Great Books to Give Kids

A crop of new children's books teaches religious. spiritual, and moral lessons to kids of all ages.

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While your child is in the middle of history textbooks, math workbooks, and study aids for mandatory state tests, remind him or her that reading can be fun, and even a spiritual experience. From a yoga book chock-full of illustrated poses to a Hasidic tale about gossip to a true story about a college student's homelessness, here is a kaleidoscope of spiritual books for kids of all ages that will serve as a visual feast and also will challenge and ignite the imagination.



Zen Shorts
By Jon J. Muth
Scholastic, Inc.
Age: 4-8

Meet Stillwater, a giant panda who speaks with a "slight panda accent." Through Stillwater, three siblings named Addy, Michael, and Karl are each taught a lesson of Eastern philosophy-being content with one's possessions, the inconsistency of luck, and letting go of anger. Muth's dreamy, gorgeous watercolors exude the calmness of Zen philosophy while his monochromatic "Zen shorts" (short stories) with illustrations in black ink will help kids understand the basic foundations of Buddhist teachings.
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ROAR!: A Christian Family Guide to the Chronicles of Narnia
By Heather Kopp with David Kopp; Illus. Martin French
Multnomah Books
Age: 5-10

Bursting with quizzes, fast facts, quotes, detailed plot summaries, word asides ("Malapert" means "disrespectful") a well-researched glossary, and "grown-up thoughts" about each section of the series, this amazingly comprehensive book is a great way for parents and children to enjoy Narnia together from a Christian perspective. French's bright, bold illustrations also roar through the pages, giving more pizzazz to an already impressive book. Plus, the "Let's Talk About It" questions that pepper the volume are sure to start conversations and draw out insights from readers young and old. Definitely an awe-inspiring must-have for Narnia fans.
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A Gift of Gracias
By Julia Alvarez; Illus. Beatriz Vidal
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Age: 4-8

Alvarez, author of the popular adult novel "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents," sets this inspiring religious and cultural tale in the Dominican Republic. The first time María bites into an orange, the taste of "a sweet sunrise" brings magic to her life, and that night, a beautiful lady visits her in a dream. Dressed in a deep blue robe dotted with stars, Our Lady of Altagracia (the Virgin Mary) instills hope and faith in Maria and offers her a solution to help save her father's farm. Vidal's vibrant illustrations explode with color and perfectly accompany this moving tale that is sure to teach children to believe in the unexpected.
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The Way Home: A Princess Story
By Max Lucado; Illus. Tristan Elwell
Tommy Nelson
Age: 4-8

Bestselling author Lucado takes the familiar fairy tale genre and combines it with a Christian allegory. When Princess Anne is lured away from her castle life and becomes trapped by Olbaid, the dark lord of the forest, the king must sacrifice himself in order to save his daughter. Lucado's story is rife with lessons about obedience, making choices, learning to sacrifice, letting go of past mistakes, and starting a new life, all rooted in the lessons taught by Jesus Christ. Readers will enjoy Elwell's realistic, medieval drawings that accompany Lucado's text.
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The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs
By Betty G. Birney; Illust. Matt Phelan
Atheneum
Age: 9-12

When 11-year-old Eben McAllister reads about the Seven Wonders of the World, he yearns to see the world outside of his hometown of Sassafras Springs. His father challenges him to find seven wonders in their own country town, in exchange for a train ticket to Colorado, and Eben skeptically begins his search. Birney spins a gentle and amusing story, complemented by Phelan's delicate sketches. Readers will follow Eben on a spiritual journey of quiet faith as he struggles to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
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Under the Persimmon Tree
By Suzanne Fisher Staples
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Age: 11-15

In this fictional story, Najmah, a young Muslim girl living in Afghanistan, is separated from her family by Taliban cruelty and death. At the same time, Nusrat, an American Muslim convert, is teaching displaced children in Pakistan and waiting for news of her missing husband. As Najmah journeys to Pakistan to find remaining family, both lives intersect as each survives on faith in the Qur'an and their own connections with the stars and spiritual forces that guide them. Deftly interlacing Najah's and Nusrat's stories, Staples delves into tough topics like grief and loss, cultural displacement, and survival.
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Feathers
Retold by Heather Forest; Illus. Marcia Cutchin
August House
Age: 4-8

"Words, like feathers fly in the wind...," goes the old saying. In "Feathers," a European Jewish folk tale takes on new life with Forest's engaging narrative poem and Cutchin's detailed, colorful illustrations of old-world Europe. When the town gossip is accused of ruining a fellow villager's reputation, the rabbi issues a remedy: cut a pillow open and recollect each feather released by the wind. A wonderful book that will teach kids an important lesson--that words hurt and once said, can never be taken back.
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A Sky Full of Praise
By Karen Hill; Illus. Vincent Nguyen
Little Simon Inspirations
Age: 3-5

