Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Wendy Friel
English 225
Explorations Project: Report and Reflections
Spring 2010

The Report: How is Religion Presented in Young Children's Literature?

Wendy's Explorations Project Report, presented with Jing screencast:

The Works Cited

Ajmera, Maya, Magda Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon. Faith. Watertown: Charlesbridge, 2008. Print.

Buller, Laura. A Faith Like Mine: A Celebration of the World's Religions, Seen Through the Eyes of Children. New York: DK Publishing, 2005. Print.

Daly, Jude. To Everything There is a Season. London: Eerdmanns, 2006. Print.

Drucker, Malka, and Rita Pocock. A Jewish Holiday ABC. Orlando: Harcourt, 1992. Print.

Fox, Mem. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. New York: Harcourt, 2008. Print.

Freedman, Russell. Confucius: The Golden Rule. New York: Levine/Scholastic, 1997. Print.

Jeffrey, Gary, and Kate Newport. African Myths: Graphic Mythology. New York: Rosen, 2006. Print.

Katz, Karen. My First Ramadan. New York: Henry Holt, 2005. Print.

Krishnaswami, Uma. The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesah. New York: Linnet, 1996. Print.

Kropf, Latifa Berry. It's Hanukkah Time! Minneapolis: Kar-Ben, 2004. Print.

Little Golden Book Inspirational Favorites. New York: Random House, 2002. Print.

McDermott, Gerald. Raven. New York: Harcourt, 1993. Print.

Meehan, Bridget Mary, et. al. Heart Talks with Mother God. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007. Print.

Osborne, Mary Pope. One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship. New York: Random House, 1996. Print.

Pandell, Karen. Learning from the Dalai Lama. New York: Dutton Children's Books, 1995. Print.

Phillip, Neil. In the House of Happiness. New York: Clarion, 2003. Print.

Pilling, Ann. Before I Go to Sleep. New York: Crown, 1990. Print.

"Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law." Religion in the Public Schools. April 1995. Web. 15 May 2010.

Rotner, Shelley, and Sheila Kelly. Many Ways. Minneapolis: Millbrook, 2006. Print.

The Reflective Piece: Religion In Children’s Literature

The Explorations Project offered a personal opportunity to examine how different religions were represented in children’s literature. Initially, I was led to this subject by a growing curiosity enjoyed the past few years while traveling and meeting children of different religions in other countries. My interest grew when both my grandchildren were born this year into homes of different faiths. The exploration then became the perfect blending of many scholarly “outward” questions with a newer “inward” need. In addition, I was encouraged to learn, study and have fun and then share the information with others in the class. This reflection on my learning will offer a brief insight into my thoughts, ideas and processes.

When traveling, I made brief visits to the cities but nearly always preferred to be off track and with locals in smaller towns or villages. In staying or living with the people, I was always in and out of schools and churches. In Fiji, just outside of Nadi, I watched the local Catholic priest lead hundreds of the village’s children, dressed in their finest, white “Sunday best”, starched and scrubbed from head to bare foot, in a parade to the clapboard church on the beach. I was invited to join them as they began their reenactment festivities to honor Jesus’ arrival 110 years earlier. Apparently, he had appeared and confronted the until-then heathens just after their last killing and last cannibalization of three Catholic missionaries.

On this day, I was able to share one of the largest local holidays and commemorate the Churches’ saving of the people. The children also shared their handmade talismans and tokens they carried to ward off evil and stop cravings of the body (including the eating of missionaries, I presumed). There were Catholic hymns, traditional dances and songs abbreviated and blended into a unique Fijian Catholicism. In local homes, there were shrines set up for the ancient spirits and for the newer saints. I learned later that Fiji was not unique in their forging of two or more religions into a localized faith. I found this over and over again from Bali to Borneo to the Chinese border. My own spirituality had also been a blending of traditional ideas and new teachings and from this point is where I began as I collected and studied the varying religious books available for young children.

With the births of my grandchildren, I felt a need to honor and respect the faiths they would be taught but also wanted to be able to explore with them what other children I knew were taught and believed. I began with visits to the libraries and over the next few weeks sifted through the abundance of children’s religious literature. At first, I was overwhelmed by the choices but began a system whereby I sorted the books into categories: single faith instuctional, single faith stories, comparative instructional and tolerance/understanding. I first just read and enjoyed the books taking few notes.

