Beliefs and practices

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Paul Noble recommends information books that enable children to compare different faiths

THE FACTS ABOUT...SERIES: Christianity, Judaism, Islam. By Alison Cooper. Hodder Wayland pound;11.99 each, hardback

CELEBRATIONS AND RITUALS SERIES: Winter Celebrations, Everyday Celebrations and Rituals, Marriage Celebrations, End-of-Life Rituals, Celebrating Prophets and Gods. Cherrytree Books pound;10.99 each, hardback

The Facts About...series is a beautifully illustrated, well designed set of books that lays out the basic facts about the beliefs and practices of these three major religions in a manner that is hard to fault.

Clarity of text and illustration is perhaps their most valuable asset.

Alison Cooper writes in a positive and relatively undemanding way, notwithstanding the inevitable leaven of specialist terminology. The latter raises the reading level somewhat, but competent 10-year-olds should manage perfectly well; words such as lulav and etrog, Faqh and Hadith, ordination and incarnation will have to be learned along the way.

Writers on religious themes are being driven by social imperatives to ignore the conventions of historians and eschew the use of ad and bc. This author does not buck the trend, thus we learn that "the correct date for the birth of Jesus is c.4bce, not ce1". You will also find Makkah (for Mecca) and one of many modern and, to many, unfamiliar renderings of the Lord's Prayer. The reason for the latter bit of gratuitous cultural vandalism escapes me. Nevertheless, these are fine books and an asset to any library shelves.

Organisation by themes is a well-tried strategy for presenting encyclopedic information in a way that is accessible and friendly to children. But this strategy brings its problems, not with the information, but with the boxes into which it is put. For example, to find out about the heroic action of Rosa Parks, who in 1955 refused to give up her seat on an all-white bus in Alabama, would a child go to a book called Winter Celebrations? That is where it can be found, in the Celebrations and Rituals series. And even within the titles, there can be a problem when the content is arranged broadly geographically. Are there not Muslims in Indonesia and Christians in Africa? Yet an enormous and wide-ranging amount of data is contained inside the sturdy covers of these volumes, so I recommend readers to pick at the text like magpies. Your reward will be juicy titbits about the night of the radishes, gay unions, the togu na, and the bread of the dead.

Absolutely fascinating stuff this, but don't try to read a book from beginning to end, it will give you a headache.

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