I’ve been on a quest.
We on the BioLogos team are preparing to launch a new resource page that highlights educational materials for a wide range of ages—young children through adults. So in preparation for that, I’ve been searching for some great books for young children that convey the vastness and richness of the universe as well as the awesome majesty of our God.
This post is intended as an introduction to this new resource and includes a short tour of the material I’ve found most enjoyable and educational. One great option for young children (preschoolers through age 5) is Creation Touch-and-Feel (2007). This bright and colorful book exposes children to the wonderful creatures, colors, and textures God has made. Over and over we hear the question: “Who made ______?” And the answer is always, “God did!” “Who made the land? God did….Who made the sun? God did. And God made the moon. God made stars that twinkle; God made planets and fiery comets too.”
Children are invited to touch something with every turn of the page: touch the turtle’s dimpled shell, the rough bark on a tree, the beautiful coat of a zebra, and the lush pink feathers of the flamingo. Without reference to the Genesis “days” of creation, this book wonderfully portrays the diversity of life and emphasizes the important and simple truth that God is Creator of it all.
Interested in a children’s book that tackles Big Bang cosmology, early solar system formation and development of life on earth? Take a look at Older than the Stars (2011). The title presents the emphasis of the book: all the organisms on earth today, even our own bodies, are made of elements present from the very, very, early beginnings of our universe. Pre-schoolers through elementary graders will appreciate this lively trek over billions of years, and adult readers will appreciate the sing-songy rhythm of the text:
This is the sun, our daily view, that was born from the dust, so old and new,
thrown from the blast intense enough, to hurl the atoms so strong and tough,
that formed in the star of red-hot stuff, that burst from the gas in a giant puff,
that spun from the blocks that formed from the bits, that were born in the bang, when the world began.
The pages are filled with engaging rhymes like these, along with more detailed paragraphs that could be skipped for younger children:
In time, some of the atoms in the ocean joined together to form tiny living creatures. At first, these creatures were so simple they didn’t think or even swim—they just floated in the water. But over time they evolved, getting bigger and more complex.
Another book worth grabbing for kids 8 - 12 years is Kids' Guide to God's Creation: An illustrated guide to earth, space, the human body - all of God's creation! (2010) The strength of this book is its accurate but accessible scientific information about our atmosphere, light, oceans, plants, other galaxies, fish, birds, land animals, and humans. Though the topics are organized within the 6 “days” spoken of in Genesis, the emphasis is the interesting science we’ve learned about various aspects of creation. For example, did you know that jellyfish are about 95% water or that the earth’s crust is about 25 miles thick underneath the land, or that when baby African bush elephants are born they weigh in at about 225 pounds? The book contains numerous, full-color photos on every page, like the picture of the Eagle Nebula taken by the Hubble Telescope, or the picture of a blue-spotted stingray from Thailand. There is no mention of evolutionary processes, but the authors do include a statement recognizing different views among Christians when it comes to age of the earth:
Even though all Christians agree that God created the earth and everything in and around it, some of them disagree over how long it took God to do it. Some believe the earth is very young- between 6,000 and 10,000 years old-while others believe the earth is very old...maybe billions of years old.
If you’ve spent significant time around young children, you know that often when they read a book or when you read books to them, they end up asking to read it again, and again, and again. Young children don’t just read books, they ingest them.
When my boys were young, we played a game with them. Their dad or I would come up with a line from one of their books and they had to be the first one to yell out the name of the book it came from. This game worked because 1) Both Dad and I knew enough quotes from their books (from reading them so many times) to be able to instantly come up with lines from them, and 2) The boys pretty much knew their books backward and forward — otherwise, no point to the game. This game was always loads of fun and we created lots of family memories playing it!
I don’t think my experience with our boys is that unique. Children’s books are more than stories. They can become familiar narratives children listen to over and over. So it’s worth asking: Are the books we’re reading doing a good job of portraying God and His Creation? Here are a few things to keep in mind when investigating what’s out there.
- When a book discusses the mechanisms of the development of life, is it drawing on up-to-date, consensus science? We do a disservice to the next generation if we misrepresent or ignore widely accepted scientific claims. Is it legitimate to think we will just correct informational errors when they’re older? With the science/faith literature currently available for children, (and hopefully more on the way), I believe we can present a consistent picture from the beginning. Then, as our children grow and are exposed to ideas from the outside world, they learn we as Christian parents can be trusted. This can also minimize confusion as they mature.
- Is there room for the message that God is both the Creator and Sustainer? Some “secular” materials are great resources to introduce the amazing realities of the world around us. But some may also try to interject the notion that all that exists in the universe is what is observable through science. Sometimes along with that comes the implication that mankind is either the pinnacle of all that exists or is not-at-all unique among other living things. Be aware that some books with great science include some unwanted metaphysical claims.
- Is there the sense that the work of creation is ongoing (creatio continua)—not just something that God did one time in the past? Some interpretations of Genesis 2:1-2 can make this appear to be true. Yet, we know babies are being born, some species are going extinct, continents are shifting, stars are forming and dying off. The universe is not static and our God reigns over all. He is the Creator not just as portrayed in Genesis 1 but also in Isaiah 42:5, “This is what God the Lord says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it.” To miss this emphasis on divine activity is to miss an opportunity for our young ones to have their eyes open to the power and “bigness” of God.
- How are scientists and the scientific endeavor portrayed? Is there a subtle distrust being communicated? Do the materials present science (or scientists) as a battleground (or enemy) for Christians to defeat rather than a tool to help us actively engage God’s creation for his glory? Do our children see scientific careers as a way to faithfully serve him and others?
Young children devour books and there are a lot of choices out there. The message they receive from them matters. From these early, formative years come their foundational understanding of the character of God and the universe he has made. And their interaction with it all. Let’s choose carefully.
Know about some great children’s books? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In tomorrow’s post, we’ll hear from a new Christian publisher we’re excited about: Novare Science and Math. Their focus is to change how science education happens in Christian schools so that students actually learn science, and “not something else which may be calling itself science but which doesn’t reflect the actual nature of scientific knowledge.” They acknowledge that “Biblical faith informs research, and scientific research informs faith,” and when science and faith are rightly handled, they complement rather than conflict, with each other. [From Teaching Science So That Students Learn Science (2009) by John Mays].