This post was created as part of the upcoming Kids Learn About Faith series, to be published on InCultureParent later this spring.
How do you describe the soul to a child? What about concepts such as prayer and reverence?
To reinforce the activities we use from the Radiant Hearts program, I recently found some wonderful books that have really helped Monkey’s concrete toddler mind to grasp these abstract ideas.
We found Time to Pray by Maha Addasi just by chance one day at the library. (Addasi is also the author of the acclaimed The White Nights of Ramadan). I was pleasantly surprised that Monkey was interested in reading it and frankly shocked that he asked to read it over and over again. After all, I’m used to him begging for truck and train books! But in fact, this lovely book was part of Monkey’s nighttime routine for a number of weeks (a long time for a toddler!) Most importantly, he still references it now, several months later.
What is so special about this book? Perhaps it is the gorgeous illustrations (I especially love the one of the twinkling lights of the minarets at night) or perhaps Monkey was drawn to the sweet story of a Muslim girl’s relationship with her grandmother. I know he enjoyed following them through their day, and I loved that prayer and going to the mosque were included as part of their daily routine.
And how could I not love a book that teaches my toddler to use words like muezzin (the person that issues the beautiful call to prayer)? I wonder how many white folks in the US have to explain to their children that “a church is a like mosque,” as I did when we went to a baptism recently. To this day, somewhat to my embarrassment, whenever Monkey sees a man in a turban or a woman wearing a head scarf, he announces loudly that he or she has just come from the mosque.
But what really makes this book special for me is that it gives an “insider’s view” of a faith that is so much maligned in the West. We learn, along with Yasmin, about the times of day for prayer and watch with her eyes as her grandmother demonstrates the proper positions and attitude for praying. And when Yasmin is finally able to visit the mosque, we experience the same wonder at the late afternoon sunlight streaming through the building’s delicate stonework.
A Time to Pray doesn’t address any philosophical or theological issues – at least not directly. But it is a wonderful way to expose your children to other ways of worship and to reinforce the love and gentle direction that Yasmin’s grandmother uses in her spiritual education.
The First Gift by Judith Cobb is another book about a child learning about spirituality. Griffin learns in his Bahá’í children’s class that he has something called a “soul” but is confused about what this is. His older brother tells him that the soul is God’s first gift to us, but this leaves Griffin more confused than ever. When did God come to his house to give him a present? And where is his soul now? (Did he accidentally leave it at home??)
This sweet book tackles the concept of the soul, one of the most abstract issues of all. It gives a vivid description of a young boy’s spiritual awakening, as Griffin goes from searching through his room for his mysterious soul to learning concrete ways (such as prayer) that he can help this “best friend that’s always with you” grow healthy and strong.
Thanks to this story, Monkey and I have had several conversations about his soul, and he once told a delighted woman at the store that his soul was in his tummy. (Not exactly what the book taught, but at least he’s thinking about it!) The book also lends itself well to talking with your child about the benefits of prayer and doing nice things for others.
The First Gift is appropriate for different age levels. So while a toddler like Monkey will enjoy Griffin’s adventures and begin to think about having a soul, an older child will benefit from the more detailed explanations about what the soul is and how we can care for it. And though the family described here are Bahá’í, the lessons are much more universal and will be relevant to most parents who want to teach their children about the nature of the soul and spiritual life.
I highly recommend both of the books above for toddlers through early readers.
What books help you teach your children about faith?
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