I have been living in Jerusalem for the last three years. I live twenty minutes outside Jerusalem in one of the very few Christian villages that are left in the Holy Land - Taybeh. We moved there because we wanted our children to grow up with traditional values towards the family and society and to be close to their extended family.
A mother of three children, I love to read to them in the evenings before bedtime. During their early years, I was reading many wonderful books about animals and farms and other countries, but I felt the need to read books about my faith and my belief in God. I wanted books that would help my children grow spiritually and bring them closer to God. In the early eighties when I was searching for these books, I found that we had very few Orthodox books appropriate for younger children. I decided to help fill this gap by writing Orthodox literature for children myself. I view my work as my service to Christ. Ultimately, each and every one of us discovers God's will and God's plan for us. We each serve Christ in different ways. Publishing Orthodox literature for young children gives meaning and purpose to my life. I feel that these books, that help children grow spiritually and come closer to God are my positive contribution to the world.
I knew there must be other mothers like me out there somewhere who would enjoy reading Orthodox books to their children just as I did. My first book, Christina Goes to Church: A Child's Introduction to Spiritual Growth, was created especially for parents interested in helping their children understand the Orthodox faith in a language that children would understand. It helps explain to young children why Orthodox Christians light candles, kiss icons, receive communion, and read from the Holy Gospel. The book helps parents to explain the basic "hows" and "whys" that children love to learn during their preschool years. "Christina" is an Orthodox character that every child is invited to have as a role model.
My second book, You Are Special: An Alphabet Book for Children, is a coloring book and workbook. Very young children can color and use their imagination to draw items from their Church experience, and older children can write sentences and/or stories to explain their art work. This book helps children to practice saying and writing the alphabet, while helping them grow closer to God. For example "I" stands for Icon Screen or Iconostasis. Parents can read the sentence under the illustration: "The icon screen shows many holy people." On the other page the child is asked: "Can you draw things that begin with 'I'?" The child can use their imagination and creativity to draw as they wish or may use the suggestion to draw either an iconographer making icons or incense burning. This book can be used either in the classroom with the teacher's help or at home with the parent.
My Orthodox Counting Book: A Multicultural Way to Stimulate Curiosity About Faith, is my newest children's Orthodox book. It also helps children to grow spiritually as they have fun with numbers. The numbers appear in five different languages and can provide a challenge even to ten year olds. The other page explains an Orthodox value and tradition. For example, for the number 'twelve' children learn that the twelve bells on the censer we use in Church stand for the twelve Apostles. Our Church has so much beauty and symbolism. It's wonderful to try to explain these meaningful values and traditions.
Maria Khoury graduated from Hellenic College with a B.A. in human development and pursued graduate studies at Harvard University. She received her doctorate in education (Ed. D.) from Boston University in human development. In addition to the three Orthodox children's books mentioned in this article, she is the author of Enriching Children's Orthodox Identification, Personhood.