School's out--and your child's finished the new Harry Potter? Not to worry. We've assembled a selection of books for kids of all ages that are both fun to read and convey strong spiritual values. And check out the activity or discussion question following each book description.
Just In Case You Ever Wonder
By Max Lucado, illustrated by Toni Goffe
Thomas Nelson; January 2000; 16 pages
A wonderful bedtime story to instill in your child just how much he or she is loved not only by you, but also by God. Best-selling author Max Lucado shares his warm blessing of love and tenderness in this board edition of a favorite family story. He writes, "As you grow and change, some things will stay the same. I'll always love you. I'll always hug you. I'll always be on your side. And I want you to know that . . . just in case you ever wonder."
Activity: Read this book at bedtime and tell your child five reasons why you love him or her and five reasons why he or she is special to you and to God.
By Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Phoebe Stone
Skylight Paths Pub; September 1999; 24 pages
Rabbi, Beliefnet columnist, and best-selling children's author Sandy Sasso describes the origins of God's name in this board edition of the award-winning picture book In God's Name. You and your child will explore different images of God for the first time as you read aloud the many titles of God. Bright and colorful illustrations complement the simple yet profound text.
Activity: Think of three of your own names for God. Choose which one in the story you like the best.
By Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson
Harperfestival; May 1993
"It won't come up," everyone warns the young boy in this story, who has great expectations for a carrot seed that he plants and tends carefully. The boy's conviction remains strong in the face of strong doubt and opposition. And to everyone's surprise except his, the carrot he eventually harvests grows as large as his faith, earning him first prize at the state fair. Young readers will learn the values of conviction and faith in this warm children's tale.
Activity: Together plant a carrot (or another type of vegetable) seed, tend it, and watch it grow.
Zondervan Publishing House; August 1999; 12 pages
Children ages four and under will enjoy this very simple book, part of the "And God Made..." series, which introduces them to basic names for things while delivering the clear message that God made everything. Each book focuses on a category of God's creation that babies through preschoolers find of special interest: Animals, Food, My Body, My World. The rainbow-colored and -shaped handle makes the book easy to carry and to open.
Activity: Have your toddler point to things in the park or at the beach that God made.
By Bonnie Sosé, illustrated by Bonnie Sosé and Holly Sosé
Character Builders; June 1991; 17 pages
This cheerful and colorful picture book is designed to stimulate the imagination and enhance the self-esteem of young children. The rhyming text and happy illustrations will attract and keep their attention as well as convey a sense of specialness and self-worth.
Activity: Point to one unique or special feature on your body-such as a birthmark or a dimple-that reminds you that you are designed and loved by God.
By Reeve Lindbergh, illustrated by Cathie Felstead
Candlewick Press; 1998; 32 pages
This breathtaking picture book simplifies St. Francis of Assisi's "The Canticle of the Sun" without losing the beauty of its poetry. Like the canticle, it celebrates in word and picture the holiness of nature and reminds us of its wonder. The illustrator uses watercolor, gouache, and collage to enhance the melodic text with bright and colorful images, which will be sure to capture and hold the attention of young readers.
Activity: Go on a walk and name all of the things in nature for which you are grateful.
By Tomie dePaola
Harcourt Brace; January 1986; 48 pages
Like so many of Tomie dePaola's award-winning picture books, this masterful work captures the spirit of an ancient tale-the French legend of the little juggler who offers the Christ Child the gift of his talent and the miracle that occurs because of his sacrifice. The tale, accentuated by beautiful illustrations, conveys the message that the greatest gifts come not from abundant wealth, but from the most humble and sincere places of our hearts.
Discussion questions: What is my special gift or talent? How can I use it for the good of the world?
By Philip D. Gallery, illustrated by Janet L. Harlow
St. Anthony Messenger Press; August 1996; 41 pages
Imitating the successful format of "Where's Waldo?" this fun picture/activity book engages young readers in the magic of the Gospel as they search for their favorite biblical figures and other items hidden within the colorful images. The unique book is packaged with a parent's guide complete with activities that you and your youngster can do together. A great conversation starter of topics of faith, Can You Find Jesus also offers discussion questions and a glossary of terms.
Activity: Follow the activities outlined in part two of the book.
By Therese Johnson Borchard, illustrated by Phyllis V. Saroff
Paulist Press; May 2000; 32 pages
How does a young child first experience the goodness of God? Is it when he tastes the sweetness of his favorite flavor of ice cream? Or when she sees her first sunset over the ocean? Is it in humming the melody of a popular tune? Or in smelling Grandma's pie baking in the oven? All children first encounter God through their five senses. This book guides both child and adult through these first encounters by connecting God's loving presence with the goodness that surrounds us.
Activity: Sing the lyrics to "A Few of My Favorite Things" (from the "Sound of Music" soundtrack). Make a list of your favorite things, especially those having to do with summer.
