Among the millennials, there seems to be a trend towards a child-free life. The baffling part about this, they seem to be proud of it! I know, they are free to do, think, say anything they want, but it is important to be mindful about the skeptical movement as a whole. If one wanted to make a difference – raising one of your own is the best way. And while I respect a child-free life style because it is a lot of responsibility and take a lot of resources away from you (See The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins) – but I beg my comrades to consider the incredible work secular couples are ding for the future. Plus, the world seems far too full of credulous parents anyways.
I recently had my first child – a happy baby girl. It is true what Christopher Hitchens said about his, “…three delightful children who are everything to me and who are my only chance of even a glimpse of a second life, let alone an immortal one…” This little girl is more important to me than anything I could ever imagine. I still get that cold shiver when I hold back tears imaging the infinite amounts of opportunists that are available for my little girl. The rest of Hitchen’s quote begs to be said, “…and I’ll tell you something: if I was told to sacrifice them to prove my devotion to God, if I was told to do what all monotheists are told to do and admire the man who said, ‘Yes, I’ll gut my kid to show my love of God,’ I’d say, ‘No. Fuck you.'” Needless to say, no rational parent would admit to be like Abraham, but alas, there are an abundance of irrational parents. We are surrounded by them – and surrounded by propaganda aimed toward children. Realizing this, I wanted to select my own propaganda that aims my baby towards open mindedness, skepticism, and happiness. In the Secular social network site, the secularnest.com, I have seen people trying to find acceptable baby books. Here is a list of my favorite baby so far!
1. What do you do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada
Like all children’s books, What do you do with an Idea include incredibly beautiful pieces of art to accompany the protagonist’s journey about dealing with an idea. At first, our hero finds a little egg with small feet and a golden crown. The hero wonders about the idea and decides to ignore it – but the idea persists and he finally accepts the idea. he decides to hid the idea
“I worried what others would think. What would people say about my idea?”
Our young hero grew closer to his idea and began playing with it. The idea is seen growing larger and larger. The heart breaking moment of the book is when the reader sees the child standing in front of a large group of adults. The reader is probably reminded of moments where they are scolded by parents or teachers. Like a child waiting at a bus stop on the first day of school, our hero presents his idea
“I showed it to other people even though I was afraid of what they would say. I was afraid they would laugh at it. I was afraid they would think it was silly. And many of them did. They said it was no good. They said it was too weird. They said it was a waste of time and that it would never become anything.”
The solemn depiction of the child walking away from his now large idea is shown. Any parent will feel daggers in their hearts when the hero says
“And, at first, I believed them. I actually thought about giving up on my idea. I almost listened to them”
The child realizes that the adults really don’t know what they are talking about and tends to his idea. The Idea teaches him to dream, to think bigger, and how to see things differently. The book comes to a close as the idea becomes so big it bursts and fills the page with warm colors. And the book ends in the most beautiful way possible: the boy learns that
“[The Idea] wasn’t just a part of me anymore. It was now a part of everything. And then I realized what you do with an idea: You change the world”
2. I Wonder by Annaka Harris
Yes, that is Harris as in neuroscience, skeptic, and secular extraordinaire: Sam Harris. And just like Sam Harris, I Wonder is filled with beautiful lessons about admitting sometimes you don’t know the answer, but that allows you to wonder about it and grow – not knowing even provides the rich opportunity in the background of all human advancements: the opportunity to wonder together with each other.
In the book, the little girl – who’s name is coincidentally close to my own daughter’s name – walks with her mother at night and questions many amazing questions: life cycles, gravity, and the vastness of the cosmos to name a few. But the daughter learns to most important lesson of all: sometimes you (or adults for that matter) knows the answer to something. And that is a great thing
“The moon looks so beautiful in the sky. How do you think it follows us, Eva?
Eva thinks about it, but she just can’t figure it out. “It’s okay to say, I don’t know,” says her mother. When we don’t know something, we get to wonder about it!”
