For this weeks post, let’s talk about Mormonism for kids. You may not realize this if you are a casual reader, but every perm here at W&T has a weekly slot. Mine is Tuesday morning. That’s why there is a regular stream of entertaining and informative posts here. It’s a nice system, contrasted with group blogs where perms just post whenever they want to, which might be three posts in one day or none for a week or two. During the week I’m always on the lookout for good post material.
So over Thanksgiving I was visiting with family. Lots of people in the house, a few kids and a few pets running around, I needed a break. Went over to Barnes & Noble to browse in a nice, quiet bookstore for an hour or two. [I bought The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan, because I feel like I ought to buy books at brick-and-mortar bookstores once in a while so Amazon doesn’t take over the world.] I hit my favorite sections: History, Philosophy, and Religion/Theology. Most of the religion section is now religious fiction, self-help/spirituality stuff, and so forth. There was a new section: Christianity for Kids. Now that’s an interesting topic. I wonder what Evangelicals think their kids ought to be reading about Christianity? Let’s review some titles, then come back around to the same question for Mormonism.
Not being a Millennial, I didn’t do the obvious thing and take a picture of that section with my smart phone camera. But here are some books I pull up at the Barnes and Noble site under that topic:
Cold-Case Christianity for Kids: Investigate Jesus with a Real Detective. A review comment explains, “Cold-Case Christianity for Kids is an engrossing read that shows kids steps for being a good detective. There are two cases that are worked out: one is a fictional case about a mysterious skateboard and the second is the case that has to do with Jesus and if he was real.”
Why Christian Kids Rebel: Trading Heartache for Hope. Okay, this one is directed at the parents. The author has also written the helpful Grace-Based Parenting (this sounds like a nice alternative approach to LDS obedience-based parenting) and Little House on the Freeway. The blurb says the book “helps Christian parents avoid the potential problems their well-meaning parenting styles could create. This book offers a new way to look at the ‘ideal’ Christian home and shows why ‘cocoon-style’ Christian homes don’t always work.”
Christianity for Kids. For the serious-minded Christian kid. “This book is meant for reading-age kids to help them better understand the Christian faith. It provides easy-to-read chapters which cover the entire Biblical message from Creation, to the Fall, to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, to how God is with us, to the content of our Christian hope.”
And I’m sure there is some Christian fiction directed at kids and teens. I’m not poking fun at any of these titles or the specific topic. Just like LDS parents, Christian parents are worried about the religious faith of their growing kids, the challenges they face, and their general well-being. Some of them are likely happy with what the kids are taught in their church, others not so happy, and some don’t attend any church but nevertheless want some help teaching their kids something about their personal faith or their view of Christianity.
So here’s the thought question for this post: What could be or should be or is taught to kids in the LDS Church? If there is a Mormonism for Kids section at Deseret Book, what is or should be in it? Some readers may have actual LDS books they read as a kid and liked or learned something from. There may be some books on the shelf that fit the bill (see below). There’s a more general question about religious pedagogy or educational theory: What and how should kids be taught about (for example) the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith or polygamy or LDS history? I’m not sure the LDS curriculum for youth really gives much consideration to educational theory or content. The focus seems to be more on indoctrination and training kids to do the right Mormon things (pay tithing, go to church, go on a mission, marry in the temple, pay tithing) than on the content of what to teach them and how it should be taught. So the question of what to put in the Mormonism for Kids section of a bookstore is largely separate from the Sunday or seminary curriculum. They’re just trying to indoctrinate your kids. You are trying to teach them something important. What and how to do so?
The only title I found at the Deseret Book site (I’m not really looking very hard) is The Book of Mormon for Young Readers. One that I somehow got on my bookshelf but never read and certainly did not give to my kids is Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites, which involves some time travel back to Nephite times. One that I read as a teenage convert was Jack West’s The Book of Mormon on Trial, which is now available at a website sponsored by the author (and with an updated title: The Book of Mormon: Another Witness of Jesus Christ on Trial).
