It is a daunting task to look for books. The book of Ecclesiastes had it right. “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.’ Ecclesiastes 12:12 While I in no way can vouch for everything below, it is my best effort to find some useful guides to children’s books. I welcome any additions and helps. Parents are often the best resources for one another, but when it comes to faith, we often feel inadequate. I do, too, especially in the subject of children’s books. Many childrens religious books are trivial, superficial and some are downright wrong about God. You have to be careful when talking about heaven, God, Jesus, death and faith. So, here are some things that helped me.
The Teaching Children Philosophy site is the work of Professor Thomas E. Wartenberg and his undergraduate students from Mount Holyoke College is an interesting site with a terrific booklist, each one having a study guide with summary about the books and suggested questions for discussion. Click here to go to the site. Although it is not specifically a faith-based site, the issues and questions it raises overlaps with faith. A New York Times article about the author gives some background on how it came to be. Spend some time looking around. The summaries are very helpful!
University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children has a similar site and has put together a guide also with summaries and issues. It is well-researched, and can help a parent have substantial conversations with children.
In 2013 the New York Public Library published the 100 Great Children’s Books For 100 Years list of the most read (i.e., checked out) and favorite books of all time of the past century. It is a wonderful list of books from 1913-2013, and most of us will recognize some of our favorites, but it’s also a good way to find some new ones. It was chosen by their Children’s librarians.
Amazon books and other booksellers offer similar lists, although they are proprietors and may be a little different and about marketing rather than other criteria. Amazon’s 100 Children’s Books to Read in a Lifetime is found at
When it comes to religious books for children, I was overwhelmed by the choices. And not always in a good way. From Mommyblogs to homeschoolers, these were all over the place. So I would say, “Search at your own risk.” You will find whatever you’re looking for, which is pretty much the problem of the internet to begin with—the lack of “guidance” for the uninformed. A good teacher matters! There are lists everywhere—NY Times booklists, Goodreads, Listopia, Religious Tolerance, denominational books, and so on. Oddly, sometimes they are some of the worst books for teaching faith, because they are either so overtly religious and pedantic that they lack the quality of inspiring curiosity, or they are theologically questionable. Still, there are treasures out there. Magazines like Christianity Today and the Christian Century occasionally make recommendations, and even the Mommyblogs can have some good suggestions. Just read them with a critical eye. Someone’s entusiastic recommendation does not a classic make…
It would seem to me that librarians would be a great source of guidance for books on faith. Go to the library,talk with the children’s specialist, who may have spent time learning about it, and point you to a good book or two. Also, Christian elementary school teachers might have some good ideas. A further idea? Your Preschool and Children’s Minister!
A book that caught my eye was Special Collections in Children’s Literature: An International Directory. It is a guide to libraries around the world with outstanding collections of literature for children and study about the subject. Published by the Association for Library Service to Children . http://www.ala.org/alsc/ The association list is one of the most wide-ranging and valuable ones I found. There is a tab just for parents with every kind of list in the world from dealing with tragedy books to summer reading lists for age groups.
And, of course, there is the The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature (4 Volume Set). This has 3200 entries from the world’s top scholars. It is way more than you likely want, but for the neurotic scholar and those needing an assessment, you could probably find this one in a library to consult without buying it or taking it home!
Consider this a starting line. There’s a lot out there, but most of all, get a good list and start reading. To me, the most extraordinary part of reading to children is the dedicated relationship time. You have to to genuinely “be there” for it to work. The cost is low–one vapid cable show per evening, and a little rest from self-absorption–and the rewards are incalculable. Good reading!