As I thought about my presentation, I examined the needs of my audience. Many of my classmates were studying to be teachers and many had young children or worked with young readers. I then decided to present books that could be used for instructional purposes if allowed but also be used at home. There were many books that were written to help children with their own faith and books that shared faiths in a more universal manner. I chose books that did both. I also wanted to present at least a couple books that were unique and might not be picked up on their own. This included a graphic novel on African myths and a scholarly but glorious book on the stories from Confucius. It was important to me to present books that would appeal to children’s curiosity, introduce them to other’s faiths and yet be tolerant and unbiased. I wanted a sharing of faith, not a preaching of religion.

In my studying, I obviously learned that there were many books available to teach about the world’s different religions. I soon learned however that there is a difference in teaching about religion and teaching religion. This is an important demarcation if a book is brought into the classroom. As happens in most learning, one thing led to another and I found myself on the internet examining religion in the public schools.

I read archived studies and perused current websites in looking for answers to my new questions about what could be explored in the classroom. Through Ebsco, I retrieved “Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law”. Though published in 1995, it summed up my more current research on the web: “The Constitution permits much private activity in and about the public schools. Unfortunately, this aspect is not well known….some say the Supreme Court has declared the public schools ‘religion-free zones’ or that the law is so murky that school officials cannot know what is legally permissible” (2). In perusing teacher websites and talking with teachers, it became apparent that most public schools and most teachers of young children shy away from any teaching or talking of religion. A few high schools offer comparative religion studies but for young children, there is little or nothing available. Because of this, I did respect that and only presented one or two books I thought would be appropriate in a class setting (though it might take a gutsy teacher to bring them in).

Although I found myself detoured many more times and more questions came up, I enjoyed the fact that I could learn about a subject as vast as this and meander and wander all over. I was immensely engaged and looked forward each night to curling up with a different book. One of these books that did not make it to the final presentation was “In the House of Happiness – A Book of Prayers and Praise” selected by Neil Phillip. This is a tiny little volume presenting prayers from all cultures and traditions. In it I found prayers from Ireland and Scotland which brought me back to my heritage and memories of saying my prayers with my father. I also discovered Native American prayers that seemed so current in today’s fight to save our planet, Mother Earth. The book on Confucius was being read serendipitously when I heard an NPR interview about the revival of Confuciunism in China and the relevance of the teachings as an emerging China encourages industrialism and a new capitalist direction. Although I loved learning this way and having the leisure to explore, I found my greatest challenge, as usual, in presenting an informative condensation of the material.

I have barely mastered "Word" processing, so my intimidation with Jing was growing. I did download (upload?) it and tried very unsuccessfully to complete the presentation. I had learned to take pictures and place them into my document and timed my presentation to under ten minutes but was very nervous in completing the production. I then went to Jamie King at the Writing Center and with great skill, patience and friendly intervention, she encouraged and assisted me in finalizing the recording. If my strengths lie in writing, my weaknesses are in oral communication and technology. I was personally just grateful I did not have to appear in person and speak to my classmates!

In summarizing my final thoughts and learning, I have always felt that understanding another’s faith enhances our own understanding of ourselves and encourages tolerance of other’s culture and beliefs. I learned, even more conclusively, that our similarities and sameness are much greater than our differences. If children are taught the Golden Rule as explained popularly, they can also learn the following:

Brahamanism: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

Confucianism: It is the maxim of loving kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you.

Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.

Finally, I also found a great little prayer for both of my grandchildren. It is one prayer but envelopes both faiths. It was found in Neil Phillips selections and it is simple and yet profound. It comes from Breton and is a traditional fisherman’s prayer:

Protect me, O Lord; My boat is so small. And your sea is so big.

For me, I know my learning was intense and deep. I believe, in spite of my technology handicaps, I was able to teach some of what I learned and responses were encouraging from my classmates. I would conclude that the project was a success and a fun way to explore and discover.

Copyright 2010
Wendy Friel

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA