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Books that invite you in

03 October 2014

Christine Worsley comments on the children's top ten


THIS list of children's books is fascinating. It is also somewhat surprising, in that very few of the books on it are intentionally Christian, or have been written by authors who would call themselves Christian. But all of them are there because they have encouraged, and continue to inspire and shape, faith, in those who have recommended them as "best".

As I began to reflect on the list as a whole, I wondered about the process of recommending, as an adult, books primarily written for children. I have read these books over a period of time - as a child, a young adult, and, later, as a mother - reading and re- reading them with my children.

Most recently, I have engaged with titles that have been an inspiration in preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. It seems important to remember that each has its own integrity, simply as a good story for young people, and is to be enjoyed as such.

As we engage with them at different stages in life, they have the capacity to unfold fresh layers of meaning. But always our response is shaped and defined by who we are now -adult people of faith.

What is it about these titles that continues to inspire and motivate our Christian living? Needless to say, every reader of these books would have a different answer.

I have grouped the titles under two broad categories: books that speak explicitly into faith in terms of content, or which invite us to explore our relationship with God; and titles that have the capacity to inform the practice of faith.

MOST notable for me in the first category is Holm's I Am David. The words of the title are repeated throughout the book, as David talks with God. This is a powerful tool, used to highlight his growing sense of self - as valued self - in relation to the "God of the green pastures and still waters".

Here is a story of maturing faith in the God of the Hebrew scriptures. It is also a story of healing, as David discovers his own value and gifts, which can be offered back to God. The book's simplicity is its strength.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials are more complex texts. They engage and challenge faith at deep levels through opening up worlds of magic and fantasy - worlds that are at one level safely removed from the real one, but at the same time shine a bright and questioning light on it.

Pullman's work - more directly than that of Lewis - challenges some traditional Christian doctrines of good and evil through his exploration of the necessity of sin and flaws in human experience. These give food for thought, and invite us to look again - "dazzle gradually".

In the second category, a number of titles offer inspiration for Christian living, often implicitly. For example, two books for young children, Badger's Parting Gifts and Heaven, are beautifully written and engage with the experience of death and bereavement.

Neither of them tells the whole story. But why should they? For adults talking with children, and with each other, they provide a powerful source of an unsentimental, honest approach to death, and, particularly in Badger, to the importance of good and shared remembering in bereavement, which motivates loving service to others. For Christians, isn't that experience close to the heart of our worship?

Other books highlight the importance and beauty of human bonds - of friendship (The Little Prince, The Secret Garden, and The Velveteen Rabbit); of family (The Silver Sword); and within communities and wider society (A Christmas Carol).

These books have the power to motivate by setting forward ideals that are resonant with the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves. But these ideals are always rooted in reality, speaking of the transforming power of human love in the face of pain and suffering; and carrying, too, echoes of the love of God, from which nothing can separate us.

Canon Christine Worsley is the Kingdom People Development Officer in the diocese of Worcester.


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