We Recommend: Christian Themes?

Yet another We Recommend. If you would like a book recommended, just e-mail us at thediamondinthewindow@gmail.com with the child's name, background, books liked, anything else in the world you can tell us, and we will try to come up with something!

When I got an email asking if I had any book suggestions for chapter books that addressed Christian themes, I was taken aback. I'm Jewish. I have a deep-seated, if not entirely accurate sense that most books are Christian themed by default in our culture. But trying to think about it further, when I read the request more carefully, I realized I didn't have an easy answer for this writer. Here's what she said:

My daughter is almost eight and a big reader. Mysteries are her
favorite, but she also likes Ramona, Judy Moody and American Girl
books. I was wondering if you had recommendations for chapter books
with Christian themes? Not as the main focus of the book necessarily,
but characters who pray and go to church and maybe face some issues of
right and wrong. My daughter has First Communion coming up this year,
and I would like to find some literary characters (preferably a series)
that have some kind of faith life. Thanks!!!

So I thought and I thought. It's one thing be the default framework of a culture; it's another to be true to it, particularly in its full meaning. Communication with God. Churches. Praying. Moral guidance. I normally shy away from books I see as explicitly giving a message, but it didn't have to be that, did it? So I did what I do when I am deeply confused. I went to my eight-year-old and explained the situation.

"I know," Chestnut said with a certain affecting earnest seriousness that just kills me. "The Courage of Sarah Noble."

Courage of Sarah Noble

This book is a little bit complicated in a few ways: there is the handling of "Indians!" and their strange ways, and the issues of colonialism and proselytizing. But that is, of course, part of our history here in the U.S., so it makes sense to talk about it. Chestnut referred me to "the part where she's alone in the woods, and the Indians come surround her, and she is so scared and she doesn't know what to do, so she thinks about God and what she read in the bible the night before, and it helps her know how to act."

This was a challenging request for me, but we tried to handle it as thoughtfully and respectfully as we could. Maybe the rest of you have excellent ideas?

17 thoughts on “We Recommend: Christian Themes?

  1. This is driving me crazy because I too am Jewish and I feel like I’m always running into Christian practice where I least expect it, but titles are eluding me. I guess she’s a little too young for Charlotte M. Yonge, huh? Too bad.
    What about Little Women? Much of the Christianity is filtered through Pilgrim’s Progress, but it is definitely very morally reflective in a Christian mode. I guess there isn’t much churchgoing, though.
    Unfortunately many of the very most Christ-steeped classics, like At the Back of the North Wind, are very non-conformist and
    unconcerned with basic moral problem-solving. Andersen comes to mind, too.
    Elizabeth George Speare’s The Bronze Bow isn’t daily and churchgoing, but it’s about Jesus.

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  2. I’m curious to read Sarah Noble now. Thanks. I’d add that the best kids Bible we’ve seen by far is the Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones and that I’ve done the English editing for many of the books from Potamitis Press at http://www.orthodoxchildrensbooks.com — these stories are mostly gorgeously illustrated lives of the saints for children–they’re picture books with large amounts of text.
    There’s always Narnia and I remember devouring a Christian series about horse racing (google has revealed it to be the Golden Filly Collection by Lauraine Snelling).

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  3. The answer to every “what to recommend” question–Betsy-Tacy, of course. Especially the second book, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, where they form a club called “The Christian Kindness Club” (it isn’t a sweetness-and-light chapter at ALL, yet still deals with Christian themes). The three girls are all Christians–Baptist, Catholic, and Episcopalian–and this is referenced throughout the series.
    (By the way, when I was a kid I thought there were many more Jewish people in the US than there actually are, because so many people in the books I read were Jewish. On the other hand, I felt/feel it was rarer to run into Catholic people in books. I’m Catholic, of course. Observer bias on both our parts, I think.)

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  4. The Little House books are good for that, too, especially the later ones.
    There’s a series of quilt books out there with Christian themes — Mandy is the name of the main character, I think.

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  5. I too would recommend the Chronicles of Narnia (though nothing overtly Christian in them) as well as the Mandie books by Lois Gladys Leppard for something like a Christian Nancy Drew.

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  6. We just listened to John Fitzgerald’s _The Great Brain_ on audiobook, and really liked it. It’s not overtly moralizing, but the religious demographics of the small Utah town definitely play a role in the young protagonist’s moral development (he is a minority Catholic in a Mormon town). There is, interestingly, a whole episode of the book devoted to the entire town’s neglect of the lone Jewish character, resulting in his death. Some great stuff in there to ferreted out about the idea of Christian charity towards *all* one’s neighbors.

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  7. Meet the Austins, by Madeleine L’Engle. Nothing sci-fi about these, just a young woman (older than the reader in question) struggling with changes in her family. I loved my childhood home but dreamed of homes like the Austins. The grandfather, a minister, is a central figure in the series. (The others are a bit advanced for the reader in question right now.)
    Also, around the time of my first communion, I was given some books that were great for me; each had a story about an Everykid (my word, not the book’s) and related it to a biblical/canonical principle. They were essay collections, and gender linked. My hunch is that my mother found them in the St. Jude or other Catholic religious item store. I thought they were great.
    And I’m with you–how can you miss overarching Christian themes?! But then again, as I watch the fiction my older nieces bring home, any suggestion of religion is eliminated. Asking for a character who goes to church doesn’t seem to be too much to ask. Way to go Chestnut for listening well, remembering well, and the beautiful suggestion. I love her internalized description of what made her select that book for this reader. Well done!

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  8. For newer chapter-book readers there is a series called THe Cul-de-Sac kids by Beverly Lewis that looks at all the kids living on this one cul-de-sac. The story kind of centers on one family with a few kids who adopt 2 older siblings from Korea, and they were expecting girls but get boys (or vice versa, i don’t recall), but other neighbor children feature in some of the scenes too. The main family is Christian, and the kids sometimes have concerns about their friends with divorced parents, etc. and that type of thing. It’s not overly preachy or evangelistic, but more matter-of-fact about the Christian faith and values of the main characters, who do invite some friends to church with them and taht kind of thing. They were a gift to my daughter when she was in about 1st grade–at that time we had to read them to her but by end of 2nd grade she could have read them to herself. She liked them a good bit…. good luck!

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  9. It’s been a LOOONNNG time since I read A Wrinkle in Time- but I remember it being religious/moral in nature. My friend, who was Jewish, thought it was strongly Christian in influence when she read it to her kids, but I can’t remember if there is anything overt.

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  10. I’m the original question asker … thanks to everyone for the great suggestions and I really appreciate the careful consideration of this request. We’re regular church goers but fairly casual Catholics, and I was hoping to find a few books that have great characters who might also do the same … with the kind of stories that my daughter enjoys but that also mention prayer and church as regular parts of daily life. (I believe the Quimby family belonged to a church, but that was only mentioned during the great Christmas pageant sheep costume fiasco!) Thanks again, everyone!

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  11. I can’t believe I forgot Madeleine L’Engle! She wrote some overtly Christian non-fiction books for adults, and I think all her children’s/YA books have a moral/Christian sensibility, some more explicit than others, and without preachiness or disdain for other religions.
    Aside from the minister grandfather (who I really wish had been my grandfather!) there is a recurring character called Canon Tallis who is an Anglican priest (or whatever Canons are). The main characters in almost all of the books take religion, church-going as a matter of course.
    I need to re-read… I love me some L’Engle!

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  12. I was going to say Narnia as well, but now that I think of it I can’t remember many religious themes in any of my books growing up. Of course, once she’s older I think that The Diary of Anne Frank is a GREAT read and a wonderful means to open conversation about faith, differences of faith, and what happens when people focus on differences… I loved that book, and it really opened my eyes to a lot of difficult issues, but in a way a young girl (me) could handle.

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  13. I’m adding Best Christmas Pageant Ever, too, because if I could go to church for what’s in there, I’d go again–I think it reveals some of the best of the Christmas story and of the heart of Christianity. Plus, it is really, really, funny while being kind and thoughtful at the same time.

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  14. Something that’s not fiction, but I found it to be a compelling story when I was growing up, is “Karen” by Marie Killilea, and the sequel, “With Love From Karen.” Karen is a girl born with cerebral palsy in the 1st of the 20th century. The books, written by her mother, are full of anecdotes about the family’s life and how they work to give Karen as fulfilling a life as they possibly can. The family was pretty devoutly Catholic, if I recall, and there are many references to their religious practices. It was written in the 50’s, so some of the attitudes are a bit dated, but it’s also a very sweet and inspiring story.

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  15. I have 2 recommendations for religious themed book( Oct 31st posting):
    Bagels for Benny, by Aubrey Davis. The book was a winner of the 2003 Sydney Taylor Award. It is an adapation of a Jewish folktale. The book made me cry.
    An update of a centuries-old Jewish folktale (a traditional version can be found in Barbara Diamond Goldin’s memorable Hanukkah anthology, While the Candles Burn). Benny’s grandfather bakes wonderful bagels, but teaches Benny that it is God, not him, who should be thanked for them (“Aren’t bagels made with flour?”… “Doesn’t flour come from wheat?”… “And where does wheat come from?”… “And who made the earth?”… “Then thank God for the bagels”). Benny wants to make sure God knows he’s grateful, so hides bagels in his synaguoge. he is disappointed when he learns that it is a homeless man and not God who has been eating them. Benny learns from his grandfather that in feeding a poor man, he made the world a better place and that is a way of thanking God.
    What is God by Etan Boritzer. A Children’s book that emphasizes the similarities between religions. Teaches that there are many more similarities than differences between religions. A beautiful, accepting book about tolerance and the beauty in each faith tradition.
    For the record, I am Catholic, but that doesn’t stop me from reading Jewish folktales, books about Budda or from any religion for that matter. Whether you believe in Jesus, Budda or Mohammed they were all wise men which children can learn from and can open up a dialogue about your personal beliefs, tolerance of other religions etc. In understanding others, we can be more tolerant. I have read several Jewish folktales (can’t remember their names) and they have always been excellent stories with a universal message. So don’t necessarily shy away from books of a different religion, you may be able to find some value in them.

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