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One world, many faiths

David Self reviews new series for primary RE

GREAT RELIGIOUS LEADERS SERIES. Guru Nanak and Sikhism. By Rajinder Singh Panesar




Hodder Wayland pound;11.99 each

While this series is titled Great Religious Leaders, the space in each volume devoted to the founder or father of the faith is comparable to that given to other topics - the scriptures, teachings, festivals and sacred places. The books, therefore, serve as basic introductions to the world's major religions and are written in a style easily accessible to key stage 2 and 3 pupils.

They are also agreeably honest. The fact that Guru Nanak criticised aspects of Hinduism and Islam is not conveniently ignored. The violence of some of the Krishna stories is not glossed over. The divisions between Christian churches are mentioned, albeit charitably. The texts also eschew commitment and passion but are always objective. The overall result is not, however, merely clinical. Eye-catching photographs and colourful reproductions of traditional artwork from each faith combine to make this an immediately attractive series.

HOLY PLACES SERIES. The Ganges. The Golden Temple. The Vatican. By Victoria Parker

Bodh Gaya. Makkah. The Western Wall. By Mandy Ross

Heinemann Library pound;10.50 each

This series is surprisingly focused. Unlike so many similar series, it does not attempt to bridge a marketing department's concept of "upper primary, lower secondary". It is exactly right for KS2 - and the books also stick to their subject (holy places and pilgrimages to those places) rather than trying to embrace every aspect of a major world faith in 32 pages.

The Christian volume is particularly novel for a mainstream library or information book in that it deals exclusively with Roman Catholicism, explaining fully the roles of the Pope, the cardinals and the sacraments and explaining such customs as crossing oneself.

The Western Wall similarly does not play down Orthodox Jewish practices in favour of the wider, more liberal consensus favoured by many secular publishers. Perhaps inevitably the Hindu volume is the most complex but the books on Makkah (or Mecca) and Bodh Gaya (where the Buddha reached enlightenment) are models of simple, direct and unpatronising writing.

RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD SERIES. Buddhism. Christianity. Hinduism. Islam. Judaism. Sikhism. By Sue Penney. Heinemann Library pound;11.25 each

To say the least, this is an ambitious project. Using language appropriate to "younger and less able KS2 readers", each book attempts to describe the origins, history, beliefs, buildings, festivals and rites of passage of one of the major world faiths and to do this in 20 double-page spreads each of just 300 words.

Given these constraints, the books inevitably compress complex belief systems into a series of tidy facts and omit practices which many will consider significant. Despite this, Sue Penney's text is clear and easily followed. The colour photographs are also attractive, even if some are more decorative than informative.

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