Jim Denney, author
of Battle Before Time,
Christian time travel adventure for young readers
Good books nurture spiritual children.
What does it mean for a child to be “spiritual”? I define a spiritual child as one with an awareness of God, who talks to God in prayer, and who has a sensitive conscience. Such children express their spiritual side in tangible ways — by showing kindness to others, by seeking to be honest, and by actively trying to obey God.
How does good children’s literature affect a child’s spiritual life? That’s the question Dr. Catherine R. Posey asked in her research on children’s spirituality. She earned a Masters in Children’s Literature from Roehampton University, London, and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction (with a specialization in Children’s Literature) from Pennsylvania State University. (And, I’m proud to say, Dr. Posey happens to be my niece.) She wanted to discover whether children’s books without any overtly religious content would nevertheless stir spiritual thoughts, questions, and insights in young readers.
Dr. Posey chose two popular children’s fantasy books that deal with toys that think, talk, and have adventures. The first book, Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child (1962), tells about two wind-up toy mice, a father and son, who set off on a quest for a home and family — with the hope that they might become “self-winding” and no longer need wind-up keys in their backs. The second book, Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2005), relates the adventures of a vain, selfish porcelain rabbit who learns to love others.
“In both books,” Dr. Posey told me, “the heroes are searching for their identity, for relationships, and for a place of belonging. Both books draw us into the inner journeys of the characters — into their struggles, hopes, disappointments, and victories. Both books deal with death and loss.
“When I interviewed young readers, ages ten or eleven, they talked about these themes in the books. They often related the storybook deaths to either a grandparent who had died or to questions about Heaven. The two books provoked conversation about the children’s fears, their prayers, their relationships with family and friends, and such character traits as kindness, perseverance, and courage.”
How did Dr. Posey get children to talk about the books? “I asked open-ended questions,” she said. “I asked the children in the study to retell the stories in their own words. The details they choose to talk about were revealing. I asked questions like: ‘What do you think God is like?’ ‘Do you ever talk to God?’ ‘Does anything in the book remind you of God?’
“One girl told me she thought God must be like a caring teacher she had, Miss Hardy. The girl said she stopped believing in God for a while because she found it hard to believe in the miracles in the Bible. Then she dreamed that Miss Hardy came to her, called her by name, and said, ‘Believe.’ She has believed in God ever since. I don’t think she ever would have told anyone about her dream — and the dream’s impact on her faith — if she and I had not had a conversation about books.”
As parents who want to raise spiritually sensitive children, we can use Dr. Posey’s insights in our own conversations with our children. In the process, we can encourage them to build lifelong habits of reading good books.
Next Saturday: Five ways to use children’s literature to help raise spiritually sensitive children.
Note: Don’t miss my interviews with Christian romance writer Robin Lee Hatcher (author of Who I Am With You and An Idaho Christmas: Past and Present), and Christian science fiction writer Kerry Nietz (author of Amish Vampires in Space and Fraught). Visit my website at Writing in Overdrive. See you there!
And if you’d like to learn more about how to write faster, more freely, and more brilliantly than you ever thought possible, read my book Writing In Overdrive, available in paperback and ebook editions at Amazon.com. —J.D.