Many published books are available to help you introduce the world’s faith traditions to your kids. The vast majority focus on one particular tradition (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism, Islam) or one holiday within a tradition (e.g., Holi, Ramadan, Hanukkah). A few share information about several religions in a single volume. While all are age-appropriate and kid-friendly, many of these types of books are decidedly non-fiction, providing lots of facts about beliefs and practices.
Ned and the World’s Religions by Ron Madison is a bit different because it is placed within the context of a story — a soccer team with a diverse set of members. When the coach asks the team to pray together following a big win, the kids balk at the idea. The coach uses the potential conflict as an opportunity for each team member to share something special about his/her religion. Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and the Native American tradition are included in this particular book. At the end, the coach ties the pieces together by pointing out some important commonalities — respect, kindness, and love. The book concludes with these words:
Even though we disagree
Our lives can create great harmony
Each in our own and separate way
Each together as one voice say
Love of God and all it might mean
Love of neighbor, though hard it may seem
Truth, respect, and charity, too
These are the things we all should do
And of all these things
One stands above
To honestly, truly learn to love
Ron Madison has actually written several “Ned books,” and each is designed to teach an important lesson. They’re great stories for the preschool through lower elementary years, and the illustrations (by David Covolo) provide just the right amount of detail and color. Ned and the World’s Religions, stands out in this collection as a simple, yet accurate, introduction to the major faith traditions based on interviews Ron conducted with kids and their families.
In June, 2015, Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasting produced a reader’s theater version of the book. Ron Madison is featured, but most of the book is read by kids from the Atlanta area who practice each religion.
There are also numerous ways to expand on the book. SparkleBox offers a .pdf file containing coloring pages for various religious symbols (e.g., cross, star of David, moon and crescent, 8-spoked wheel) which the book does not touch on. You could also share images of various houses of worship, starting with our Pinterest page. Of course, I always encourage families to visit churches, synagogues, temples, or mosques in your town/city. Attending a service or special event is ideal, but even just driving by can be informative.
Many families recognize the importance of teaching our kids about faith in the modern world. As our children grow up, they will not simply know people who practice a different religion, they will room with them at college, live next door to them in the suburbs, and marry them! It is precisely this increasing and inevitable connectivity with “the other,” that prompts fear, misunderstanding, and even hatred. We must work consciously to refute and overcome such negative viewpoints.
Just remember: kids get it. They have no problem understanding that there are different ways to articulate and experience the divine, and they are totally open-hearted about varying approaches for honoring the mystery of life. Our job, as parents and caregivers, is to keep it that way. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Every religious tradition includes teachers and family members who have taught their own children about their faith. If we know where to look, we can tap into that rather extensive collection of knowledge and resources. Ned and the World’s Religions is just one example of how you might get started. There is no time to waste.
Want a few more resources?
For specific holy days, check out the Holidays Around the World series for upper elementary kids and the Rookie Read-About Holidays series for younger kids. It’s also fairly easy to find general-information books for each faith tradition. Many use photos of kids from around the world, and some even include craft and recipe ideas.
Here are some of those non-fiction books that present several religions side-by-side. For preschool through lower elementary kids, try:
Everyone Prays: Celebrating Faith Around the World by Alexis York Lumbard (author) and Alireza Sadeghian (illustrator) — Wisdom Tales, 2014
A Faith like Mine: A Celebration of the World’s Religions through the Eyes of Children by Laura Buller — DK Children, 2005
Faith (Global Fund for Children Books) by Maya Ajmera, Cynthia Pon, and Magda Nakassis — Charlesbridge, 2009
Food and Faith by Susan Reuben and Sophie Pelham — Francis Lincoln Children’s Books, 2012
For upper elementary/middle-school kids, try:
What do you Believe? — DK Children, 2011
The Kids Book of World Religions by Jennifer Glossop (author) and John Mantha (illustrator) — Kids Can Press, 2013
One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship by Mary Pope Osborne — Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1996