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Grand designs;Secondary;Reviews;Religious Education

WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? RELIGION. By Anita Ganeri. Hodder Children's Books pound;3.99. WHOSE GOD IS IT, ANYWAY? By Marc Gellman and Thomas Hartman. Bodley Head pound;10.99.

It's a beguiling picture - older children and young teenagers taking time out to read a paperback about the nature of religion. Handed either of these remarkably similar books, they might just do that. These are thought-provoking and rewarding tours of a subject that can indeed engage a young reader's curiosity and imagination.

Both books start at the same point. In one we read: "Religion helps to provide BIG answers to the BIG questions of life." The other begins: "A religion is a collection of big answers to the really big questions." Both go on to cover topics such as the nature of God, codes for living, holy books and rites, the problems of suffering and life after death. Neither shirks the fact that religions have caused wars, bred fanatics and encouraged hatred.

What differentiates the books is that Anita Ganeri writes as an observer of the scene. Marc Gellman (a rabbi) and Thomas Hartman (a Catholic priest) write as committed believers with an open, non-judgmental approach to their subject - and have a foreword by the Dalai Lama no less.

The books also have rather differing styles. Anita Ganeri's book is decorated with cartoons on every page and a wild variety of jazzy typefaces. Whose God Is It, Anyway? is more sedate (and twice the length - hence the difference in price) without being staid. Here the Ten Commandments come in wordings such as "Don't even think of having another God!" or "Only make love to the person you marry!" Both books will appeal to young adults. And both will work (with adult mediation) in the primary age range. Best of all, both manage to reassure the reader that you don't have to say goodbye to your intelligence if you embrace a faith.

David Self

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