I have always had a keen interest in children’s literature, first as an avid child reader, later as a parent and a teacher. I looked for stories that rang true, stories that made me laugh, cry, think and grow, stories that in some small way helped me live my life: C.S. Lewis books of Narnia were among my favourites. Later, I have tried to pass these books along to children in my care and within my circle of acquaintance, in the hope that others will also find something they need in them.
No one read me Bible stories as a child, even if I became familiar with many of them by way of retelling and referencing in books and in school work. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I had my own Bible and started going to church. And it was only as a young adult with a new Bible translation that I finally started grasping just how powerful Bible stories could be, when I started reading them, not as school books for information, but the way I used to read books as a child – as stories that could help me live.
I have looked for Christian children’s books in my home country, Sweden, and found very few. There are plenty of quite excellent children’s books by Swedish authors, many of which touch on important life questions and have the power to make me laugh, cry, think and grow, but almost none use the framework of faith. There are, admittedly, some Christian books for young children translated from English each year, but they do not taste like home. It’s like being served Turkish delight when you long for plain old Oreos – delicious to be sure, but culturally alien to your taste buds.
This made me think of the link between faith and stories, faith and culture and what we are doing to children who grow up with no access to either Bible stories or other stories. I believe that it’s important that we give children good stories and good pictures, that we encourage their creativity and reflection by stimulating their imagination, their compassion and their curiosity. Bible stories are excellent stories, but children need other culturally relevant stories too, and they need adults who are prepared to tell these stories in an open-ended way, and share their thoughts and feelings on what they contain. Is it then profitable to ban books that speak truly about life’s realities or fantastic books on wizards and magic? I don’t think so.
Literacy opens doors to other worlds, and to narration, be it fictional, personal or theological. The older I get the more I believe that everything is a story. God is telling us the story of his love for us through the life of Christ. Your life and mine are stories that God is telling and that we can only hope to fully understand eventually.
Reflect for a moment: How did you arrive at faith? What stories have helped you live? What stories is your theology telling? What stories do you tell children? What kind of books for children are published in your home country, and how many tell stories within a framework of faith? Do they taste like home to you and to the children you live and work with? And if you can’t find them, how may you create these books and stories?