A related issue is whether Mormon kids read books anymore. They read Harry Potter, but I’m not sure they actually read a book about the Church until they get to seminary or the MTC and attempt to read the Book of Mormon. But I’m going to put that question aside and hope they read a book if you get them the right one. And as I noted above for Christian books, I’m not poking fun at any of the titles I listed. LDS parents have a sincere concern with the faith of their kids, the challenges they face, and what they are taught or not taught in church about the Church, the scriptures, and about Mormonism in general.
So here is what you might share in the comments:
- What book did you as an LDS kid read and enjoy or learn from?
- What have you bought for your own kids that worked out?
- What book about Mormonism for kids do you wish someone would write?
Back in the day, there was the illustrated Book of Mormon series that we read when I was young. I loved it, but mostly because pretty pictures and such. The actual story took a distant, fourth row in a Ford Excursion-like backseat.
I think you are absolutely correct. Mormonism does not attempt to create knowledgeable young members; it indoctrinates. So, I wish someone would write a book that puts Mormonism in a broader review of Christianity. It’s nearly impossible to understand Mormonism as a uniquely American movement influenced by the KJV Bible and a regional religious fervor, including other sects, without this kind of review. It would probably also help if Mormonism were to give young members more of a grounding in Christian history that included the early church, the importance of Constantine’s conversion, the Inquisition, the Reformation, Martin Luther, Calvinism, etc. Mormonism often acts like it is an American religious island sprung anew, but you can’t really have Christian doctrine that mostly ignores the history of the Christian church.
None of this will happen. Indoctrination simply works better when the goal is to keep them in the pews and paying tithing.
Our kids had the illustrated children’s scripture story books published by the church, and The LDS Children’s Encyclopedia by Wright and Huntington. Plus the Friend and New Era. I quite liked the encyclopedia. It compared well with other children’s encyclopedias and reference books. Otherwise they could help themselves to the Institute manuals on the shelves, and a book about world religions.
Growing up in the church I would help myself to whatever was available to read at home . I do remember there were a couple of books that I think were church history, weren’t especially long or difficult to read, so perhaps written for a younger audience. One was about Brigham Young. I can’t remember at all what it was called. We had bookshelves in the alcoves either side of the chimney, and I recall being very interested in a book on the top shelf that from a distance read like ‘a seven day adventure’. One evening, as an avid reader, desperate for some new adventure story, I scaled the bookcase to fetch it down, only to discover it was a book about Seventh Day Adventists. My parents also had the penguin translation of the Koran. And history books about Aztecs and Incas. But for my 8th birthday I was given my own copy of the KJV Bible (before the days of the current church footnoted edition) and for my 9th birthday my own copy of the Doctrine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. The Book of Mormon was as it is today handed out widely so it wasn’t necessary for it to be a specific gift.
When I was twelve years old I would spend hours on end reading McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” (yes, I was weird). My parents found my dogmatic attitude about it rather annoying. The iron thing is that, as an adult, I don’t take McConkie very seriously anymore – I’m not a “nothing died before Adam and blacks are the seed of Cain” kind of Mormon.
I love this topic, but I’m not sure my answers will be in line with what is expected. hahaha
Here is what I remember reading.
Illustrated scriptures, often with the audio tape that beeped to tell you when to turn the page. I can still remember that when the narrator said someone was a “wicked man” it sounded so horrible.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s a Christian allegory. Not exactly LDS, but great for anyone.
1 Nephi. Over and Over again. Sometimes I continued through 2 Nephi and into Mosiah. Always I lost energy and would eventually quit for a while and start over.
Genesis. Over and Over again. I loved the stories from Genesis, but I never continued on through the rest of the Old Testament.
The Bronze Bow. Not an LDS book; it is a Newberry Award winner about a young Jewish man living in the time of Jesus.
Age 11 and up
Mormon Doctrine. The second-worst LDS book ever, but I loved it at the time. This was sitting on the bookshelf and I think I had to prepare a lesson or talk for family home evening one time, and discovered this book. What a revelation! For years I would pull it off the shelf and read entries through out. Bruce didn’t mince words, and I loved how straightforwardly it laid down the law. Also, it pretty much convinced me I was going to go to hell… er, the Telestial Kingdom. By the way, if you have a copy of this book, hide it from your kids. Or burn it. Reading this is Bad News for impressionable teenagers. Just sayin.
