The Spirituality of Children’s & YA Literature

What does it mean for a book to be spiritual?

One goal for this blog is to intentionally discuss the spirituality of children’s and young adult literature. Along with other issues, I’m interested in how books written for a younger audience engage the spirit of the reader, or how books speak to the authentic core of the reader.

Some writers have defined spirituality in children as connected to the “authentic” or “real self.” How might stories engage this dimension of readers? Can a book encourage readers to wonder about the big questions in life such as “Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?” and “What is my purpose in life?”

These ideas are all related to the spirituality of children’s literature!

I’m not talking about whether a book is religious, though certainly stories with religious themes might be spiritual. What I’m interested in: the spiritual aspects of stories.

There is a difference between the religious and the spiritual. At the same time, some books  talked about on this blog might have BOTH: religious AND spiritual aspects.

Walter Wangerin, writer in residence at Valparaiso University writes that “the experience of a good story is always profoundly spiritual, because it helps children connect with deeper truths and ultimate meanings in life, as well as move them into a different realm that transcends everyday life and the world as youngsters usually see it” (qtd. In Ratcliff with May, 2004, p. 12). So, the reading experience could be classified as spiritual, even if perhaps, the actual story might not be considered spiritual at first glance.

In thinking further about what makes a story spiritual, I agree with what Gladys Hunt writes in her book about selecting literature for young people: “A sense of permanent worthwhileness surrounds really great literature. Laughter, pain, hunger, satisfaction, love, joy—the ingredients of human life are found in depth and leave a residue of mental and spiritual richness in the reader” (p. 51). Even though Hunt’s book was published several decades ago, its ideas still ring true.

With these  thoughts in the back of my mind, I embark on a journey that will probably be filled with unexpected twists and turns as I read, ponder over, wonder about, reflect on, and discuss the complex and wondrous texts of children’s and young adult literature. Along with you, the reader, parent, educator, and writer, I pose the question: “What is the spirit of children’s literature?”

4 thoughts on “The Spirituality of Children’s & YA Literature

  1. Although I feel many books which are not necessarily spiritual still can have a positive effect on children. With that said, I feel parents should be aware of what their children are reading. Even with “spiritual” books concepts can be misunderstood. It is important to discuss & have open communication with our children from a very young age. Find what their interpretation and view of the story are.

    • I do agree with you–there can be misunderstanding, and listening to children from a young age share their ideas about a text is so important! Our background and worldview can play such a large role in what we think about a story…

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