Quality Christian Literature for Kids

October 20, 2022

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Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast, where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the kids God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled you've joined me today for another episode.

Now, our question for today says, "To what extent would you suggest filtering what children read? I want my students to read quality literature, and there's not a lot of good Christian lit for kids if you don't want to compromise quality. So when I'm making mainstream books available for them, what is good and what is bad?" That's a great question, and sadly, it's a very accurate one, that there is not a lot of quality literature out there that's written by Christian authors, at least modern ones, that most of the Christian literature out there for kids, you're actually going to compromise some of the quality in that.

So when thinking about, okay, what do we want to present the children that God has placed in our care with? How do we do this well? Because we really want to create in them an appetite for what is good, for what is true, for what is beautiful, for the things that actually reflect the goodness, the truth, and the beauty of God. And so one thing that I would really encourage anyone listening to this to think through is just to think through who are these children that God has placed in your care? In order to know what's appropriate to present them with, we really have to know these kids well. We have to know what are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What are the things that they're naturally drawn to? And now this question has obviously come in from a teacher, and it can be really difficult to get to know all of the strengths, weaknesses, and proclivities of all the kids in a classroom. So that can just take time. But it's really important if you are a teacher and if you are in a classroom setting, to actually talk with the parents to get to know the kids better, because God has primarily given this responsibility of education and discipleship to parents.

Now, if you're a teacher in a Christian school, those parents, for part of the day, are actually giving over their authority to you, and they're having you do part of what they've been called to do. But that doesn't mean that they're no longer the primary ones who are called to this role of discipleship. So I would really encourage you to be very involved with the families if you're a teacher. One thing that I did when I was a teacher is I knew it's going to take me months to get to know these 25 plus students that God has placed in my care, where the parents of these children have already spent thousands of days with these children. And so what I would do is the first day of school, I'd just send out an email and I'd say, "Please stop by the classroom and just sign up for a 10 minute slot for a get to know you conference." And the first week of school for two hours after the school day, every day of that first week of school, I would just have back to back 10 minute short conferences with parents where I would just ask them questions about their kids. "Tell me what your kid likes. Tell me what he or she doesn't like. Tell me where they are spiritually. Tell me about their strengths and their weaknesses. Tell me about some of their anxieties and their fears."

And so this was a really helpful way for me to get to know 25 plus kids in my care much more quickly. It also did a really good job of just helping develop positive relationships with the parents, because as a Christian educator, my goal was to come alongside these parents, not to take away their job, not to overstep my boundaries, but to come alongside them in the discipleship process.

So if you find yourself in a classroom setting, whether that's in a Christian school or a Sunday school or a children's church, would really encourage you to talk with the parents because they're the ones who are the experts of their kids. If you are a parent, use your own knowledge of your child. What does he or she like? Not like? Strengths, weaknesses, the things that he or she is drawn to to really discern what things are appropriate for me to present to these kids.

Now, one thing that we need to be careful of is just knowing we cannot possibly monitor every single thing that is presented to the children who God has placed in our care. Now, if you're a parent with one, two, three, four children, doing so is a little bit easier unless you have a voracious reader. And then that becomes way more difficult because you can't possibly keep up with all that he or she is reading. And if you're in a classroom setting, it's really impossible to know what every single thing the kids in your care are being exposed to, even within your classroom. Just to have a classroom library that has sufficient books, you really can't read all of them. I remember there were some cases where I would order Scholastic books and I'd read the back of them and they'd sound good, and I'd put them in the school library and then over the summer, I'd grab one or two of them to go through just at the pool and sometimes I was shocked to think, "Oh my goodness, what is this doing in my classroom library?" So we need to be careful, but also realistic that we can't monitor everything. So what we need to do then, if we can't monitor every single thing that's going to come before them, what we need to do is we need to equip them to monitor themselves.

We need to equip them to be able to be self regulators of knowing is this good quality literature that's pointing me towards the truth? Or is this not quality literature that's not pointing me to the truth? Or is it even quality literature that's not pointing me to the truth? And so something that I always encourage, whether it's parents or educators or pastors to do, is equip kids to recognize messaging that's coming from an alternate worldview. Because if we equip kids just with transferable skills that they can apply in any and every situation, then they're going to be prepared for whatever confronts them.

