The Lion Book of Children's Prayers. Second Edition, By Mary Batchelor, Lion Pounds 7.99. 0 7324 0801 6 Age range: 9 and above
Prayer is notorious in its difficulty in any educational setting It raises problems of whether it is right to pray with or over children, or whether to offer prayers for them to listen to respectfully and join in if they feel able, or whether not to bother at all.
But prayer is not without difficulty in a religious setting either, in that most prayers "for children" are written by adults, who are retired and sometimes unsuccessful children, with their own particular axe to grind. Even books of "prayers by children" are sometimes their answers to silly tasks imposed by adults in the "draw a picture of God" vein, which adults can then goo over or sell in cute book form.
Sister Wendy believes that prayer is listening as well as talking and that looking at art is one way of listening to God. She encourages adults not to interfere with children reading her book, unless they need help with reading itself. On each double page a beautifully reproduced work of art is juxtaposed with a large print prayer (not always explicitly addressed to God) and a smaller print commentary on the theme and spiritual significance of the picture. Her 13 main pictures include the "Martyrdom of St Clement" by Bernardino Fungai, Ghirlandaio's "Old Man and a Young Boy", Romney's "The Gower Family" and Giotto di Bondone's "Kiss of Judas". Fans of Sister Wendy's television broadcasts will not be disappointed in these pages. She takes us into her meaning derived from the canvas in a few well-chosen words and children are not patronised in the process.
This is a resource within the realm of the spiritual. Sister Wendy's own welcome ends with the words "May all of us who read this book, of whatever age or religion, be prepared to listen to our God." In that sense the book is inclusive rather than exclusive. It is not written "for schools" or as an "assembly book" and there is no pretence that the writer is religiously or spiritually neutral, but for teachers to use with individuals or groups, or better, just to make it available for children to dip into, it has much to offer. Sister Wendy has offered something that speaks for itself and does not need the dull unpackaging we sometimes provide for children.
Lion has revised its Book of Children's Prayers originally published in 1977, which achieved world sales in a dozen languages. It has included new line drawings and an inclusive language text. A contents page lists the 40 themes, each including a short Bible quote. Prayers are included from some of the "greats" from Christian spirituality alongside prayers which appeal to ex-children like me and start like the one on page 62: For sausages, baked beans and crisps, For papers full of fish and chips, For ice cream full of chocolate bits, Thanks, God.
Alas, the list in verse two of this prayer gives thanks for "crabs we catch with bits of meat" which is not, I suspect, what the crab's prayer says, but with some 200 prayers to choose from one can edit or choose a different one.
Neither of these books is written directly for collective worship although Lion's is offered for "school assembly" among a whole range of possible uses. But in acts of collective worship in which teachers have decided - for better or worse - to use prayer, the Lion book will be found of help and in schools that wish to take seriously the idea of spiritual development, Sister Wendy's book should be available for children - and teachers - to read.