CIIILDREN'S books of every sort have improved and expanded so excitingly over the past few years that it isn't surprising religious books for children contain a few surprises for those of us brought up on the old-style plaster-saint kind. And they are almost incomparably better than they were 15, 20 or 30 years ago. It isn't just that the old milk-and-water pictures have gone; the whole milkand-watery tone of the texts has gone too.
Take a book like The Bible for Young Christians — The Old Testament (Geoffrey Chapman, 21s.), with text by A. M. Cocagnac and Rosemary Haughton, illustrations by Jacques Lescanff and Psalms by the Grail. Here is a book that makes the Creation majestic. as in Genesis, but credible to the young child who knows his fossils, his dinosaurs, who has his private visions of a past splendid beyond imagination, perhaps, but not beyond belief.
When I was a child we took Genesis and Eden literally, and I well remember the uneasiness engendered by the soft line taken in circumstances that were anything but soft. "How God must have enjoyed Himself naming all the little animals," my particular schoolbook said, putting it straight into Mabel Lucie Atwell-land.
Surely today's child, with his thrilled understanding of the wonders of evolution, of the infinitesimal growths and changes of structure, of the enormities of nature, the whole scale of bigness and smallness, the child who can conceive of light years and microscopic sizes, is more likely to see God in a context of glory and grandeur and infinity and careful love than the child only a generation ago who was told the world popped up. like a conjuror's rabbit, one fine day 'a few thousand years ago, more or less as we now know it.
Here, God is shown backed by one of those outsize models of molecular structures, the whole range of extinct life is suggested in drawings of leaves, fish, monsters, and a naked Adam lies curled in the foetal position, waiting his awakening. With each story goes a psalm, a splendid idea for expanding the story's poetic meaning. The whole thing is beautifully produced, with big print and big eloquent pictures that I feel will prod an intelligent child not just into thoughts, but into ideas.
The same goes for the same publisher's series of Dove Books, at 3s. 6d. Simple, but not simple-minded, and with the sort of illustrations that suggest as well as describe or delineate, they are excellent introductions to particular subjects or, if you like, particular areas of thought. I have here two from the Old Testament, two from the New: Samson, Joseph, The bread of life, On the road to Emmaus, Helga Aichinger's The Shepherd (Dobson, 16s.) is a beautiful Christmas picture, for, I would say, any age at all, about a shepherd who goes to Bethlehem with a row of sheep behind him. Infinitely touching without being sentimental. Hans Hoffmann's Children's Life of Jesus, with illustrations by Johannes Grug,er, is a German picture book with a shortish text, and I'm not sure what sort of child it aims at. It seems too skimpy for the age group that would understand it; and the pictures I find garish and uninspiring.