Book List: Spirituality Books for Young Children
This post is a counterpart to another list, Books for Introducing Young Children to World Religions. These two lists are particularly dear to me, as I began them when my [then] four-year old daughter began to ask questions about my meditation practice and the meditation classes that I teach. As I sorted through what I wanted to convey to my daughter (and her younger siblings when they are old enough), I realized I had two goals. First, I wanted to introduce her to general spiritual concepts that I value such as compassion, gratitude, contemplation, and mindfulness. Second, I wanted her to be aware of the diversity of world religions, to foster both multicultural understanding and religious tolerance. Each of those goals became the foundation for one of these lists.
Both lists were compiled the same way. I started by soliciting recommendations from all mothers, teachers, child librarians and other child caretakers that I knew, both on- and off-line. Within a few weeks I had well over 100 recommendations, and I read every single one. I read them all to my daughter and considered her reactions to my selection choices as well.
All the books are picture books appropriate for children 3-9 years old. This first list focuses on general spiritual values, while the other one focuses on world religions. I have tried to keep both lists under 10 books, so it is not too overwhelming. Both lists are of course entirely subjective, and if you have more books you would like to recommend, please feel free to add them in the comments section.
The Golden Rule, by Ilene Cooper – “Treat others the way you would like to be treated”, a grandfather explains to his grandson, in this lovely introduction to compassion and empathy. Grandpa goes on to explain how the golden rule is represented in six different religions. When I read this to my daughter, the real-world examples triggered lots of questions, particularly the picture of a sad little girl on her first day in a new school. “What would make her feel better?” asks the Grandpa in the book, and my real-life listener had plenty of ideas – “smile at her”, “give her a toy”, “show her the library”, and more.
Each Breath A Smile, by Sister Susan – Also included in my Meditation for Kids post, this book is based on the teachings of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and written by a nun in one of his centers. It introduces children to mindful breathing and awareness, but steers clear of any explicit religious teachings. The text uses simple, repetitive phrases to create a sense of calm, and the pictures are in soothing but cheerful pastel colors. Reading it was a meditation in itself, and both my daughter and I were noticeably more relaxed at the end.
Moody Cow Meditates, by Kerry Lee Maclean – This one is on my Meditation for Kids post too, but is geared for slightly older children than the above selection, 4-8 year olds or so. It centers around a young cow/boy who has a very bad day, and gets very angry because of it, thus earning the nickname ‘moody cow.’ His grandfather teaches him a ‘mind-jar meditation’ (instructions included), in which sparkles in a jar of water represent his swirling angry thoughts. As he watches/meditates on the sparkles, they gradually settle down, as does his anger. I like this book because it deals with difficult emotions, and provides a way of talking about anger with kids, and presents meditation as one tool for dealing with this. Meditation is presented in an entirely secular fashion here, no religion involved.
All I See is Part of Me, by Chara Curtis – “All the plants, the animals and trees, Are in your light…and you are these.” Told from the perspective of a boy in conversation with a star, this book highlights the theme of connectivity. The text is general enough to support any religious denomination, but it does have an explicitly spiritual message about valuing your own inner wisdom. Although I loved this book upon first reading it, I thought it might be too abstract for my daughter, but she loved it – the rhyming and bright pictures captured her interest.
Seven Spirals: A Chakra Sutra for Kids, Deena Haiber and Aimee MacDonald – This is a great non-religious introduction to the chakras for anyone interested, although it’s targeted to children. For each of the 7 core chakras (within the system Westerners are most familiar with through yoga- there are actually other systems), there is first a page featuring a mandala-type picture with the color, English, and Sanskrit name of the chakra. Then there is a brief vignette featuring a child – kind of a story, but really more of a ‘scene’ or setting that corresponds to the energies that chakra represents. So for example, for the root chakra, a little girl ‘talks’ to a tree, saying she wishes she had ‘roots’ too, and the tree explains to her how she does. And for the heart chakra, a little boy helps some elderly neighbors, and then they tell him the story of how they first met and fell in love. There is a final reference page that lists the locations of the chakras within this system, and provides an overview of how to meditate on them. The pictures are colorful and fanciful.
God’s Paintbrush, by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso – Written by the second woman to be ordained as a rabbi, and the first to become a mother, this book presents a series of scenarios and questions designed to help children explore different aspects of God. From watching clouds, to the changing seasons, to feeling lonely, this book uses experiences young children can readily relate to as springboards for spiritual questions. The vision of God that emerges is anthropomorphic in nature, and this may make it more appropriate for those with Judeo-Christian leanings, but it is most definitely non-denominational, and its exploratory nature left room for a non-affiliated believer like myself to feel comfortable.
What is God?, by Etan Bortizer – This book could almost serve as the mission statement for this blog. Designed to answer a child asking ‘what is God?’, it provides both a poetic and open-ended vision, and introduces the idea of world religions by exploring the different ways each view God. It includes a page on each religion’s holy books, and even touches on the concept of religious intolerance and disagreement. If you have a very orthodox view of God, this book might not be for you, but if you consider yourself more interfaith-oriented, it is perfect. It was a bit wordy for my four-year old, but I think she will grow into it.
A Child’s Book of Blessings and Prayers, by Eliza Blanchard – Written by a Unitarian Universalist minister, this lovely collection is the perfect way to introduce children to prayer. It includes dozens of child-size blessings, poems and prayers, drawn from all the world’s major religions, and many other cultural traditions. Ranging from mealtime to bedtime, birthdays, holidays and everything in between, you will find a little prayer in here to cover just about anything.
There were three books by contemporary spiritual teachers/authors that I enjoyed, but they are geared for slightly older children (6-10 or so.) However, you could paraphrase them a bit for younger children, so I thought I would mention them here:
Milton’s Secret, by Eckhart Tolle
Emma and Mommy Talk to God, by Marianne Williamson
The Little Soul and the Sun, by Neale Donald Walsch
Lotus and the Golden Pearl, by Libby Pink
Check out more book lists and reviews on the Books page.