This book in verse will help kids celebrate "God's creativity" from daytime to nighttime. Beginner readers who delight in peek-a-boo will enjoy lifting the 'What am I' flaps and discovering the wonders of the sky, such as a "fluffy and white" cloud and stars that gleam like "a million tiny lights." Hill's quatrains ("God made me bright and sunny. / I look just like a big, orange tummy! / When summer comes, I work extra hard. / So you can play out in the yard.") and Nguyen's simple pastel illustrations will also entertain any child. There is also a note to grown-ups at the end to remind them that God's glory isn't just for kids.
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The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story
By Uma Krishnaswami; Illus. Ruth Jeyaveeran
Lee and Low Books
Age: 4-8

Meena is excited to be in the school's production of "Little Red Riding Hood," but her clumsiness has her worried. How can she act as a serene tree when her most natural moves are tripping and falling? Krishnaswami's funny story and Jeyaveeran's vibrant illustrations make a great read for active children who can't sit still or those who are prone to clumsiness. A brief guide to pronunciation and yoga postures at the end will help both parents and children. Children will learn how practicing yoga can help calm even the most excitable energy, which is good news for kids and parents alike.
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Um, Like...Om:
A Girl Goddess's Guide to Yoga

By Evan Cooper
Little, Brown
Age: 13-18

"What's it like to be a teenager?" Yoga instructor Evan Cooper knows--and she has composed an in-depth explanation to yoga for teen girls. Personal anecdotes, breathing techniques, a wide range of yoga poses, and mantras will help teenage girls deal with the stress and pressures common to their lives, from tests to boys to family. Girls will warm up to Cooper's breezy, understanding voice as she shows how a butterfly pose can help ease fear and sun salutations can help deal with PMS. The best part about this book is the easy-to-follow directions and sassy illustrations to guide even the most insecure yoga beginner.
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Girlfriend You Are
a B.A.B.E.

by Andrea Stephens
Revell Books
Age: 12-18

Every teen girl needs a personal cheerleader to make them feel like a B.A.B.E: Beautiful, Acceptable, Blessed, and Eternally Significant. A former model employed by a prestigious modeling agency, Stephens knows what it's like to conform to the beauty standards of popular media and culture. She boldly and enthusiastically guides girls to find their beauty within. Brimming with Bible verses, quizzes, relevant pop culture references, and inspiring personal stories from Christian celebrities to regular teens, this magazine-style book is sure to make every teenage girl feel confident.
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In the Beginning
By Dandi Daley Mackall; Illus. James Kandt
Tommy Nelson
Age: 4-8

Mackall masterfully retells the Bible's creation story in jovial, limerick-like rhyme: "A hot ball of fire, God flung into space, / A silvery moon shining down on this place, / And millions of stars, flowing out of His grace..." Children will love the silvery pages and Kandt's bold, earthy colors illustrating God's masterpieces on Earth, from the creation of light to cresting dolphins to Adam and Eve. Bible verses from Genesis, John, and Colossians serve as bookends to remind children not only of God's creation, but his love and sacrifices as well.
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Under the Overpass
By Mike Yankoski
Multnomah Books
Age: 15 and older

In this incredible non-fiction story, college student Mike Yankoski and his friend Sam test their faith in God by living as homeless men. For five months, both young men travel throughout five cities, from Washington DC to San Diego, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, flip-flops bound by tape, and two acoustic guitars. Yankoski chronicles his amazing journey and shares his experiences of panhandling, singing worship songs for money, sleeping in sewage, and encountering both the openness and hardness of strangers and his fellow Christians. This book will challenge teens to think about issues that are often ignored in religious culture, from homelessness to hypocrisy.
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Lotsa de Casha
By Madonna; Illus. Rui Paes
Callaway
Age: 4-8

The fifth and final book in pop star Madonna's Kabbalah-themed series takes place in an old-world Italy inhabited by animals. When Lotsa de Casha, a wealthy but unhappy greyhound, is told to share what he has and put others first, he scoffs at the idea. Only until a kind stranger helps him after he is robbed does Lotsa learn the secret to happiness. Paes's fantastic illustrations are filled with rich, life-like details. Children will learn what it means to be charitable and to 'help thy neighbor,' along with the lesson that having "lotsa de casha" (or, lots of cash) can never make anyone happy until one delights in giving.
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