it off to reveal their hair in the private comfort of their own homes.
Hena Khan’s sunny, rhyming text conveys easy familiarity, while contemporary settings present these Muslim women as ordinary, modern women with distinctive personalities. An Author’s Note clearly, helpfully explains the reasons millions of Muslim women wear the hijab, as well as adding that many, including the author, do not always practice this aspect of their faith. It’s an excellent window onto a part of Islamic faith that most children encounter in their communities and which is often treated, sadly, with hostility. Ages 4 and up.
Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes, written by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
published in 2018 by Chronicle Books
From the pointy cones atop a mosque’s minarets to the arches of the intricately decorated mihrabs — the niches in mosque walls towards which Muslims face while praying — this clever book reveals a number of Islamic practices using a fascinating and non-threatening approach: geometry.
Geometrical shapes are an ideal gateway into learning about Muslim practices as for the most part other images are forbidden. This limitation has led to the effusive use of geometrical design and pattern within Islam producing stunning pieces of art over the centuries. Khan introduces vocabulary and the bare outlines of a gamut of Islamic concepts and practices. Amini wisely chooses to represent a variety of ethnicities and cultures in her beautiful illustrations. It’s a handsome choice for young children ages 4 and up.
Under the Bodhi Tree: A Story of the Buddha, written by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Kailey Whitman
published in 2018 by Sounds True
This story of Siddhartha Gautama is written in clear, lyrical prose that’s accessible to children as young as 5. Hopkinson simply narrates his birth into a wealthy and protective family, his first contact with suffering, and his persistent search for a pathway of peace.
Beautifully illustrated with a wash of the living green and sunlit gold of the Bodhi tree running through the pages, this is a lovely, gentle introduction to Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 1998 by Henry Holt and Company
Illustrated in Demi’s characteristic fine detail and gem-like colors, this book ushers us into the summits of the Himalayas, into the complicated world of Tibet, and introduces us to the Buddhist leader of that region, the Dalai Lama “who is worshiped by people as the bodily form of the Buddhist saint of compassion.”
Beginning with the search in 1933 for the newest incarnation of the Dalai Lama and the discovery of the child Lhamo, Demi leads us through his ceremonial installation and years of unique training before introducing the turbulent struggles with communist China, the Dalai Lama’s harrowing escape to India, and finishing with some comments on the work he does around the world today.
It’s an intriguing biography accessible to children ages 6 and up.
All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah, written by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
published in 2018 by Schwartz & Wade
Emily Jenkins has written one episode in the life of the warm-hearted Jewish family originally created by Sydney Taylor. Her storytelling and Paul Zelinsky’s magnificent illustration capture all the charm, bustle, and love of this 1910-era, New York City world for a new generation of readers.
As we witness the preparations and celebration of Hanukkah with this lively bunch, we glean many by-the-way tidbits about their Jewish practices, their Yiddish dialect, as well as what NYC life looked like in that time period. It’s an absolutely lovely book, winner of this year’s Sydney Taylor Gold Medal, that’s perfect for sharing with children ages 3 and up. Hopefully it will lead children to Taylor’s original novels. Find my review of the first in her series, here.
Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays, written by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Susan Gal
published in 2014 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
This colorful tour of the year and the Jewish celebrations which succeed one another from season to season is a fabulous resource for learning more about the Jewish faith.
Newman’s text is written in rhyming couplets with just the briefest of descriptions of special occasions and holidays ranging from a Naming Ceremony for a new baby, to Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Purim, Passover — 11 different holidays. End pages contain fuller descriptions of each holiday, as well as a craft project or recipe for each one. Susan Gal’s chalky colors and vivacious lines bathe the entire book in an atmosphere of joy. Ages 5 and up.
Shalom to each of you.