Maya Ajmera, Magda Nakassis and Cynthia Pon,
Global Fund for Children/Charlesbridge, 2009.
“We celebrate our faiths in many ways,” explain Maya Ajmera and her Global Fund for Children colleagues in their absorbing new photo-illustrated book. Faith explores the idea that whatever spiritual traditions people follow, the elements of faith are similar. Color photographs of children engaged in specific spiritual practices, with brief descriptive captions, then elucidate eleven common elements of faith. Prayer and meditation, chanting and singing, reading holy books, listening and learning from others, cleansing, visiting holy places, observing holidays and festivals, marking important events, wearing special clothing, eating special foods, and caring for others are described in more detail at the back of the book, along with a “words to know” section that gives paragraph-length definitions of relevant terms. A map denoting the countries represented in the photographs is also included.
One of the great features of Faith is the range of cultures and traditions it presents. In addition to more familiar images of western Christian and Jewish children, Bahá’i children in Mongolia are pictured working a community garden; a toothless little Guatemalan child lifts an Easter mask to smile; a Kenyan boy in an elaborately woven hat reads the Koran; Bolivian kids watch an elder light purifying incense before a little outdoor Christian altar; a Hindu pilgrim bathes his child in the Ganges. The photographs are vivid, intimate, and full of details that stimulate contemplation and discussion.
Faith conveys its message at many levels. For young children, it is a gentle, respectful introduction to spiritual practices. For older children, the information in the back of the book will be a welcome resource for comparing religions. Teachers and parents of whatever religious or secular orientation can use the photographs to elicit young readers’ observations and deepen their understanding.
Blonde Muslim girls in the U.K., a Rastafarian boy from South Africa, even a Turkish whirling dervish populate this worldwide survey of “common threads that bring people together in reverence and joy.” In families or in classrooms, Faith offers a multitude of opportunities to encourage children’s appreciation of both diversity and universality among the world’s spiritual traditions.