Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Are You There, God? It Would Do Today's Faithful Readers Good to Reconsider Less Overtly Christian Works for Their Children

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Are You There, God? It Would Do Today's Faithful Readers Good to Reconsider Less Overtly Christian Works for Their Children

Article excerpt

When Time magazine and the New York Public Library compiled their lists of great children's books, authors notorious for their Christian motifs--like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and the late, great Madeleine L'Engle--were well represented.

The representation of Christian writers on the list doesn't come as a surprise to historians of children's literature. Spiritual formation has long been an important theme within children's books. The first literature written specifically for children was, in fact, a basic primer for living a good, faithful life. The Venerable Bede, Aelfric, St. Aldhelm, and St. Anselm all wrote school texts in Latin during the Middle Ages, which continued to be used in schools in England and colonial America for hundreds of years. In his twin masterpieces for children, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872), Lewis Carroll (the pen name of Charles Dodgson) uses Wonderland--a place no human but the eponymous Alice has seen or experienced--to encourage children to place their trust in matters of spirit and faith that cannot easily be defined. God's unconditional love and forgiveness for humanity, from pre-flood Noah to the military arms race of our present era, is one of the prevalent themes of Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet (1962-1989), as is the importance of adding beauty to the world through artistic and scientific exploration.

In my 10 years in children's book publishing, one of the questions I have been asked time and time again at industry conferences is, "Why are there no Christian writers writing for children and teens today?" The truth is that there is a plethora of children's books with Christian motifs in the industry today; the cultural touchstones of children's literature have just changed in tone to meet the realities of modern children and childhood.

Most people outside of the children's book industry are unaware of the large number of children's books published each year. What you see on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, at your local indie bookstore, or featured on Amazon or in a Scholastic book fair are really only a fraction of the titles produced by children's publishers around the world. Children's book publishers used to release only a few new titles a month; now larger publishing houses like HarperCollins can publish as many as five new titles per imprint per week. While some might assume that this heightened production is a result of the publishing world's constant search for the next Hunger Games or Divergent blockbuster--and it would be valid to do so--it's also true that children today have such varied interests and cultural experiences that figuring out what stories captivate them or they find relatable can be unpredictable.

Yet, if you look at the descriptions of any of these new releases, you'll notice that thematically they all come down to one thing: how to live a good, meaningful life. In this way, children's literature continues to explore the same themes of spirituality and faith that its authors have explored for hundreds of years. For example, while Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955) could be summed up as a multiarc and multi-perspective narrative of the Fellowship's journey to face and embrace their own natures while battling the great evil of Sauron, Emery Lord's When We Collided (Bloomsbury) narrates a teen's struggle to leave an artistic mark on the world and not self-harm in the wake of her diagnosis with bipolar disorder. …

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