a selection of books to help kids and parents discuss religion and belief
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How can non-believing parents talk to their kids about God and belief?

Dec 11, 2017

At the National Gallery of Canada, God created....an unexpectedly awkward conversation.

I had taken my kids there because I want them to love art, but I didn’t expect them to find religion. “What happened to that guy?” my then four-year-old daughter wanted to know. “Is he dead?”

Her stubby finger pointed at a gory 16th century painting called The Lamentation, which are kind of hard to avoid. That ‘guy’ she pointed at was Jesus. And depicted in the painting is Jesus being taken off the cross, and all that that entails. 

I took a deep breath. This was going to require a delicate explanation. My two older kids crowded in — they could tell this was going to be an interesting story.

I was naïve to think I could talk to my kids about western art without mentioning Christianity. Obviously.

So, here are six books I wish I had known about back then:

Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Talk to Your Kids about Religion When You’re Non-Believers

By Wendy Thomas Russell

Russell has the answer to your non-believing prayers. Her book is short and comprehensive, covering everything from how to broach the topic of belief, avoiding the pitfalls and hang-ups of secular parents as well as a sketch of what kind of discussion a parent can reasonably expect at various age levels. All this and a handy cheat sheet on major world religions and holidays.


Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion

Edited by Dale McGowan

Some parents might want to delve deeper. McGowan assembles an impressive range of essays on death, ethics, building community and parsing the “holy” from traditional holiday celebrations. This book offers a well-curated conversation for parents who want to either browse or explore one or more aspects of belief a little deeper. But it is not a comprehensive parenting book, nor a parenting bible for atheists. 


Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong: A Guide for Young Thinkers

By Dan Barker, Illustrated by Brian Strassburg

Dan Barker is a former preacher who now lectures on atheism. His book engages kids directly in ethical dilemmas, using plain language and simple illustrations. Barker’s focus is humanist morality, but he does address why people might hold and respect other beliefs.


The Belief Book

By David G McAfee and Chuck Harrison

This is the first in a three-book series on religion for a child audience. It covers belief, creation, gods and religion with playful illustrations and without talking down to anyone. It emphasizes the importance of storytelling, using words an eight or nine year old could grasp.


Really, Really Big Questions about God, Faith and Religion

By Dr. Julian Baggini, Illustrated by Nishant Choksi

Kids love philosophy if you can keep it simple. They have big questions and they want the big answers. Baggini is a master of getting to the point quickly. This book gives kids a chance dive in on questions like "Why are there so many religions?" and "Is God a man?" and "Do I have a soul?" Don’t expect answers, of course, but what you do get in lieu of definitive answers is a satisfying exploration of ideas.


See Inside World Religions: An Usborne Flap Book

By Alex Frith and Barry Ablett

Young kids will enjoy the tactile experience of exploring world religions with this illustrated lift-the-flap book. It’s a low pressure way to break the ice on topics like worship and prayer, festivals and celebrations, religious stories and death and dying.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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