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Children's Book Reviews

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*** Have A Little Faith ***

Kate Marley

Throughout the ages, books have been used to encourage faith. The power of the written word is undeniable; why else would oppressors forbid certain books to the downtrodden? America, where we have both freedom of religion and of the press, is truly blessed in this regard. Books of all faiths are available without fear of punishment.
More subtly, books can also tell stories that promote certain values or virtues. Particularly for little kids, these can be obvious, such as the series about the Berenstain Bears, Li’l Bill, or Chicken Soup for Little Souls. In December, when nearly all are surrounded by the nearly overpowering material aspects of Christmas, Hanukkah, and other religious observances, this might be a good time to reflect, demonstrate and pass on to our children the essence of our own faiths.


One Earth, One Spirit compiled by Tessa Strickland. c 1997, Sierra Club This is a marvelous collection of prayers and photos from different faiths and cultures, with an emphasis on the spiritual connection between people, their faith and the earth. Muslim prayers are omitted out of respect for their tradition of not using visual images. Notes at the end give a thumbnail sketch on each prayer and its purpose. It’s a poignant reminder of how much so many religions have in common, and another small reminder for tolerance.

Book About God by Florence Mary Fitch. c 1953. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. Newly illustrated with wonderful artwork by Henri Sorensen, this simple, non-denominational book talks about God using comparisons with the grandeur and depth of the natural world. An oldie, but a goodie, particularly with the beautiful pictures.

Chanukah in Chelm by David Adler. c 1997, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. Chelm stories have been popular in Jewish literature for a very long time, and while they might seem irreverent to some, those of us who know God has a sense of humor can appreciate them. Mendel is given a simple task by the rabbi - to find a table so the lights from the menorah can be seen from the synagogue window - but of course it becomes anything but simple. Hilarious illustrations are by Baltimore’s own Kevin O’Malley.

To Every Thing There Is a Season by Leo & Diane Dillon. c 1998, Blue Sky Press. Another visual delight! The famous, timeless words from Ecclesiates are illustrated by the Dillons in various art styles from around the world, such as Siamese shadow plays, Irish illumination, and Egyptian murals. At the end of the book, there are a couple of pages explaining the background of each art form, and how it illustrates each verse. A beautiful, powerful book.

Night of Las Posadas by Tomie DePaola. c 1999, Putnam. Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter so long ago is recreated in many Spanish speaking places (such as Santa Fe in this story) in a celebration known as Las Posadas. This story of one such night and the little miracle that happened there is another heartwarming addition to the holiday book lineup. Illustrations are, of course, by the author.

Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. c 1996, Simon & Schuster. Inspired by the author/illustrator’s memories of one winter in the Midwest, this is a story of young Trisha’s special and unusual Hanukkah. Everyone is getting ready, anticipating the holidays, when an epidemic strikes, and just about everyone is forced to keep quarantine. Realizing that her Christian friends and neighbors will miss the trappings of Christmas, Trisha and her family bring little decorated trees, their Hanukkah presents and food to the shut-ins, and making a little miracle for both faiths.


Special Gifts by Cynthia Rylant. c 1999, Simon and Schuster. Three cousins are staying with a beloved aunt while their parents are away for the winter holidays, and this charming little chapter books tells of their generous, cozy times together. Appealing illustrations are by Wendy Anderson Halperin.

Kingfisher Book of Religions by Trevor Barnes. c 1999, Kingfisher. This excellent book is a good introduction to all the major religions, and then some. Listed in chronological order from when they began, each section lists the history, major philosophies and important rituals and holidays. Famous religious quotes scattered throughout highlight the universal truths that connect everyone. Illustrated with beautiful color photographs from around the world, with children predominating, it’s a great source made even more useful by a glossary and index.


Book of Miracles by Lawrence Kushner. 10th Anniversary Edition, 1997, Jewish Lights Publishing. For years, this has been "a young person’s guide to Jewish spiritual awareness" and has gained a reputation as an excellent bar/bat mitzvah present. These essays talk about seeing, hearing, doing, and the person, using the Talmud, midrash, mystical and Biblical stories to encourage finding the connections between God and one’s day to day life. Illustrations are by the author.

Preacher’s Boy by Katherine Paterson. c 1999, Clarion. Near the end of the century in a small town in Vermont, eleven year old Robbie struggles with many issues - but being a preacher’s child he finds particularly irksome. He admires his parents, and loves his retarded brother, but feels lots of the rules are too confining for his adventuresome, lively spirit. So Robbie decides to be an atheist, but an alcoholic tramp and his daughter become a catalyst for his renewal of faith.

Revelation of Saint Bruce by Tres Seymour. c 1998, Orchard Books. Even among his small circle, Bruce sometimes feels like an outsider. His strict moral code has earned him the sarcastic nickname of Saint Bruce, but it isn’t until his senior year that he’s forced to choose between his values and acceptance. Knowing that his friends drank in school one day, and asked point blank by a respected teacher for the truth, Bruce does the right thing. The fallout is predictable; his friends are expelled and won’t be able to graduate; one suffers even worse from his abusive father. Bruce is shunned by the other students. The author resists an unrealistic happy ending, and readers will be left with many questions - which will make for some great discussions about ethics and consequences.

For Adults

Voice for the Child edited by Sandra Joseph. c 1999, HarperCollins. Long unknown outside his native Poland, some of the inspirational words and works of Janusz Korczak are set forth here in this tiny, powerful smorgasbord of a book. First a doctor, then an educator and a writer, Janusz Korczak wrote compellingly about the rights and feelings of children; some of his works have been translated. He founded two orphanages, one Jewish and one Catholic, and dedicated his life to helping thousands of abandoned children. Even when the Nazis came to power, he stayed with his children, up until the end when he marched with 200 orphans onto the train that led to Treblinka. Today, he is remembered not only for this, but for his passion and dedication to the rights of children. The right to be a child, and not a possession, the right be cared for, to enjoy life on their own terms, to be be loved.

		A hundred children - a hundred people
		Who are not ‘maybe sometime’,
		Not ‘not now’, not ‘tomorrow’
		But are here and now, today
		People who already exist.

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