Ender’s Game. Okay, this is not LDS, but the author, Orson Scott Card, is. The moral of the story is, well, maybe a bit Christian-ish. If you stretch it. Come on.
The New Era. I read most every issue as it came out. I’m not recommending it to my kids.
Watership Down. Another one that isn’t LDS. Not really even Christian. Why am I including it here? Maybe just because I feel like it. But I think the interesting thing about Watership down is that it is really about the courage and cleverness of a bunch of rabbits. I’m reminded of Brene Brown and how she says that in order to show courage, you have to be vulnerable. This is way the rabbits of Watership Down are good point-of-view characters for stories about courage.
Age 14 and up
All the scriptures, mainly for seminary.
Jesus The Christ. This was good, but I didn’t really finish it until I went on a mission. It is a good devotional text, but I think its “harmony” approach to the Gospels is outdated.
Age 17 and up
The Miracle of Forgiveness. Hated it from beginning to end. This has got to be the worst LDS book ever. Number one. I’m so glad this is out of print. I was given a copy by my parents one year and read some of it. Then I read it again at the instruction of my bishop as I was preparing to go on a mission. I don’t know why anyone thought this was a good idea. I still have it somewhere; I wonder if I will find peace if I find and destroy my copy….
BTW, the Tennis Shoes books are not so bad, as fiction goes. You could do much worse.
Rockwell, I’ll admit you had me wondering what was the worst LDS book ever — and then you satisfied that curiosity. I might have thought those two pretty well tied for first place in the worst category (though there are plenty of runners-up, their reach and popularity probably wins), then on second thought, but again on damage done, you may be right about first and second place.
My parents were pretty awesome LDS parents and did their best to raise us in the Gospel, but oddly enough, we very rarely did scripture study together. I didn’t read the Book or Mormon all the way through until seminary. I glanced at the illustrated scriptures from time to time, and their video counterparts. My mom did try reading us a novelization of the Book of Mormon once (I believe the handbook discourages such versions) but we only made it a couple of chapters in. It wasn’t bad, and I’d be curious to be able to find it again. Our FHEs were pretty powerful, which I’d say was a major contributor to me remaining active LDS today.
Although I did have a copy of “Tennis Shoes” growing up, I never did read it. It was Heimerdinger’s book “Eddie Fantastic” that was perhaps the most “LDS youth” book I’ve read. I don’t think the Church was mentioned, but it caused some introspection many other youth books lacked at the time.
My Dad read us “The Hobbit,” the Danny Dunn books, “David and the Phoenix,” and a few others, all of which left lasting impressions and taught good principles. I’ve ready my own kids The Fablehaven series. If I didn’t already know Brandon Mull was LDS I would strongly suspect he was after reading the series. There’s nothing too overt or obviously intentional, but no author can write anything without putting something of themselves in there. Mull got a bit of his LDS self in it.
In addition to his Far Side collection, I read through quite a few of my dad’s Cal Grondahl and Pat Bagley LDS cartoon collections. That taught me pretty early on that LDS can laugh at themselves from time to time. I know we’re often painted as uptight and prudish, but I think we can laugh at ourselves more than most religious groups I’ve come in contact with.
I honestly didn’t feel indoctrinated growing up, but I felt like I was shown a lot of principles and was invited to test them. I wouldn’t mind seeing an LDS youth book that highlights that process a little more and engages the reader in the possiblities the can come from it.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Funny how lots of people put Mormon Doctrine and Miracle of Forgiveness in the “very bad books, especially for kids” category — yet they were popular in their time and bishops in particular seemed to assign Miracle of Forgiveness to sinners of any age as some sort of aid to repentance. My line on MoF is that the book teaches that in Mormonism it would take a miracle to achieve forgiveness.
Rockwell, I avoided CS Lewis fiction but did read Watership Down. I even read Shardik (by the same author). The more I think about it, the more I think maybe fiction is the best vehicle for reaching kids, but that Christian themes and principles are easier to weave into a story than are uniquely Mormon themes and principles.
I hear you Believing Joseph and Rockwell. I loved Mormon Doctrine as a teenager and now I hide it from my kids. I don’t push any religious books on my kids. They all love reading and I just want them to be kids and let their imaginations run wild. There is a time and a season.
