The very excellent and funny blogger Craftwhack (where irony meets creativity and explodes) asked me to come up with a list of religious and/or spiritual books for kids. It’s funny because I have had this list as a “draft” for over a year. I’m not sure if I am exactly qualified to post on best world religion books for kids because I rarely grace the inside of a church these days and my background in religious studies is spotty to say the least.
My mom is Buddhist and taught at a Buddhist Sunday school before she got married. She’s Japanese and was forced to relocate during WWII since she was so obviously a threat to U. S. security. She and her family landed in a remote part of Utah; we think near where there was underground testing for nuclear weapons. Her neighbors were friendly and spent a lot of time debating the merits of the Mormon religion to her versus Buddhism in an attempt to convert her.
My father, as an immigrant from mainland China, was not religious. Still, he wasn’t opposed to us kids being exposed to religion. We went, volunteer basis only, to the local Presbyterian church down the street. My parents were happy to drop me off and pick me up but I always thought it was weird that they weren’t in church when I was at Sunday school. To be honest, I was only there for the comic books. One comic book a week would be handed as a take-home keepsake for each class attended. It was on the Bible, of course, but I loved the old Testament stories. The power of graphic novels!
There were always Buddhist services that my family attended for weddings and funerals. And, as Buddhism dictates, there are anniversaries of one’s dead relatives that are additional services held each year and we always went to those. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that there were also services held in English! Not only was it boring to sit through an entire service in Japanese but we never got the jokes. We’d have to elbow my mom and ask, “What did he say?” There were a few messages that I remember from Buddhist services and they always seemed to revolved around the lotus flower which, from climbing from the bottom of the muddy pond to bloom, was a message that was both poetic and inspiring.
In 2nd grade, I made a new best friend Wendy, who was Mormon. I learned to cross my arms and bow in her religious classes that I religiously attended. I’m not sure why I went but it was enjoyable enough. They didn’t require me to memorize the chapters of the Bible which is what my old Sunday school seemed fixated on.
By high school, my close friend Natalie took me to a few Catholic masses. Catholicism continues to baffle me. And I always felt outed and isolated by not being able to receive the cracker. Not to mention that everyone had to step over me to get in and out of their seats. The rituals of Catholics must be comforting but as an outsider, it was like being in a foreign country.
My mother-in-law is Baptist. It’s the Korean Baptist version and she’s heavily involved in the church. I had gone to Baptist church camp with my best friend from Junior High and it was a kumbayah type of camp talking constantly about your feelings and love for Jesus. I wasn’t against it, and I appreciated being included in the wafer ceremony but I didn’t have the same connection to Jesus that they did. My mother-in-law church seems focused on Jesus, or at least they don’t seem to talk about it as much outside of church, and more about a Korean experience where Korean expats have reason to see each other weekly to eat together.
My husband worships at the church of golf and I can understand that. It’s a religious experience for him to commune on the golf course, and definitely more so on some courses than others. Water views seem to have the closest connection to god for him, as do well-designed holes by Robert Trent Jones.
And so my kids are bereft of the religious “mixed-plate” that is my background. There was a brief — very brief — window where my oldest, Music Lovers, wanted to go church, but that window closed as her friends shared with her their dislike of attending religious classes. We visited a number of churches in our neighborhood, finally finding one that was “just right.” We have yet to attend though.
I do think that the Bible is as important as reading classics or Shakespeare and so, my only real effort in religious studies, has been to find children’s books on religion including the Bible and read them to my kids, usually under protest. Still, my oldest likes the Book of Ruth too!
What books are you using to teach your kids about spirituality? Please share!
p.s. I have more book lists on World Religion here:
Hindu: Top 10 Diwali Books for Kids
Buddhist: Zen Picture Books to Teach Mindfulness
Jewish & Hindu: Diwali and Hannukah Picture Book of the Day
World Religions: Booklists on World Religions (lists of book broken down by religion at Multicultural Children’s Book Day diversity books for kids resource)
Books on World Religions for Kids (this is a book list)
It’s also broken out by holiday and/or religion.
- Diverse Thanksgiving Books for Kids
- Diverse Christmas Books for Kids
- Muslim Books for Kids
- Jewish Books for Kids
- Hindu Books for Kids
- Buddhist Books for Kids
- Confucianism & Taoism Books for Kids
- Baha’i Books for Kids
- Day of the Dead Books for Kids
- Las Posadas Books for Kids
Best World Religion Books for Kids
10. Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
“Michael,” said Karl. “There’s a really big bear in the backyard.” This is how three children meet Stillwater, a giant panda who moves into the neighborhood and tells amazing tales. To Addy, he tells a story about the value of material goods. To Michael, he pushes the boundaries of good and bad. And to Karl, he demonstrates what it means to hold on to frustration. With graceful art and simple stories that are filled with love and enlightenment, Jon Muth — and Stillwater the bear — present three ancient Zen tales that are sure to strike a chord in everyone they touch.
