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World Religion


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Children's Religion

Lovely Picture Book Introduces Children to Legend of Orpheus

Orpheus and Eurydice by Sybil Grafin Schonfeldt, illustration by Iassen Ghiuselev, translated by Pauline Hejl ((J. Paul Getty Museum) The tales of Orpheus have figured prominently in the arts throughout the ages. From ancient poems by Aeschylus and Euripedes, to countless sculptures and paintings, to movies celebrating his master musicianship, the legend of Orpheus has been revisited time and time again. Now, in a beautifully illustrated version of the Greek myth, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice is retold for children.

Orpheus and Eurydice traces the young life of Orpheus, son of the muse, Calliope. Raised by the muses and the nymphs and taught to play the lyre by Apollo, Orpheus grows up surrounded by song and dance. So enchanting is his gift for music that even wild animals, trees, and rocks are charmed. When his marriage to the oak nymph Eurydice is foiled by her sudden death, Orpheus ventures to the shadowy realm of Hades, god of the Underworld, hoping to bring back his true love. In tender song, so powerful that even the ghosts are brought to tears, Orpheus makes his plea to Hades.

Will Hades allow Orpheus to lead his lady back to the earth and sunshine? In this wonderful retelling of the story, young readers join Orpheus on his brave journey from the forest to the Underworld and back again. Along the way, they meet more characters from Greek mythology such as Hermes, Cerberus with his three heads, and the stone‑rolling Sisyphus. Featuring haunting color drawings, this new picture book shares a classic story with a new audience and reveals the origins of singing according to Greek mythology. For ages ten and up.

Judaism by Dorling Kindersley Publishing (Eyewitness Books: DK Publishing) Discover the history, faith, and culture that have shaped the modern Jewish world. With over 50 million copies sold in 88 countries and in 36 languages, Eyewitness Books are truly the ultimate visual information encyclopedias for the 21st Century. Carrying on the tradition of integrating words and pictures, this new title, Judaism is a timely addition to any library. It is especially appropriate for children who are exploring religions new to their experience and shows children of the religion in question distinctive traits that would interest most people. Christianity  by Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Philip Wilkinson (Eyewitness Books: DK Publishing) Explore the faith of Christianity -- from its origins to its role in the 21st Century. Carrying on the tradition of integrating words and pictures, this new title, Christianity is a timely addition to any library.

CHILDREN’S VISIONS OF HEAVEN AND HELL: Innocent Observations on the Afterlife, compiled by Timothy Freke (Triumph Books: $12.00, hardcover, 64 pages, color illustrations throughout, 0-7648-0089-2)

The children who shared their insights and pictures to create this little book are between six and nine years old. Most of the material was gathered using an innovative technique, inspired by traditional Native American practices, called children’s "Circle Time." In Circle Time a relaxed environment of mutual respect is created that enables the children to feel fine to communicate without inhibitions. It allows an adult to help the children to share their thoughts, without interfering or shaping them in any way. As the name suggests, the participants form a circle so that no one is at the front (not even the adult) and no one is at the back. Everyone is an equal part of the circle, like the spokes of a wheel. Just like the children on the beach in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the children in Circle Time pass round a conch shell or some other symbolic, tactile object. Only the child who holds the conch is allowed to speak, and everyone else is expected to listen attentively. A child who does not wish to speak may simply say "pass" and give the conch to his or her neighbor.

When the author first sat in on a Circle Time the children themselves explained the "rules" to me. Everyone could say whatever they wished, but they should not put anyone else down — not with words, or by laughing, or with horrible looks, or by embarrassing them. They should not name another child if they wanted to complain at being pushed around in the playground, for example, they would say "someone is bullying me" without naming the particular child in front of the group. They are encouraged to return home and discuss the contents of Circle Time with their families, but should not ascribe a comment to anyone, because everything said in Circle Time is confidential - although the adult makes it clear to the children that this does not include anything they may say that suggests they are in any danger.

At the beginning of Circle Time each child takes the Conch and says how he or she feels today - "happy," "bored," "excited," "tired," and so on. Children who are miserable may be made "special people" by asking them if they would like to sit in the center of the circle while everyone says something nice about them. Such building of self-esteem and mutual support is also encouraged by sharing "Golden Coins." The children can give a "Golden Coin" by saying something positive about another child - and they get two back in return Circle Time can also be used to promote gentle physical contact, using simple techniques like asking the children to stand up and gently tap the shoulders of the child in front. In such ways, social skills are developed and bad behavior like bullying is addressed constructively. Under the guidance of a sensitive adult, Circle Time is a simple and playful discipline that creates a safe and supportive space, bringing out of the children the type of wonderful observations about heaven and hell.

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