Though the story is beautiful and the illustrations illuminating, the real meat of the purpose is found in the author’s note where the reader can see some of her husband in her:
“We live in a society where people are uncomfortable with not knowing. Children aren’t taught to say ‘I don’t know’ and honesty in this form is rarely modeled for them, They too often see adults avoiding the questions and fabricating the answers, out of either embarrassment or rear, and this comes at a price.”
3. Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
This book is actually about the late scientist Carl Sagan and follows his own eyeopening adventure to wonder. Star Stuff starts with a young Carl Sagan watching the stars from his bedroom window and wondering one of the oldest questions in human history: What are they? The lesson and the hopes of this book is to encourage your child to never stop questioning.
The book opens to a beautiful Milky Way and begins to put the cosmos into prospective. This is just one way the book forces the parent and child to begin discussing the vast cosmos. The possibilities are endless for a young mind. In fact, I still remember reading a book about space with my father. We sat down and read Exploring the Night Sky: The Equinox Astronomy Guide for Beginners by Terence Dickinson – It lead me to question what we were reading and interact with my dad. A more sweet moment from the book is when I did not believe light was the fastest in the Universe (I was pretty young). To prove it, my dad stood at one end of our apartment and flicked the lights on and I was to try and”beat” the light to the other end of the hallway. Although I tired several times, I couldn’t beat it. Star Stuff is aimed towards younger children than Exploring the Night Sky, but it begs the same interaction between the parent and child. I can’t wait to re-read this to my little girl and have those same mind-expanding moments with her.
Just as wondrous as staring at the stars, the reader is left to wonder: what if everyone wondered without ceasing? How many problems would be solved? How much more happiness could we obtain be grasping at real answers rather than settling with credulous beliefs? And then one remembers that your child is growing and wondering. I makes my mission so much more profound. Never stop wondering.
4. The Giving Tree
The very first comedy I read was Shel Silverstein books such as A light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. But I have neglected his most famous book of all – the 1964 classic The Giving Tree. I finally read it and was moved by the story but could not really place my finger on what was so touching.
For those who haven’t read it, the story is there is “the Boy” and “the Tree” who, in the Boy’s youth, were best friends. The boy played on the Tree and ate her apples and enjoyed himself. Soon, the Boy begins to grow and becomes interest in girls and money. The Boy starts to go to the Tree and asks for material things. First, The Boy asks for money, and the Tree offers all her apples so he can sell them. He does so, does not thank the tree, and after each deed, the Tree is happy. Next, The Boy needs a house for his wife and child, so the Tree gives him her branches to build the house. Then, the boy is much older and seemingly retired – desires to get away. The Tree gives him her entire trunk to make a canoe to sail around the world in. One cannot soon forget the sight of that page where the tree is now bear down to the stump leaving only the “Boy + T” heart carved into the tree. Finally, the Boy, now a hobbling old man, comes back and the Tree proudly offers the stump as a place to sit.
What could all of this mean? Being such an old book, there are vast amounts of theories online. The most apparent one that comes to me is Man’s relationship with Nature. In our infancy, we have a mutual relationship – but quickly drift away to more material things while taking from Nature. This seems a bit obvious to me – but then again, the book was written in the 60’s. A popular alternative is that The Giving Tree is about the beauty of generosity with a twist of dark ungratefulness. It is often thought that children get there morals from their parents, teachers, religion, or friends. Luckily, this is not the case. Like survival, social and mathematics skills, children are shown to be born with an innaite sense of morality and this book provides a story of giving and loss to expose children to this evolutionary trait. Elissa Straus of The Week explains this perfectly:
“It’s the misguided belief that children can’t recognize the sadness or the darkness behind the caregiver relationship that pushes many to misread this story as a happy one. But children can.”
That is all I have for now. Keep in mind, my daughter is a newborn and cannot really absorb the invaluable lessons in these books, but I read anyway to bond with her and for her to hear my voice. Because hearing parent’s voices is so valuable to newborns, I suggest reading as soon as possible. It can even be adult books! If I find anymore astounding children’s books and if this post does well, I may post more books. Until then, feel free to leave a comment recommending any other like-minded books for me.