In 96 large pages this book describes the major religions of the world, how they began, what their beliefs and ideas are, how much they overlap or differ, and their practices. It consists of over forty double spreads, each tackling a different issue such as festivals, rites of passage or peace and conflict. Although a double spread with pictures and big print does not contain a lot of words, the book is remarkably thorough in the ground which it covers. At first reading I was not aware of any major issues which it had ducked, though clearly there are sizeable minority religions or denominations which have not been covered. It should be noted that atheism and agnosticism are both given due prominence.
Writing about religions in a way which makes the subject matter interesting to children and without being partisan is very difficult. The author has to respect all the religions and the views of their adherents, even if they do not hold those views themselves.
There may be people who hold that their beliefs are the only true ones or that their beliefs are better than those held by people of other faiths. They may find the book disappointing, because it is very even-handed. Such people may feel that the main message is that all beliefs are equally good and that it does not therefore matter what people believe.
I think that such a judgement would not be fair. Rather than reducing all religions to their lowest common denominator, What Do You Believe? makes all of them sound interesting and should encourage children to think. In my opinion this is the point of education.
In short, I think that this is a commendable book, and it should be in every school, including those which adhere to specific faiths. Clearly, there are limits to the material a book of this length can carry, but if children want to read more there are plenty of other sources of material and this book will have fulfilled its task in encouraging them to do so.
Dorling Kindersley are to be commended not only on the content of the book, but as always the design and layout of their material is brilliant – attractive, colourful, signposting well and emphasising the key issues without shouting too much at the reader.
Star, Fleur et al (2011) What Do You Believe?
Dorling Kindersley, London
ISBN : 978-1-40536-285-6