Faith, Interfaith, and Diverse Children’s Books #WIHW2015

World Interfaith Harmony Week 2015 #WIHW2015

Why do we want to read stories from other religions if we’ve already chosen our faith?

Today I told my children that, this week, we’d be discussing the above question as we read through the stack of new books I’d displayed on the table.

WIHW2015 A stack of books for a Muslim family

One child volunteered an answer: “Because they’re fun.”

And I think enjoyment is a valid reason. But, as a Muslim parent raising Muslim children, I have a different primary motive for introducing stories from diverse faiths, traditions, and cultures.

In my parenting so far, I have used rhymes and stories as informal teaching tools for facilitating various skills, including language and empathy development in my children. However, buying books from other faith marks a new development for us.

So far I have obtained, ordered, and wish-listed books containing stories from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and Hindu faith traditions, as well as books from a diversity of places and cultures. (Thank you to every one in the lovely ‘Kids of Color Children’s Books’ #ReadSameReadDifferent Facebook group who has helped me with my lists.)

#WIHW2015 Kind humanity in children's booksIn order to introduce my own answer to the above question, I began my family’s reading sessions for #WIHW2015 with a non-religious title: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson.

In this picture book, a girl named Chloe immediately and consistently shuns a new – and visibly different – girl at school: Maya. Maya doesn’t come to school one day and the teacher engages pupils in a lovely activity for children to understand how kindnesses spread into the world. Chloe reflects and changes. She intends to be kind. However, by this point, Maya has stopped attending school. A regretful Chloe ponders the shunned opportunities she cannot reach.

After reading the book I explained to my children that Chloe may have turned away from Maya because she saw that she was different and didn’t know what to say to her.

I explained that we might not know what to talk about upon meeting a Hindu or Sikh child and might accidentally be unkind by silence.

“What’s a Sikh? What’s a Hindu?” they asked.

I assured them we would find out. And we would read some stories that are special to different people so we can talk to people through the shared language of stories.

We have previously used stories a lot to facilitate understanding, questioning, and discussions, and I have often directly noticed positive impacts upon my children’s practical humanity. I am excited to now be embarking on a new direction in our literacy-led humanity-development: exploring stories from diverse faiths, and importantly, celebrating human harmonies without diminishing recognition of differences or dishonouring them.

#WIHW2015 First session 3 booksAfter reading Each Kindness we proceeded with a new Muslim book, The Great Night Journey and Other Stories by Anita Ganeri, and finished with a favourite, my own Islamic Nursery Rhymes. As I’m sure many parents of faith can relate, I want my family’s journey into diversity to strengthen everyone’s autonomy, including ours.

Next, however, my children are looking forward to enjoying Sikh and Hindu stories.

This post is the introduction to a new series of book reviews focussed on faith, interfaith, and diverse books. I hope that you can take the best from my words and adapt my experiences to your own family/classroom/nursery needs.

I’d love to hear about your journeys into diverse children’s literacy in the comments. And please do tweet me with your diverse children’s book recommendations via @elizabethlymer.

I am the author of Religious Rhyme Time, an Abrahamic children’s interfaith book, as well as Islamic Nursery Rhymes. I love eating chocolate while I write, and – with strictly chocolate-free fingers – I also create Muslim and interfaith baby gifts for my Etsy shop, BarakahBedtimesUK. For  links to all my writing ventures, please visit http://www.elizabethlymer.co.uk

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