I was thinking of writing an article encouraging homeschool teachers to include at least one Orthodox children’s book in regular language arts curriculum each year. This led to the idea of making a list of children’s books by grade level. And that led to my best effort at compiling a master list of Orthodox Christian children’s books written in English and currently in print.
No doubt I’ve missed some. The world is a big place, and so is the internet. It wouldn’t be hard for a little Orthodox book, or even a little publisher, to escape my notice.
This list will need constant updating if it is to become a lasting and useable resource. But it is at least a beginning.
The list is housed in a Google spreadsheet. At this writing, there are 182 entries, and I am aware of at least 6 more titles that will release before the end of 2021. That’s a lot of books!
The spreadsheet makes some attempt to include notes on what’s in the books, what they could be used for in a Sunday school or homeschool classroom, or for family reading. That part is very incomplete for the simple reason that I’ve read or even seen only a fraction of these books.
TRENDS I NOTICED
Without reading every book on the list, my insights are limited. Based simply on the covers, blurbs, and other readily available details, I noticed several things.
1 – The number and quality of Orthodox children’s books appear to have increased greatly in the last 10 or so years.
2 – Orthodox children’s literature is largely catechetical.
3 – Fiction is rare.
4 – Books of any kind for older children are rare.
5 – The quality and style of illustrations varies widely.
6 – Board books are relatively new in this market, but they are popular and more are being published.
WHAT I THINK
People want good books to support their children’s faith. The number of newer publishing houses and their offerings suggests an active effort to fill the holes for this market. The larger Orthodox publishers in the United States have expanded and improved their children’s line in the last decade. Also, with the evolution of technology and publishing resources, smaller companies can form and produce professional-quality books for niche markets in ways that were not possible in the past. I saw some books and companies I felt were a direct result of this evolution. This is encouraging. I love to see people spend fruitful effort on what matters to them.
One question kept recurring to me as I worked on the list. How many of these books would a child read spontaneously? Are these books children would choose for themselves? Are we simply producing the kind of book an adult makes you read?
On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with reading books you were told to read because you need to learn the information they contain. This is a healthy life-long discipline we should acquire as children. Every aspect of our spiritual life can sometimes require self-compulsion, and the care and love that has gone into creating the books on this list make them accessible and valuable.
That said, I freely admit I was a child best reached through her imagination. Even as an adult, I often find myself most drawn to things I’ve encountered first in fictional settings. Stories are the way I find and remember meaning.
The books I’ve written for children are all either fiction or creative non-fiction (for example, an incident from the life of Saint Ia, told imaginatively in simple language). I don’t feel qualified to write instructional non-fiction.
I say these things to be clear about my perspective. In my mind, the height of excellence in children’s literature is achieved when some great truth shines directly into a child’s heart through a beautifully crafted, genuinely engaging story. In that context, the distinction between what is and is not Christian literature fades. If you are a Christian wherever you go, you can encounter and ponder your faith in fiction as well as non-fiction.
I know not everyone is like me. I know that many child THRIVE on non-fiction reading. I believe Orthodox children need and want more of every kind of book. When you consider how many secular books a child can read in the course of a childhood, 182 Orthodox books is not many at all.
For my part of the effort, this list urges me to keep working on Orthodox-infused fiction for children. It’s a craft that takes practice. A weak story wobbling under the weight of a catechetical agenda accomplishes little. God grant me strong stories that carry something essential with love and grace.