Now, I know a lot of you watching have already taken the kids in your care through Foundation Comparative Worldview curriculum. And if you've done that, I know that you have seen these kids God has placed in your care systematically be equipped to recognize what are the different worldviews in our culture? Where are these worldviews present in the media? Where are they present in books? Where are they present in academics? So that they're prepared on their own to recognize claims from competing worldviews?

Now, when I started teaching Foundation Comparative Worldview curriculum, I had no intention of ever publishing it, no intention of stepping back from the classroom and starting a company to equip others to do the same thing. I just wanted to train the children that God had placed in my care and I realized that I was just leaving them very unprepared by not equipping them to recognize competing worldviews. So I just started creating the resources that are now in Foundation Comparative Worldview curriculum. And the amazing thing was, is that the students that I took through these materials just took what we learned and ran with it. They were starting to evaluate every idea that they encountered. And I remember one time my mom came to visit my classroom.

Now, at the time I was teaching just outside of Chicago and my parents lived just outside of New York City, and so they couldn't come too frequently to visit, but my mom was there and during the afternoon right after lunch, we would have 20 to 30 minutes of silent reading every day. And my mom was kind of chuckling to herself because she was watching me during silent reading time, and there was just a line of students at my desk who wanted to come up and show me the competing worldview claims that they had found in the books that they were reading. And they were so excited to be equipped to do this and it was a huge relief to me to know, okay, I can put books in my classroom.

Now, obviously, there's certain very important standards that we're not going to be putting books in that have sexually explicit content, we're not going to be putting books in that are encouraging our children to experiment in witchcraft or anything that would contradict scripture. But just in regular books, there might be a character that has an attitude or an action that doesn't align with scripture. And so we want the kids in our care to be prepared to recognize that. And that was what was so exciting for me when I started going through these materials with the kids that God had placed in my care, just seeing them be equipped and take these ideas and run with them.

Now, another thing to think through is if you're having Christian literature in your classroom, one thing that I'm very passionate about helping kids and parents and teachers understand, is that we don't want this false dichotomy that everything that's Christian is safe, and everything that's not Christian is not safe. I know the Mama Bears in the book, The First Mama Bear Apologetics book, talk about this, that we need to get good at chewing and spitting, chewing the good, spitting out what's not true. So we want to make sure that our kids understand that even in non-Christian works of literature, we can find truth. In a previous podcast episode, we talked about how to find truth in fiction works.

And we also want to help them understand that not everything that's labeled Christian means that it's actually good and true and beautiful. An example that I bring up frequently when talking about this is the series, The Dream Traveler's Quest by Ted Decker. It's advertised all over as kids Christian fiction. It takes place in a Christian school with Christian kids. There are Bible versus thrown throughout the series. However, those Bible verses have been pulled out of context. They're not actually meaning in their proper context what they sound like they're meaning in the book. And the series of books is anything but Christian, is actually panentheistic. If you're interested in more information about this, I did a whole webinar called The Dream Travelers Quest, Spotting the False Ideas. But we want to take our kids actually through some of these types of Christian literature that's not actually true, so that they don't have this false dichotomy that anything that's Christian is safe, anything that's not Christian is not safe.

I saw this in my own classroom. There was this one time where two girls came in after recess and they said, "Miss U, Miss U, we did a dance at recess. Can we show it to you?" And I said, "Sure," and so they started singing this sassy little Taylor Swift song and did this cute little dance and afterwards I said, "Oh, I see you worked really hard on that. You did a good job with that." And then I said, "I want to ask you about that song, though." I said, "How did we learn that humans, all humans have been created?" They said, "In God's image." I said, "Yes, I'm so happy you remember that. Now with the way Taylor Swift is singing about the boy in that song, is she talking about him like he's an image bearer." And they kind of looked at each other, and then they looked at me and they said, "No, but it's okay because she's a Christian." And so that just showed me that our kids can have this false idea that anything that's Christian is good, and we want them to understand that not just because something is labeled Christian, is it good. It actually has to align with what God has revealed in scripture.

