16 Children’s Books For ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ Families

(The Huffington Post, April 4, 2016)



While a growing number of Americans are forsaking traditional religious identities, they’re still asking the big questions: What is God? How do I make meaning in my life? What is the purpose of it all?

In fact, although the religiously unaffiliated are now the second-largest religious demographic in the country, Americans’ level of spirituality seems to be on the rise. According to Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2007 and 2014, more people in recent years are reporting feelings of wonder about the universe and spiritual peace and well-being. Among those who identify as “spiritual but not religious,” about 67 percent are “absolutely certain“ that God exists.

The growth of the unaffiliated is largely driven by the Millennial generation. As this group ages and begins to have kids, Millennial parents will certainly be searching for ways to pass their expansive spirituality to their children.

With that in mind, HuffPost Religion put together this book list for “spiritual but not religious” families who want their kids to look at the universe (and at the possibility of God) with plenty of awe and wonder. Most are books that describe a general sense of spirituality. Some refer to a specific religious tradition in a way that is accessible to people of all faiths. Other books celebrate the values that unite all faiths — being kind to your neighbor, loving boundlessly, and treating people who are different with respect.

Scroll down for a list that includes books for a variety of ages — from young children to adolescents — and add your own favorites to the comments below.

    • The Three Questions, by Jon J. Muth
“Yearning to be a good person, Nikolai asks, ‘When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?’ Sonya the heron, Gogol the monkey and Pushkin the dog offer their opinions, but their answers do not satisfy Nikolai. He visits Leo, an old turtle who lives in the mountains. While there, he helps Leo with his garden and rescues an injured panda and her cub, and in so doing, finds the answers he seeks. As Leo explains, ‘There is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.’ Moral without being moralistic, the tale sends a simple and direct message unfreighted by pomp or pedantry.” — Publishers Weekly
    • Cry, Heart, But Never Break, by Glen Ringtved
“This contemplative tale sprang from the depths of [Ringtved’s] own experience — when his mother was dying and he struggled to explain what was happening to his young children, she offered some words of comfort: ‘Cry, Heart, but never break.’ It was the grandmother’s way of assuring the children that the profound sadness of loss is to be allowed rather than resisted, then folded into the wholeness of life, which continues to unfold.” — Brain Pickings
    • Maddi’s Fridge, by Lois Brandt
“Hungry after playing in the park, Sofia opens the fridge in Maddi’s apartment and finds only a carton of milk inside. Maddi explains that her mom doesn’t have enough money for much else. Sofia is surprised but promises to keep her friend’s secret … The bright, friendly illustrations soften the topic while still conveying the characters’ difficult feelings, such as worry and embarrassment. Gentle, age-appropriate humor releases the tension, keeping readers engaged as Sofia discovers how to best help her friend. A note at the end offers suggestions for helping others in need. A thoughtful and well-executed look at the challenge of childhood hunger.” — Kirkus Reviews
    • The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth‘s message is bracing but benign: it calls on us to rise to the challenge of the world by paying proper attention to its wonder and difficulty. Boredom and depression are far from merely childish demons, not least because an adult has to battle them for so much longer. When [main character] Milo thinks at the book’s beginning that ‘it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty,’ it must strike a chord with every reader, young or old.” — The Guardian
    • The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Disguised as a children’s book, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella The Little Prince offers more wisdom in its very few pages than some authors can hope to produce in a lifetime. The fact that it’s been translated into more than 230 languages from the original French is proof that its message resonates worldwide.” — The Huffington Post
    • Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
“A few months shy of her 12th birthday, Margaret Simon is starting school in a new town and asking God some serious questions. Like, when is she going to get her period? What bra should she buy? And if her mom is Jewish and her dad is Christian, is she supposed to join the Y or the Jewish Community Center? Blume turned millions of pre-teens into readers. She did it by asking the right questions—and avoiding pat, easy answers.” — Time
    • One Good Deed, by Terri Fields
“Fields … present a pay-it-forward story that shows how one kind action — sharing some fresh-picked mulberries with an elderly neighbor, for instance — can turn an unfriendly neighborhood into one overflowing with generosity … A closing reference to these deeds as mitzvahs is the only religious element in the story — it’s clear that these actions cross all backgrounds and belief systems.” — Publishers Weekly
    • Steps and Stones: An Anh’s Anger Story, by Gail Silver
