Recently my young children and I had two reading sessions for World Interfaith Harmony Week: one group session using the Hindu story book, ‘The Boy with Stars in His Mouth and other Hindu stories’ by Lynne Broadbent, and a second one-to-one session each with the talkabout book, ‘Food and Faith’ by Susan Reuben and Sophie Pelham. The first session did not go well and this stimulated a lot of thought for me. Am I trying to introduce stories from other faiths too early?
Perhaps my children – aged six and four – are too young.
The children featured in ‘Food and Faith’ are all ten and eleven years old. Perhaps that is a better age for learning about other faiths.
For ‘Food and Faith’, I engaged my children in one-to-one dialogic reading sessions. I began with the opening spread that introduces children from each of the six featured faiths, and asked my child to chose who to read about. One chose the Hindu boy, another chose the Sikh girl. They both maintained interest and we enjoyed reading and discussing the relevant pages. I offered them both a second choice. They both chose the Muslim girl and thoroughly enjoyed those pages.
Our experience with ‘Food and Faith’ was far more positive than our group reading of ‘The Boy with Stars in His Mouth’.
So was the issue the type of reading material? Talkabout non-fiction is better than creative writing?
Does the difficulty lie in the way faith stories are sometimes crafted?
My children are used to well engineered stories (that can be categorised into one of the seven story plots), as well as creative non-fiction from Muslim history, and non-fiction talkabout books and encyclopedia.
Some of the stories we have read from our Muslim faith are simply ‘discovery’ stories. I have found myself cringing at the lack of craft/moral/anything actually happening, while I watch my children simultaneously enthralled by all the book’s good points and what they’ve learned.
For example, for my Muslim children, when we read ‘The Great Night Journey‘ they loved the flying creature Al-Buraq and were pleased to discover how Muslims were prescribed five daily prayers. This was a life-changing event for Muslims. However, I can’t imagine that a young non-Muslim child would be very interested in a discovery of no relevance to her/his world view. Where is the universal moral? The satisfying adventure?
So, when I read ‘The Boy with Stars in His Mouth’ my children were understandably not engaged in a mere scene in which Krishna’s mother discovered stars in his mouth. Where was the universal moral? The satisfying adventure?
Who can blame children for being disinterested in stories from different faiths when their questions of, “Is it true?” and “Do we believe that?” are met with negativity?
I find myself looking ahead to this multi-faith children’s literature project now with caution. I am grateful to the writers and artists who have thus far produced children’s literature in English for diverse religions … but I am concerned only to use diverse faith stories that are crafted to engage and benefit children of different faiths – as well as children of the faith to which the stories belong.
I’m delighted to find that the stories about Guru Nanak in ‘The Milk and the Jasmine Flower and Other Stories‘ are well constructed to share universal faith morals. That ‘The Wisdom of the Crows and Other Buddhist Tales‘ and ‘The Wise Fool: Fables from the Islamic World’ relate universal faith messages about compassion and immaterialism. That there are some lovely universal morals to enjoy within ‘The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales‘ and in the parables retold in ‘Stories that Jesus Told‘ (although, like me, you may want to edit the moralistic text from the latter in order to allow the stories to show morals through plot). I am hopeful of discovering more such books.
Greenbird Books is actively seeking to celebrate diverse faiths in imaginative children’s picture books. Submissions are currently open for pre-school and early readers stories that represent Jewish and Hindu faiths.
I am hopeful that Greenbird Books will soon be providing universally relevant children’s literature that honours diverse faiths, and therefore parents of faith can offer these stories to our children, saying, “Here’s a special story from a different faith tradition that teaches mostly the same good things that we say are important.”
Then, children’s questions like, “Is that true?” and “Do we believe that?” are focussed upon the stories’ universal morals and can be met with positivity. And then our literature can help children to meet children of other faiths with positivity too.
I do believe this is what #ReadSameReadDifferent is all about.
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 and child gifts for my Etsy shop, BarakahBedtimesUK.
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