07 September 2010

Catching Up with the Cybils

The 2011 Cybils season has started with an invitation to bloggers to volunteer as panelists and judges. I’ve been a judge in different categories each year since the Cybils began, and enjoy the chance to sample the best of the latest children’s literature and to discuss those books with dedicated and knowledgeable critics. It’s a very rewarding experience!

This seems to be a good time to finish posting my thoughts on runners-up for last year’s Non-Fiction Picture Book Award. The winner we chose was The Day-Glo Brothers, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani, as discussed back here. But it was one of an impressive group.

Another shortlisted title was Faith, created by Maya Ajmera, Magde Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon for the Global Fund for Children. Like other GFC books, this is a photo-essay showing children all over the world.

The photos are big, bright, and varied. They come with a lot of verbal information, in the captions on the same page and in the back of the book. Out of 48 total pages, 9 are commentary and glossary and 36 primarily photographs.

In the end, I’m not sure the book gets to the essence of religious faith, however. It shows those parts of the human phenomenon that are (a) photographable, and (b) uncontroversial. The pictures show young people singing, for example, but the captions don’t say what they’re singing. In emphasizing the similarities among the behaviors shown, the book doesn’t acknowledge the differences among religions, or how big people make them.

Indeed, at the end the book states, “We respect others, making friends and building peace,” as a final unifier. It does not acknowledge how people—including people with good intent—have often used religious belief as a justification or accelerant for disrespecting others, making enemies, and going to war.

Readers couldn’t tell from Faith that most religions come with:

  • origin myths describing the birth of the universe and of the faith itself.
  • moral codes that combine basic precepts and traditional customs, sometimes at odds with those principles.
  • explanations of what happens after death.
  • statements or presumptions that this form of religious observance is correct, and others are more or less wrong—more wrong sometimes condemning others to second-class treatment and/or everlasting punishment.
Nor does the book discuss how many of those tenets are unprovable and taken on, well, faith.

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