Book List: Introducing Young Children to World Religions
This book list is a counterpart to my last post, Spiritual Books for Young Children. Read that post for more info on how these lists came about. Both lists are part of my ‘give a book month’ effort – check the posts on the right for some great adult spiritual gift book options.
This list is of books for introducing children ages 3-9 to religions other than their own. Many of these books are also good for teaching children about their own religions, but that was not the main criteria for the list. I have focused here on selecting two books for each of the five major world religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. There are a few honorable mentions related to other traditions, or geared for older kids, thrown in at the end.
This list is of course entirely subjective! There are a lot of children’s books out there for some of these religions, so I really tried to focus on those that entertained my own daughter the most. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments section.
Becoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha, by Whitney Stewart – This is an introduction to the main themes of Buddhism through a telling of the Buddha’s life story. One of the few Buddhist offerings geared for children this young, the interesting artwork and fascinating story held my daughter’s interest.
Peaceful Piggy Meditation, by Kerry Lee Maclean – One of my favorites, this book presents meditation as a tool kids can use to help them deal with the difficult everyday situations they most often confront – getting teased by their siblings, falling down at school, or served a dinner they can’t stand.
Lighting a Lamp: A Diwali Story, by Jonny Zucker – Geared for the younger end of my target age range, this book introduces the Hindu festival of Diwali by walking through one family’s celebration of the day. It is part of the Festival Time series, a collection of books introducing holidays from all the major religions.
The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow, by Sanjay Patel – This is actually not a children’s book, but came highly recommended, and my daughter loves it. The author is an animator with Pixar Studios, and has drawn hip, colorful drawings of all the major Hindu deities, along with brief descriptions. An entertaining way for anyone of any age to learn about the Hindu pantheon.
Ramadan, by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi – This book follows a young boy named Hakeem through the major rituals of Ramadan, including fasting, praying and visits to the mosque. Although a bit heavy on text for my four-year old daughter, her slightly older friend loved it, and it won out over others about Ramadan because of its exquisite illustrations.
Salaam: A Muslim American Boy’s Story, by Tricia Brown – A profile of a real-life American Muslim boy and his family, depicted through simple text and photographs. This book introduces the five pillars of Islam, and cultural aspects of Islam such as hijab (women’s headscarves) in an accessible way, as well as broaching the difficult topic of religious intolerance. My daughter was especially fascinated by the photographs, and flipped through the book again and again.
What Makes Someone a Jew? by Lauren Seidman – With rhyming text and color photographs, this book introduces children to the diversity of Jews around the world. Focused on the basic shared tenets of loving and kindness, this book focuses more on a sense of inclusiveness than religious theology, but presents a powerful multi-cultural image of modern Judaism.
Beni’s Family Treasury for the Jewish Holidays, by Jane Breskin Zalben – For a more informative yet entertaining introduction to Judaism’s tenets, try this collection of five stories about bear Beni and his family’s trials and tribulations while celebrating various Jewish holidays. These tales combine educational information and good storytelling in a way rare for children’s religious books, and left my young listener clamoring for more.
As it turns out, finding books to introduce Christianity from a non-Christian perspective was the biggest challenge I faced in compiling this list. In the end, I let the entertainment factor take precedence and selected picturesque books that introduce the two most well-known Christian religious holidays, Christmas and Easter. Check the Honorable Mentions list below for some other Christianity ideas.
Humphrey’s First Christmas, by Carol Heyer – This adorable version of the nativity story is told from the perspective of Humphrey, a grumpy camel witnessing the event. As Humphrey begins to appreciate the value of what he is involved in, he puts his own complaints aside and learns the true meaning of Christmas – selfless giving and love. Humphrey was a hit, with me and my daughter.
The Easter Story, by Brian Wildsmith – The story of Easter is not an easy one to relay to children, with betrayal, suffering and death all prominently featured. This beautifully illustrated version does it justice, focusing on the deeper meaning of each event without glossing over the details too much. Like in the prior book, an animal features prominently, this time the donkey Jesus rides into Jerusalem.
These were books I liked, but that were either geared for slightly older children, or dealt with religions other than the ones covered above.
One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship, by Mary Pope Osborne – Survey of all the world’s religions from children’s perspectives, geared for 9-12 year olds.
Religion (DK Eyewitness Series), by Myrtle Langley – Another survey book for 9-12 year olds, from the well-known education series DK Eyewitness.
Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher, by Lynn Tuttle Gurney – Accessible and universalist telling of Jesus’ life story, appropriate for liberal Christians and non-Christians.
Aisha’s Moonlit Walk, by Anika Stafford – Introduction to pagan holidays and celebrations throughout the year.
Zen Shorts, by Jon Muth – Introduction to Zen principles by a giant panda, targeted to children 9-12, but the pictures pulled my four-year old in as well.
The Elephant Prince: The Story of Ganesh, by Amy Novesky – Beautifully illustrated tale of Ganesh, Hindu deity.