By Leo and Diane Dillon
Blue Sky Press; 1998; 42 pages
This beautiful book is based on the classic passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Now the unitive value of the passage is brought fully alive in the illustrations of internationally acclaimed artists Leo and Diane Dillon, who present the diversity, yet commonality, of our world's cultures, including art styles from Ireland, Egypt, Japan, Mexico, Greece, India, Europe, and the Middle East, among others.
Activity: Read aloud the entire passage from Ecclesiastes. List a time of planting, harvesting, weeping, laughing, mourning, dancing, speaking, and silence in your life.
The Life of Our Lord
By Charles Dickens
Simon & Schuster; November 1999; 126 pages
"My Dear Children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable, as He was," Charles Dickens reverently writes in "The Life of Our Lord." In a heartfelt retelling of the New Testament, the famous author of David Copperfield teaches his children-and ours-about religion and faith.
Activity: Together watch the film based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
By Marc Gellman and Thomas Hartman
William Morrow & Company; April 1995; 206 pages
How should we live? What happens to us after we die? Why does bad stuff happen to good folks? How can we talk to God? These are some of the questions posed in this creative presentation of the wisdom traditions for middle readers. Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman brilliantly compile and articulate Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu (and other) answers to some universal questions.
Discussion question: How do the different world religions answer the same questions?
By Judith Ernst
Parvardigar Press; August 1995
A retelling of the classic story of how the Buddha achieved enlightenment, this lovely book introduces young people to Eastern traditions and stories while encouraging such values as loyalty, courage, and self-sacrifice. Author Judith Ernst is faithful to the tale's earliest version, preserving its essential Buddhist flavor.
Activity: Go to the library and look up some of the other stories that are included in Jataka Tales, the 500 stories told by the Buddha himself.
By Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Maniam Selven
Linnet Books; October 1996; 98 pages
"This book started its life as an introduction to Hindu mythology for children," author Uma Krishaswami explains, "[but] it wasn't until I hit on the idea of using a central character to explain the mythology that the project began to move forward. Ganesha is the gatekeeper in the Hindu tradition, the beginning of all things, so who better to introduce and explain? . . . I'm always amazed at how instantly and naturally children respond to these stories."
Activity: Choose one Hindu myth that you like the best. What did you learn from it?
By Virginia Hamilton
Harcourt Brace; October 1998; 161 pages
This illustrated collection of twenty-five myths from around the world offers different explanations for the creation of the world. It introduces readers to new religions and cultures as it explores the wonder and glory of the origins of the world and humankind.
Activity: Write your own creation story. How do you think the world began?
E-Mail from God for Teens
By Claire and Curt Cloninger
Honor Books; September 1999; 256 pages
This devotional book for teens offers one-page per day e-mails from God that target the spiritual and life issues teenagers face. Formatted as an actual computer screen, the book's layout is perfect for teens on the run, and those lacking a long attention span. A short question and message a day conveys God's special love for them.
Activity: Write an e-mail to God about a recent struggle or problem in your life. Then compose a response. What do you think God would say to you?
By Misty Bernall and Madeleine L'Engle
Plough Publishing; September 1999; 140 pages
Cassie Bernall, a young woman shot to death in the Columbine tragedy, allegedly professed her faith in God before she was shot. In this touching memoir, her mother, Misty Bernall, tells Cassie's story "in an effort to encourage parents and teenagers." Moreover, it is a story that is sure to impress a sense of hope and courage in the hearts of teens worldwide.
Discussion question: Think of a time when your yes to faith brought on persecution from others.
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Kimberly Kirberger
Health Communications; April 2000; 369 pages
This book is a wonderful collection of stories on all kinds of topics that pertain to teens-relationships, family, growing up, identity, betrayal, and more. Written by teens themselves, young people are sure to find support, encouragement and understanding within the book's pages.
Activity: Write your own story to be included in the next edition of Chicken Soup of the Teenage Soul.
By Alice Gray
Multnomah Publishers; October 1999; 340 pages
A compilation of 110 inspirational stories that are sure to touch the hearts of teens. This balanced collection of humorous and warm tales will assure young people that they are not alone on the road to becoming adults.
Activity: Choose your favorite story and pass it on to a friend.
By Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Library of Islom Ltd; January 1994; 270 pages
Specifically written for young Muslims, this book encourages them to become familiar with their religion and to gain an understanding of the modern world from the Islamic point of view in order to respond positively to its challenges. Robert Siegel of National Public Radio's All Things Considered says, "This guide for the Muslim to the modern world, the first of its kind in any language, presents the eternal truths of Islam as well as Western religious and intellectual tradition as they confront each other in today's world."
Discussion question: Think about a situation where you or a friend were forced to deal with stereotypes or conflicts that arose from real or perceived differences between your religion and Western culture. What would you do differently?
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