Monday, September 1, 2008

God Is In the Picture Books

421pxblake_ancient_of_days_2 Misterpie and I really haven't discussed how we will approach the topic of faith with Pumpkinpie. I was raised with no religious education at all, while his family were church-goers, but he did not continue on his own steam, so it is not something that we make part of our daily life, by any stretch.

Still, it is an important part of the lives of many, a major force in the world today and in the past, and something that I think speaks to a child's wonder about the world around them. It's not something I want to ignore or dismiss, however awkward I find my own unplumbed feelings. Being without a real denomination of my own, though, I am interested in talking in broader terms about the aspects of religion that I think are common across a number of major faiths, and that seek to make us better people. This is about the depth that I am comfortable with myself, and I think it leaves the topic open for further exploration as she grows older.

It also means that, in looking for picture books that address god in these sort of broad strokes, I can be inclusive of a multitude of diverse beliefs, and that these titles can be of use or appeal to people from a wide range of backgrounds. That being the case, and it being harder to find things that are not specifically "Christian" or "Jewish," for example, I thought I would share some of the books I've found that can serve as nice openings to discussing religion gently through picture books at a child's level.

A note: If you are looking for books that explain a particular faith or ritual, please do go to the children's section of your local library and ask for help or browse in the 200-299 section, for we do carry books on topics particular to a variety of religions and beliefs.

Bagels From Benny, by Aubrey Davis, ill. Dusan Petricic

Benny's grandfather makes the best bagels anywhere, but he won't accept thanks for them. Why not?, Benny asks one day, to be told that bagels are made from wheat, and wheat comes from the world, which was made by God, and so God deserved the thanks. Benny thinks about it, and decides to do that by offering Him some of the bagels. He asks his grandfather for some each week, sneaks into the synagogue, and puts them in the holiest of places, where God must live. When it is time for temple, they are gone - God must have eaten them! After a few weeks, it is discovered that a poor man has been coming to the synagogue and believes that God is giving him the bagels to feed him. He promises now that he has found a job, he will help others in turn, and Benny's grandfather, initially upset at what looks like sacrilege, tells Benny that he has indeed thanked God, for he has made the world a little better by this result to his actions. This is on the face of it, a quintessentially jewish tale, but the appreciation for God's work and the helping of others are aspect of many religions, making this lovely story highly transferable in terms of the lessons of generosity, gratitude, and faith that it imparts.

Big Momma Makes the World, by Phyllis Root, ill. Helen Oxenbury

Essentially a retelling of the week of creation, Big Momma, baby one her hip, creates light and dark, water and sky, and so on. As the week goes on, she adds the flora and the fauna, and as she is just about ready to be done and return to the chores of keeping her own house, "she figured she better finish things off in one big bang" that creates all the other little details except for one important one - some people to keep her company. By the end of the week, she is ready for a rest, so she turns over the care of this new earth to the people, but she keeps an eye on things as she goes about her business ever after. A cute retelling, this one will irk literalists, but might appeal to those who want to share the story of creation with a newer, feminine twist. It does have a certain cute, warm, motherly appeal, and I can see how a mother creating things would make sense to a young child, too.

Giant, or Waiting For The Thursday Boat, by Robert Munsch, ill. Gilles Tibo

McKeon, a giant, is angry that St. Patrick chased the snakes, elves, and other giants out of Ireland at god's behest, and wants to pick a fight with god. At last, he is told that god is coming on the Thursday boat. A small girl arrives, and watches as a parade of boats arrive, carrying a rich man, an important man, and a soldier, all of which turn out not to be god. The girl mollifies McKeon out of his anger, until the next day, when she tells him that St. Patrick has gone to continue his work in heaven. McKeon joins him, and the two seek out god to sort out their differences. They find there the little girl, who tells them that they are each doing their jobs, and that they must find a way to get along. There is, after all, plenty of room heaven. This book was very controversial when it came out, for its portrayal of god as a young girl, and is a definite departure for Munsch, though it features some of his hallmark storytelling chops. I can't say I found it a terrific book, but I do like the point it makes about living with people's differences.

What a Truly Cool World, by Julius Lester, ill. Joe Cepeda

Not for those who take their religion and creation myths too seriously, this vibrant picture book featuring an African-American cast of characters (god, his wife, his secretary, and an angel) strays quite a ways off, to humourous results. The fact is, the angel Shaniqua thinks earth looks a little boring, and has no trouble sharing this with god, who reluctantly agrees to make some changes to the drab green, brown, and blue world he has created. Together, he and Shaniqua add flowers and butterflies through the power of singing down colours onto the earth, and bring beauty to the world. A fun bit of fluff, this one.

Hot Hippo, by Mwenye Hadithi, ill. Adrienne Kennaway

There are dozens of stories in our folk and fairy tale collections about how chipmunks got their stripes, elephants got their trunks, and so on. But rarely do these actually involve a deity. When Hippo is hot and wishes to swim in the river, however, he goes straight to the god Ngai, who told the fishes to swim in the sea and the animals to walk on land, and makes a request. Ngai is protective of his fishes, so hippo promises to show him that he is not eating them, and from this is born many of the hippo's characteristic behaviours. I like this one for the care Ngai takes of his creatures and for the way he interacts with hippo, considering his promises until they can come to an agreement. Also lovely are the soft yet vibrant illustrations filled with warm tones that perfectly suit the hot setting.

Whaddyamean? by John Burningham

As much about the environment as religion, this book begins with the premise that god made the world, and upon coming back to check up on it, is disappointed with what he sees. The two people he finds awake (as he'd put everyone into a deep sleep so they wouldn't see him) are little children, and he tells them to go forth and remedy the ills of the world, invoking his name. They do so, and when they encounter resistance, tell the people that god told them to spread this message, and people comply. By the time god comes back to see the changes, the world is a better place. This one is mostly, I must say, a commentary on the state of the world and why it is messed up, but gives a nice message, too, that god cares about the world that he is said to have made.

Find these and other amazing tales about the world at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

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