“Anh is left out of a recess play session, and his companion, Anger, a red-haired fellow wearing shoes remarkably like Anh’s, suggests a way of getting back at the boys who have left Anh out of their game. But Anh finds something else to do with his Anger: walking meditation, which yields some unexpected connections. This offbeat story makes the potentially cerebral topic of dealing appropriately with anger simple and delightfully visual.” — Publishers Weekly
    • Ilyas & Duck Search For Allah, by Omar S. Khawaja
Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah is an adorable adventure in which the two main characters go on a quest to look for Allah. One night, Ilyas wonders about the location of Allah and after discussing this with his good pal Duck, they concoct some ideas of where they might find Him. After encountering a number of unusual and interesting animals along the way, all of whom tell the duo something unique about themselves that Allah has created, Ilyas and Duck realise that they can’t actually see Allah like they can see the animals… Ilyas comes to the realisation that ‘We see Allah through all His creations. And through them we believe Allah to be true.’” — Read Little Muslims
    • Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth, by Emily Haynes and Sanjay Patel
“[Ganesha is] a kid with a wicked sweet tooth, which combined with his hubris leads him to bite into a jawbreaker candy that breaks his tusk. As he confronts his fear of being ridiculed for his ‘lopsided’ looks, complaining to his best friend Mr. Mouse, he runs into Vyasa, the poet. The old man tells the young elephant god that he’s been looking for him because he needed a scribe to write his poem about ‘the beginning of things,’ which was so long that ‘all the pens in the world would break before it was done.’ The two strike a deal for Ganesha to use his broken tusk to write the poem without stopping, as long as he understood the meaning of it all. And 100,000 verses later The Mahabharata was finished and the broken tusk that Ganesha once tried to toss away now had value and his looks were much less important.” — Entertainment Weekly
    • The Boy and the Ocean, by Max Lucado
“After playing in the waves with his mother, and hiking through a mountain with his father, the boy hears his parents offer a soothing refrain: ‘God’s love is like the mountains, my little boy… It’s always here./ It’s always big. It never ends. God’s love is special.’ … While the story communicates the spiritual benefits of parents exposing children to the natural world and sharing their beliefs about God, the artwork brings the message home.” — Publishers Weekly
    • What is God, by Etan Boritzer
“In a world increasingly torn by religious strife, the laudable motive behind this book is to try and answer the question “What is God?’’ and to give children a sense of universal brotherhood by celebrating similarities in differing religions. Boritzer starts off well, explaining some of the historical concepts of God, what the word religion means and how different religious groups worship.” — Publishers Weekly
    • When God Was A Little Girl, by David Weiss
“The author responds to his young daughter’s questions about God by telling the story of creation using the image of God as a little girl doing an art project. The race, ethnicity and age of the girl change from page to page. The girl-child God uses all manner of paint, song, glitter, colors, darkness, light and clay among her creative tools.People are created in ‘bunches’ and  ‘each one was a little different. Some were the color of deep, dark dirt; some looked like the pale sand on the beach. Some were boys and some were girls. Some were taller; some were shorter. Some were thin; some were round. And God thought they all looked just right!’” — Heidi Neumark, Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church
“Little Shaima plants a seed with her father in their front yard to grow a beautiful apple tree. Her father attempts to convince her that sharing whatever apples grow would be considered an act of charity. When apples finally grow on her tree, however, she becomes reluctant to share them with others. Then when she notices the happiness the apples bring to her friends, animals and birds, she begins to understand the merits of freely giving them away. This story follows Shaima’s inner struggle to overcome her own selfishness and discover the joy of sharing with others.” — Ruqaya’s Bookshelf
    • The Golden Rule, by Ilene Cooper
“A boy and his grandfather observe the phrase ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ on a billboard and begin to discuss the meaning of the words … Woven into this intergenerational exchange, Cooper offers interpretations of how the rule is stated in the holy books of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and other major religions.” — Publishers Weekly
    • God’s Paintbrush, by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
“This classic … uses questions and drawings to invite children to encounter God during moments and activities in their own lives. One kid thinks of a sunbeam as God’s paintbrush and wonders what color to paint the world today. Two children at the beach imagine that the rain is God’s tears and the giant waves with white foam on the top make God laugh. The author asks, ‘What do you think would make God cry or laugh?’ … The interactive approach of this wonder-inducing book encourages adults to join in the quest to discover God in the everyday.” — Spirituality & Practice