I love this picture book that delves into Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu as well as the ideas behind Zen Buddhism.
9. Spy for the Night Riders Martin Luther series by Dave Jackson
Young Karl Schumacher helps protect Martin Luther who is condemned of heresy but doesn’t know whom to trust. Ages 8-12.
This historical chapter book series for ages 9 and up helps to explain how religions evolved through history. This is a good point since religions are often a pawn of politics and power struggles masked in a veneer of respectability.
8. The Bible by Sheldon Mayer
In 1975, “DC Comics” published a comics adaptation of the Bible as part of a series of tabloid-sized comic books. This first book in the projected series adapted the earliest chapters of the book of Genesis, including the stories of “The Garden of Eden”, the Flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah. Now, for the first time, DC reprints this hard-to-find classic in a deluxe hardcover edition.
You knew I had to have a graphic novel version of the Bible, right?!
7. Sacred Myths: Stories of World Religions by Marilyn McFarlane
Sacred Myths retells the best-loved stories of seven world religions: Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism. Also Native American and Earth-based traditions. Introduces the basic tenets of each religion; approved by religious authorities. Elaborate illustrations full of texture, depth, and mystery, conveying the richness of spiritual heritage. Beautiful spread of The Golden Rule expressed in each religion.
I like how this book ties in mythology from ancient cultures to our current large world religions. It’s for ages 9-12.
6. The Very First Easter by Paul L. Maier
The Gold Medallion Award-winning team of the renowned ancient historian and the gifted illustrator make the story of Jesus death and resurrection come alive for children aged 5 to 10. Difficult questions are asked, reasonable answers given. For family reading or religious education.
I was able to explain the significance of Easter to my kids when queried but just barely. I obviously need to bone up on this book which I own so I have no excuse for next year!
5. My First Read-Aloud Bible by Penny Boshoff
Designed for children and parents to share, this Bible storybook combines simple retellings of more than fifty stories paired with basic learning skills for young children. Parents can help their children master concepts including opposites, number recognition, rhyming words, and context clues while sharing the basics of faith. Talking points, songs, and activities, and parent notes make this the perfect book to turn to again and again.
There are many great Bible story books for kids and this one does the trick nicely.
4. One World, Many Religions: The Way We Worship by Mary Pope Osborne
Religious understanding is as important today than any other time in history. In this highly acclaimed book, Mary Pope Osborne introduces readers to the six major religions of the world. One World, Many Religions covers the history, beliefs, and practices of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. All have had a deep effect on the laws and customs of every country. They have shaped art, literature, music, and education. They have given the world magnificent stories, songs, buildings, holy objects, ceremonies, and festivals.” From the Introduction to Many Religions, One World. Best-selling children’s author Mary Pope Osborne presents an accessible and elegantly crafted volume that introduces young readers to the world’s seven major religions. Six short readable chapters–perfectly targeted to fourth, fifth, and sixth graders–detail the history, beliefs, and practices of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. Handsomely designed and featuring fifty oversized color photographs and a full complement of reference materials, including a map, timeline, and bibliography, this book provides a thorough and thoughtful presentation of the diverse ways people worship around the world.
-Outstanding introduction to world religion for young readers.
-Unanimously praised when first published in 1996
-Newly updated reference materials such as a glossary, map, timeline, and bibliography complete this excellent book.
-Features over 50 full-color photos.
That this is from Magic Treehouse author Mary Pope Osborne is enough to get me to buy this book! That covers many religions from a cultural point of view makes it a Religious studies book of choice for ages 9-12.
3. Where Does God Live? by Holly Bea
A lively and inquisitive young girl named Hope has a favorite pastime: asking questions. She asks everyone she knows just about anything. One day her musings lead her to a really big question: Where does God live? She talks to her mom. She questions her animal friends. Finally, it is her wise and gentle grandmother whose lifetime of faith offers Hope, the answer that she and all of us can take into our hearts. It is an answer whose simplicity does honor to the Creator.
This picture book is a good place to start with preschoolers and is perfect for ages 4 and up.
2. Muhammad by Demi
Born in Mecca in the year 570, Muhammad grew into a sensitive and thoughtful man who believed deeply in the worship of one true god.
In his fortieth year, Muhammad experienced a revelation from the angel Gabriel that he, Muhammad, was the messenger of God. Over the next twenty-three years, he received many such revelations, all of which were written down by scribes at the time of revelation to become the Koran, the sacred scripture of Islam, a religion that is practiced by nearly one-quarter of the world’s population and holds as its most sacred tenet that there is no god but God.
Through a clear text and stunning illustrations based upon those of traditional Islamic expression, the award-winning artist Demi here introduces the remarkable life of the Prophet Muhammad for young readers.
I think it is more important than ever to give our children an understanding of Islam and that it’s really not so different from the teachings of Jesus Christ. Demi does a beautiful job with this gorgeously illustrated advanced picture book to explain who Muhammad is and therefore what Islam is all about.
