Tis' the Season for Tough Topics: Belief and Doubt

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Tis' the Season for Tough Topics: Belief and Doubt

Whether prompted by the onset of holidays, political rhetoric or other circumstances, eventually young people become curious about imaginary vs. real concepts, religious or anti-religious sentiments, as well as the faith or the doubt that classmates, neighbors, family members, or even people on TV may express through their actions, conversations, mannerisms, clothing, celebrations, places of worship, etc. 

Most families want their children to be “good human beings” with an appreciation for humanity and a healthy dose of character, creativity, courtesy, sensitivity, resiliency and values. Families decide whether this is achieved through the tenets of faith-based belief systems, or through sound judgment and principles that are independent of any type of religious connection. The books listed here explore a multiplicity of ideas around the tough topics of belief and doubt so that children may be encouraged to develop and maintain their sense of wonder, imagination, and beliefs while respecting the diversity of others in the world.

Faith vs. Doubt... In Oneself?

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, (Pre-K – K)
Krauss’s story encourages readers to maintain one’s convictions, diligence, and perseverance, despite the nay-sayers. The little boy believes that the little carrot seed he plants will, in fact, grow. Even though everyone else doubts that it will. The child patiently cares for his seed, watering it, pulling up weeds... and waiting.

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, (Pre-K – K)
"I think I can, I think I can...” the Little Blue Engine agrees to try to pull a stranded train full of toys over the mountain using this well-known refrain as self-encouragement. How else will all good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain receive wonderful toys to play with and the good food to eat? Since 1930, this classic tale has provided the young with a lovely lesson in how to suppress doubt and believe in oneself even in the face of a monumental task or a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. 

Faith vs. Doubt... In the Imaginary?

Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, (1st – 2nd grades)
“Who knows if you’ve been naughty or nice? Santa knows...” Well, Alfie F. Snorklepuss has some strong doubts about that! After extensive research and logical reasoning, Alfie endeavors to expose to everyone that Santa Claus is a fraud... but no one pays attention. His younger sister Noelle (a Santa-believer) is disturbed by his convictions and notes on her Christmas wish list that she would like “a nicer big brother”. With a shockingly funny start, Smith’s book details Alfie’s one-man mission to publicly debunk the “fairy tale” of Santa. His hum-buggery in full form, Alfie’s lessons in belief and doubt, naughty and nice, come from an unexpected source in a truly unexpected way to imbue Christmas with a little magic after all.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (2nd grade & up) - on audiobook
“All children, except one grow up.” This timeless tale stars the Darling children (Wendy, John and Michael), who abandon their dedicated canine caregiver, Nana, and their quirky parents to join the boastful, exciting Peter Pan and mischievous fairy, Tinkerbell on an adventure as they fly to Neverland. Read by the inimitable Jim Dale (whimsical narrator of the Harry Potter audiobook series) this story is powered by a belief in magic, fairies, and the vitality, heroism (and dare I say, hubris?) of one’s inner child.

Faith vs. Doubt... In God?

The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia (4th – 6th grades) 
Middle-schooler Aliya complacently holds lukewarm feelings about her Muslim faith. However, when she befriends a new classmate from Morocco who is a strict Muslim, Aliya feels the need to confront her own mild practice of the faith and her embarrassment over others' reactions to their beliefs. 

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (6th – 8th grades) 
“Just your average Jewish-Indian-American girl” Twelve-year-old Tara Feinstein proudly acknowledges both her Indian and Jewish culture. Now that she's at the cusp of “womanhood”, she must plan and prepare for her bat mitzvah. With a budding romance in the mix, how will Tara balance her Indian and Jewish identities?

Finding Your Faith by Stephanie Perry Moore (7th grade - Young Adult)
The first book in this series deals with the harshness of life's lessons for thirteen-year-old triplet, Yasmin Peace. Unfortunately, this is the case for many children. Following the shocking suicide of her oldest brother, she perseveres and assumes more family responsibilities while the family recovers and attempts to resume some normalcy. Follow Yasmin’s realistic trials and triumphs as she finds solace in prayer and grows in her faith while dealing with the additional drama of middle school and life in the projects. With this series, Moore encourages young readers to believe, trust and depend on God even in the midst of turmoil.

Gardens of Water by Alan Drew (Adult) - on audiobook
When an earthquake hits Pakistan, Sinan Basioglu, a devout Muslim, and his family must depend on their American Christian missionary neighbors for survival. Sinan struggles with his gratitude and indebtedness to his American neighbors' generosity and his scorn of Western values, politics and imperialism. To add insult to injury, he learns that his daughter Irem and Dylan, the American teacher's son, are having a secret relationship. Much to her parents' horror, Irem finds herself excited and intrigued by Dylan's modern, defiant ways. An illicit affair with Dylan could offer an escape from what she believes to be a repressive Kurdish tradition. Is there any balance to be found for these two families from different worlds of thought? Regardless of religious affiliation, readers may sympathize with a father's impassioned desire to protect his family and heritage... to a potential fault.