Over the past two months Sarah and I have written about common pitfalls we’ve observed in theological kids lit. We covered too much text, poor writing, appealing to adults instead of children, “the Noah problem,” sentimentality, and inattention to glorious beauty. Phew, that’s a lot! We hope you found those posts helpful – and not too nit-picky or negative.
To wrap up our pitfalls series we thought we’d devote today’s post to the topic of avoiding perfectionism in book selection. Even though we’re passionate about finding the best books to teach our sons and daughters about God, we recognize that if we equate excellence with perfection we’re going to have very, very few theological children’s books on our shelves. And I don’t know about you, but being a book lover, I’d like to avoid that!
When I’m considering buying a book for my daughter or for reviewing at Aslan’s Library, I tend to think about it sitting on a balance. Some books are obviously wonderful and beautiful and fantastic and tip the scale far to one direction. Others are just as obviously not excellent and quickly sway the balance to the other direction. Many more are somewhere in the middle, and sometimes it’s hard to tell in which direction the balance is tipping.
So just how good does a book have to be before we will deem it worth reading? Undoubtedly, we’ll each answer that question in slightly different ways, but for me, the way I often decide what makes the cut is by asking a question: Can the shortcomings of this book be resolved in a conversation with my child? This means that I tend to be more forgiving of a little bit of theological sloppiness than of poor writing or illustrating. There’s nothing you can do to improve a book that is poorly executed, but there is something you can do to correct theological error in your child’s understanding: talk about it.
Yes, we want our books to be accurately reflective of Scripture, God’s character, and his purposes throughout history. Yes, heresy is a big deal. Yes, books are amazingly influential to our spiritual, intellectual, and character development. But aren’t parents even more influential than books? If you read a certain book with your child 50 times and even a quarter of those times you stop and talk about how something conveyed in the text isn’t actually biblical, that recurring conversation will probably be one of the things she remembers most about the book even though it’s not in the book.
While I’m happy to own and recommend books that require some theological correction through discussion, too much conversation can bog down a book. For one, it’s obnoxious to break up the flow of the book more than a couple of times to clarify something. I also don’t want the points of clarification to be central tenets of Christianity because, let’s face it, there does come a point where no amount of beautiful pictures or well crafted prose can justify reading something that’s blatantly inaccurate. And it’s obviously easier to have conversations with children who are listening to you read than with children who are old enough to enjoy them on their own; it’s probably wise to be more stringent with theological accuracy with books that are going to be read alone by older children.
Allowing books into our home that we don’t agree with means that we’re going to have to be on our theological toes a bit more than we otherwise would be. That means more work, but isn’t that the kind of work we ought to be excited about as Christian parents? Book selection will be more tricky and we won’t be able to turn off our minds and just coast through books, but I think that’s a good thing. Being the kind of parents who give meaningful thought to the theological books we buy our kids and who cultivate an atmosphere in which ideas are thoughtfully discussed is, in my view, much more important than requiring all of our theological kids lit to be completely free of anything we disagree with.
What do you think? How do you make the call on which theological books you read to your kids and which books you leave on the shelves?
Amen, and amen. Thank you for describing a beautiful, charitable way to make decisions about books!
I love trying to use reading not just to communicate information, or relax together, but to “cultivate an atmosphere in which ideas are thoughtfully discussed.” It’s family- and soul-crafting, as well as “educational.”
I just wanted to say that I’m glad you wrote this one, Haley. I think you strike the right balance–we don’t want to be too picky/overthink things, yet we are accountable for not instilling falsity or misconceptions, particularly, as you say, on the main things.
In all honesty, I tend to be more picky on truth than on beauty during the foundational years of a child’s life. Right now, my son likes an ugly Bible picture book, the content of which is quite solid. I guess for me, it’s more important that my son find the book attractive than that the illustrations, text, etc, meet my expectations for what is attractive or age-appropriate. I’m sometimes surprised at what catches his eye or keeps his attention. Being theologically picky doesn’t mean perfectionism — it can’t, because none of us has perfect theology! — but it does mean wanting to portray not only important information accurately, but also the correct tone in presenting that information. Some books are beautiful, but make Jesus narratives look too much like a pretty fairy tale and not enough like historical narrative (this is a problem I have with many Bible story books). Some of those books may be worth reading anyway (Jesus Story Book Bible is one that where I don’t love the presentation of every narrative as it can be a little too “clean” or “fanciful”, but I think it is definitely worth reading because of its Christ-centeredness — it really gets at the heart of Scripture!)
Anyways, that is just my two cents!!
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