You can practically build your entire world religion bookshelf with just Demi books.
1. What is God? by Etan Boritzer
What is God? is an eloquent introduction to the ideas behind God and religion, and brings forward complex ideas in a way children will understand. It is written with a simple clarity and beautifully illustrated with just the right blend of seriousness and humor.
What is God? compares different religions — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism — and their holy books, looks at misunderstandings and arguments among people of different religions, and talks about praying as well as feeling connected to everything in the world.
If you want to talk about spirituality with a child, or introduce them to philosophy or religion, or just help them to begin to center themselves and their feelings about the world, this book is a great beginning.
For the child with more questions than you have answers and ponders spirituality deeply, this picture book is for ages 6 and up.
Renee C. of Mother Daughter Book Reviews suggests A Faith Like Mine by Laura Buller.
We ended up using Mary Pope Osborne’s One World, Many Religions: The Way We Worship.
More Books on World Religions
Buddhism in Thailand by Frances Hawker and Sunantha Phusomsai, photography by Bruce Campbell
Baan, at eight years old, is invited to become a Buddhist monk and leaves his family during the rainy season to learn more about Buddhism. His grandfather, a rice farmer, was a monk for two years. There is a special initiation ceremony as Baan becomes a monk. He learns meditation, the 10 rules for being a young monk, and performs tasks such a fetching water. After three months, Baan returns home after completing a leaving ceremony. There is someone special that is coming home too! This is a gentle story of family and the Buddhist faith. [nonfiction picture book, ages 6 and up]
Talking to God: Prayers for Children from the World’s Religions by Demi
The prayers used in different world religions are detailed in this beautifully illustrated picture book. The book begins with several of Christianity’s popular prayers: Our Father in heaven, The Lord is My Shepard, and Hail Mary, full of grace. Next, learn about Judaism’s popular prayers Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, The Lord bless you and keep you, and Wherever I go, only You (Lord)! Islam follows with God is most Great, In the Name of God, the Clement, the Merciful. Hinduism contributes two prayers: O God, you are the giver of life and May the Lord protect us. Buddhism, Taoism, and Shintoism have very short prayers. The book concludes with American Plains Indian and Central African prayers: O Great Spirit and I shall sing a song of praise to God.
By reading all the prayers from the world’s religions, it’s clear how similar the messages are. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix
It’s not easy to give a new spin on the story of Jesus but John Hendrix manages to keep his story fresh and exciting. His illustrations do a lot of the heavy lifting in this regard. The miracles that are chronicled in the Bible from curing the ill, to walking on water, to dividing the loaves and fishes to feed a huge crowd are viewed from the perspective of a doubting disciple. The final miracle of resurrection makes this a great book for Easter but I like this for anyone who wants to learn about Christianity. It’s a beautiful picture book with a captivating story that feels less “Sunday School boring” and more “action adventure exciting.” [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Everyone Prays: Celebrating Faith Around the World by Alexis York Lumbard, illustrated by Alireza Sadeghian
It’s not easy finding a picture book for preschoolers or toddlers that explains the differences and similarities of world religions. I like how Alexis York Lumbard includes the worshippers of less well-known religions like Sikhs, Jains and those who follow the Shinto way. With simple text and inviting multicultural illustrations, kids can feel like world religions unite us more than divide us. [picture book ages 4 and up]
When God Made You by Jane G. Meyer, illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Gilbert
This picture book celebrates multicultural diversity with a message that God made all these children, special and unique. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Jesus Helps Me by Callie Grant, illustrated by Missi Jay
This board book uses animals to show parallels between how this relates to Jesus. There is also a quote from the Bible for each example. This is a book that is meant to grow with your child. Toddlers will enjoy the animals and Bible quotes, and older kids can discuss the connection. [board book, ages 2 and up]
Saint Anthony the Great by John Chryssavgis and Marilyn Rouvelas, illustrated by Isabelle Brent
Anthony of Egypt lived a long time ago, but he left behind a legacy of spirituality that focused on monasticism, fasting, and prayer as the way to a pure heart. His teachings have helped countless others on how to live with love, joy, courage, and peace. This is a message that is still relevant today. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Becoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha by Whitney Stewart & Sally Rippin
I find the format and the font hard to read in this advanced picture book but I do love the illustrations. It tells the story of Siddhartha; even before he was born, wise men foretold of the birth of a child of wisdom. Queen Maya knew that her son was this gifted boy. Siddhartha gave up his wife, his baby, and his wealth as a prince to become a monk. He became Buddha after he gained enlightenment, and spent the rest of his life teaching others the Four Noble Truths.
- Life is a cycle of suffering, samsara, and endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
- Suffering is caused by a desire for pleasure and an avoidance of difficulty — by thinking only of yourself.
- The end of suffering comes when you are free from desire and selfishness.
- To eliminate desire and selfishness, you must act with kindness and compassion for all beings, and with an awareness of your mind and heart. [advanced picture book, ages 10 and up]
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.