THE FIRST BOOK OF FESTIVALS. By Anita Ganeri. Evans Brothers pound;9.99. www.evansbooks.co.uk
Festivals are a popular starting point for a study of another faith because they are so accessible. Read the story, make the cakes, and tick off another world religion.
That's the theory, but it doesn't quite work like that, because most festivals have developed over centuries, picking up layer on layer of meaning and symbolism in the process. They are complex, untidy events which vary from country to country, and their religious significance is often overlaid by local or family traditions.
That's not an easy idea to get across, particularly to young children, and two new resources which tackle the problem have varying success. The second in the series A Child's Eye View of Festivals is intended for children in the early years and, like its predecessor, it has a very clear understanding of its audience. The package includes a DVD (or video) and four posters, each linked to a different festival. In each case a short documentary-style programme follows a young child celebrating the festival at home and at school.
The strength of this approach is that it shows the celebrations in context.
The children are presented as part of a wider community. The customs may seem exotic but they are shown against the familiar backdrop of Southall, Manchester and Liverpool. And the range of activities - at home and at school, with parents, neighbours and classmates - helps to get across the rich and varied nature of each celebration.
The school activities provide plenty of opportunities for first-hand experience. Children wonder at baby chicks, plant little gardens and make music. And, although the programmes are aimed at very young children, there is a real spiritual dimension. As part of the celebration of the Buddhist festival of Wesak, children make a thinking house where they can sit and meditate. During Lent they make a promise tree and think about becoming a better person. Highly recommended.
The First Book of Festivals is rather less ambitious. It takes a traditional route, featuring key festivals from the six main world faiths.
Background information for adults consists of a brief introduction to each faith and a few sentences of context for the festivals. For each festival there is a package consisting of a read-aloud story, two large colour photographs and a couple of pages of classroom activities.
These last rely heavily on cutting and sticking and will not unduly challenge the teacher or pupils. Compared with the DVD pack, it's a two-dimensional approach , long on information but short on awe and wonder.