Now, one big part of this question was what types of books should I actually choose to expose the kids in my care to? And so one thing that I would encourage is just buy quality literature. There's so little quality literature today, whether it's written by Christians or non-Christians. Because in the past, the goal of literature was always to point to truth, and really to get people thinking outside of themselves and to inspire them to actually live in a virtuous way, where over the past several hundred years, literature has just been broken down. Rather than being something that points us to aspire to, it's just kind of broken down to be something that just reflects the human condition. And if I need something that reflects the human condition, I can just sit and wallow in my own brokenness. But that's not what we want for our kids. We don't want something that just reflects the human condition. We want something that's actually going to point them outside of themselves to what is true.

So I highly recommend buy the classics. I know that it might be more difficult for children to understand, but buy the classics. Buy The Secret Garden, buy A Little Princess, buy The Chronicles of Narnia, buy Pilgrim's Progress. If you're looking for some modern classics, highly recommend that you check out The Rabbit Room, which is a creative collective of Christians who are writing songs and books, and they have a lot of great fiction there for kids. So just buy books that are actually going to point our children to something else.

Several months ago, I heard Andrew Peterson in concert at a Summit Ministries conference, and afterwards he was doing a A and A with the students, and one of the students had asked about art as a way of expressing themselves. And he said something that I just love and I will never forget and he looked out at the crowd and he said, "Art as a form of self-expression is a dead end." He said, "Don't create music. Don't write literature to express yourself. Write it to actually help people, to glorify your creator." And that's what we want. We want our kids to be immersed in literature that actually glorifies the creator through looking at and pointing at what is true and good and beautiful.

And the other encouragement that I would have as we're considering what type of literature to present to the kids in our care, we don't want to sanitize everything our kids are presented with. We want to equip them to biblically navigate the world in which we live. Because if we sanitize everything, if we just give them safe books, that everything is completely about Jesus, they're not going to be prepared to understand when they're actually confronted with competing truth claims. And a lot of times, books where the Gospel and things have just been really shoehorned into it, they're not actually quality literature. So we want to actually prepare our kids, to give them an appetite for what is true and good and beautiful, and also prepare them to recognize what are these competing ideas out there.

Just a story I usually think of when I think of not sanitizing, but equipping is my third year of teaching. Your first year of teaching, anybody who's been a teacher, you just get sick a ton because kids are little germ buckets. They carry around everything and anything and so your first year of teaching, you're exposed to a ton and you're just sick all the time. Your second year of teaching, you're still developing your immune system, you get sick a good amount, and then by your third year of teaching, you should be pretty good, just getting sick a normal amount. Well, just the opposite happened for me.

My first year of teaching, I got sick a lot. My second year of teaching, I got sick even more. And my third year of teaching, I had been on antibiotics eight times in the first semester for these repeated sinus infections I was getting. So eventually I went back to the doctor and I said, "Listen, I don't want to be on antibiotics for the rest of my life. I don't want to just treat the symptoms. I want to find out what is the root cause." And so the doctor sat me down and started asking questions and one thing that he found out is that I'm a germophobe. I am constantly washing my hands, but in the classroom that I was teaching in, it was a mobile classroom unit, basically a trailer in the school's parking lot, and it didn't have a sink. So I was using hand sanitizer 50 plus times a day. And what he said to me, he said, "Elizabeth, hand sanitizer is good before you're going to eat something, or before you're going to rub your eyes or nose." He said, "But during the other times throughout the day, I don't want you to use that." He said, "Because what happens is the hand sanitizer not only kills the bad bacteria and viruses, it also kills the good bacteria." He's like, "And it's not giving your body any time to get exposed to these different germs in small doses."

So he said, "By sanitizing your hands consistently, you're not preparing your immune system to fight back against what's out there." So he said, "I just want you to use hand sanitizer before you eat and before you touch your face." And you know what happened? When I started doing that something amazing happened, I stopped getting sick. I went ,I think it was four or five years without another sinus infection.

And so this is the same with our kids, that, yes, we want to be careful with what we expose them to. We don't want to overexpose them to things. We want to make sure we're exposing them to quality literature, but we also don't want to sanitize everything, because if we do, we're leaving them very vulnerable and ill prepared just to confront the many competing ideas that they're going to face in our world.

So just again, highly recommend, you immerse kids in the classics, check out the literature that's available in the Rabbit Room, and have intentional conversations with them about books that might not line up exactly with the Christian worldview.

Well, that's a wrap for today. I'm so glad that you joined me and as always, as we leave our time together, my prayer is that God would bless you as you continue to intentionally disciple the children that He's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.

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