Regarding Mormon Doctrine and BRM, I read this the other day and found it highly entertaining:
His time has past
And now God will know
Truth at last
This is a cop-out and not applicable to non-musicians… the text that meant the most to me as a teenager was hymns. I played the piano and as I leaned the hymns, they became a source of comfort to me. That went to the next level when I took private organ lessons at BYU where my professor taught me how to play hymns with musicality.
Today, as an agnostic member of the church, hymns are the only text I “read” on a regular basis. I rarely read scriptures, lesson manuals, and church books, but I listen to the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square every Sunday morning on YouTube. It all started with the simplified hymn book at age 11.
Mormon Doctrine and Miracle of Forgiveness had me convinced I was going straight to hell. Very difficult for a teenager to think one of the things he did (masturbation) was second to murder in the hierarchy of sin. Years of therapy have helped. Worst books ever written! Did enjoy the Tennis Shoes books with my kids.
Dave B, I agree fiction is probably the best way to reach children. In fact, younger kids have trouble telling fact from fiction anyway. (Adults have a hard enough time, too, lol).
I confess, none of my fictional suggestions have uniquely Mormon themes, that I can think of right now. For some of them, Christian themes may be a stretch as well.
Some good titles for Millennials:
The Screw-tape Letters, CS Lewis
Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy
Federalist #10, James Madison
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung
Approaching Zion, Hugh Nibley
Jesus the Christ, James Talmage
A Little Book of Coincidence, John Martineau
Opening the Seven Seals, Richard Draper
Worlds Without End, John Lewis
I’m reading Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon with my kids age 9 and up. It’s been a good experience.
Didn’t read much LDS literature growing up. My dad had copies of MD and MoF. I don’t remember a thing from MD and the only part of MoF I remember is the ridiculous Cain is Bigfoot story.
If there is any book that all youth should be required to read, though, it’s Candide by Voltaire.
I remember reading Shakespeare (7th grade). Most of the stuff Rockwell and Travis and others mentioned (other than scriptures) came later.
Good luck getting contemporary 7th graders to read Shakespeare; most of them are not nerds given to escaping into serious literature in what is to them a foreign language. But I know a few who have. (The ones I know are family.) There’s stuff to be learned in Shakespeare; some of it can simply be absorbed without full understanding. I’m less convinced that Voltaire’s Candide is helpful unless you also teach the youth what satire is and the content and motivation of Leibnizian optimism..
Thanks for the comments, everyone. Lots of good ideas here.
Travis … Federalist 10 for kids?
lehcarjt, I forgot about Adam Miller’s book. Definitely on the list.
JR, it strikes me that problems getting kids to read “serious literature in what to them is a foreign language” applies to the BoM as well as Shakespeare. And thus it came to pass in the two hundred and forty-ninth year of the Republic, the youth in the land of Zion began to have great difficulty reading, even unto the avoiding thereof, the word of God, inasmuch as it was written in the language of their fathers, wherefore the leaders of the church of God began to be greatly disturbed.
Two works that bookend my childhood:
Genuine Mormons Don’t Shoot Seagulls by Jack S Bailey.
And the book my dad had which was just talks by general authorities on why R and X rated movies where the worst thing.
That and like others getting hooked on Nibley and McConkie in my early teens.
Man,I’m messed up.
Personally, I think that copies of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” should be used for kindling when building campfires or fires in the fireplace. What a horrible, horrible creation. It messed up so many of my generation; and I frequently curse the writer – for the shame he un-necessarily brought into our lives!
Lefthandloafer; Thank you and AMEN!!!!
LDS fiction was extremely popular with my friend group in high school (I graduated 2008 in Idaho) . I remember the Tennis Shoes books, and with The Work and the Glory movie we all read all that entire series. I remember specifically once called “The Secret Journal of Brett Colton” that was more popular in my area than Twilight (and came out about the same time). I also remember one novel about a BYU rape victim that made some objectionable claims that st the time I took as gospel.
I was also give a copy of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” by a bishop and I was secretly horrified, though I never would have expressed that to anyone at the time.