The Center for Children's Books

Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Religion, Questioning, and Difference: Books Where Faith Matters - March 2014

Selected and annotated by Casey McCoy

Ali-Karamali, Sumbul. Growing Up Muslim: Understanding Islamic Beliefs and Practices. Delacorte, 2012. 224p. Gr. 5-9.
Ali-Karamali shares her own personal story of growing up as the “other” among her Judeo-Christian classmates and uncovers common misconceptions about her heritage. This nonfiction title is organized by key topic areas: the Five Pillars of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an, and Muslim demographics. Real-life accounts combine with an introduction to the Islamic faith to prepare readers to engage in an open discussion about religious tolerance and acceptance of a faith that is often misunderstood.
Aronson, Sarah. Believe. Carolrhoda Lab, 2013. 290p. Gr. 9-12.
Ten years ago, Janine Collins survived a bombing in Israel that took her parents’ lives and made her a household name at only six years old. While the media bombards Janine during the bombing’s tenth anniversary, she battles with her own faith and questions how could a God exist in the midst of such tragedies. Janine is further troubled by opportunism, lingering physical effects of the trauma, and the miraculous recoveries of people close to her.

Bradbury, Jennifer. A Moment Comes. Atheneum, 2013. 278p. Gr. 7-10.
Three teens who might never otherwise have met are forced together by the 1947 partition of India. Tariq, a Muslim boy with hopes to attend Oxford, Anupreet, a quiet Sikh girl following her family’s traditions, and Margaret, a British girl brought to India to escape a scandalous relationship with an American soldier, end up in a love triangle that is shaken up by religious customs, politics, and war.

Brooks, Kevin. Dawn. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2009. 256p. Gr. 9–12.
Dawn is an average teenager struggling through her own coming-of-age, but since her alcoholic father discovered religion two years ago, he’s vanished without a trace. The start of another year with her father missing pushes Dawn to find new goals, but first she must kill the one responsible for her father’s disappearance . . . God.

Cunnane, Kelly. Deep in the Sahara; illus. by Hoda Hadadi. Schwartz & Wade, 2013. 34p. 5-8 yrs.
Young Lalla longs to be beautiful and mysterious like the women in her Mauritanian village, who wear the malafa, a colorful cloth to cover their heads and clothes in public. After expressing her desires to Mama, Lalla realizes the malafa is not worn to express a woman’s beauty, but is worn as a symbol of her faith. Warm cut-paper collage accompanies the upbeat, second-person text, bringing colors and the meaning of faith to the forefront of the story.

Deutsch, Barry. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. Amulet/Abrams, 2010. 142p. Gr. 5-7.
Mirka, a vivacious eleven-year-old girl, is tired of knitting lessons and is ready to wield a dragon-slaying sword instead. This graphic novel follows Mirka as she leaves her Orthodox Jewish community for a quest to find a sword of her own. While balancing religious traditions, gender roles and family ties, Mirka has to focus on her one true goal—capturing the sword from a giant troll!

Dogar, Sharon. Annexed. Houghton, 2010. 352p. Gr. 7-10.
Everyone knows the story of Anne Frank, but what about the boy who fell in love with her while living in the annex? This fictional account imagines Peter van Pels’s point of view as a boy forced into hiding who ultimately falls in love with a girl whose parents were always inches away. While Anne Frank’s diary ends on August 4, 1944, Peter’s story continues into the Nazi death camps.

Dominy, Amy Fellner. OyMG. Walker, 2011. 256p. Gr. 6–9.
Winning the Christian Society’s Speech and Performing Arts final tournament would mean a scholarship for Ellie to attend the best speech school in the country. Only CSSPA’s seriously hot competition and anti-Semitic views stand in her way—which is a problem since Ellie is Jewish, as her Holocaust-surviving grandfather continuously reminds her. Ellie struggles on- and off-stage with potentially receiving an award from an organization that may hate her for her family’s beliefs. But can she truly hide her identity to win a chance to attend the school of her dreams?

Dudley, David L. Caleb's Wars. Clarion, 2011. 272p. Gr. 6-9.
While a world war rages overseas, Caleb is fighting his own war at home in 1940s Georgia with his overbearing father and the neighborhood white boys who treat Caleb as if slavery never ended. As Caleb comes of age he is ready to be baptized, but he does not expect to come out the other end to hear a voice that can only be God. During this pre-Civil Rights Movement era, Caleb copes with the racism the only way he knows how while keeping his newfound gift for healing under wraps.

Goode, Laura. Sister Mischief. Candlewick, 2011. 384p. Gr. 9–12.
Sister Mischief is not your ordinary all-girl, white suburban hip-hop group: with best friends like Esme, Jewish lesbian lyricist; Marcy, Catholic straight tomboy; Tess, straight white Protestant; and Rowie, genius Hindu, how could it be? The waters muddy even further when their high school principal bans hip-hop music and Esme cannot hold back her feelings for the questioning Rowie. Text messages, Facebook status updates and lyrics are incorporated throughout the book, reflecting the teens’ struggle for expression in a conservative WASP-y community.

Heiligman, Deborah. Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith. Holt, 2009. 320p. Gr. 7-12.
You may be familiar with the famous creationism versus evolution debate, but what about the tension between Charles Darwin, the famous evolutionary theorist, and Emma, his highly religious wife? While their views on life and religion differed, their love always remained strong. This biography explores the man behind evolutionary theory and how his personal life affected his work—or was it the other way around?

Joffo, Joseph. A Bag of Marbles; ad. by Kris; illus. by Vincent Bailly, tr. by Edward Gauvin. Graphic Universe, 2013. 126p. Gr. 6-10.
A graphic novel adaptation of Joffo’s 1973 memoir tells how two Jewish brothers’ last game of marbles led to their escape from Nazi-occupied France. Joseph and Maurice promise to keep their true identities secret as they flee to their older brothers in the free zone, but life gets complicated again when rumors of their parents capture reaches Menton.

Karim, Sheba. Skunk Girl. Farrar, 2009. 240p. Gr. 8-12.
She’s not allowed to date, cannot go to parties, will never live up to her sister’s brilliance, and—worst of all—has to deal with serious body hair! Nina is beginning her junior year of high school, and conservative Pakistani Muslim traditions are getting in the way of her ever-growing crush for the new boy in school, Asher. While she knows nothing can come of this high-school fling, she does not understand why Asher would even want to talk to a girl with a hideous line of hair running down her back.

Kenneally, Miranda. Things I Can't Forget. Sourcebooks, 2013. 320p. Gr. 7-10.
Kate has always played by the rules of the church, but one phone call flips her world upside down, and she loyally picks up a pregnancy test because her best friend of fifteen years, Emily, might be pregnant. Now Kate is getting ready to spend her summer as a church camp counselor without Emily and with hopes of sharing her confusing thoughts with her fellow counselors. Unfortunately not everyone shares Kate’s values, and she finds herself in another compromising situation further testing her own faith and morals.

Laird, Elizabeth. The Betrayal of Maggie Blair. Houghton, 2011. 432p. Gr. 7-10.
Living in in seventeenth-century Scotland, Maggie is horrified to hear that she’s been accused of being a witch and ultimately sentenced to death. Plans to seek refuge from her wealthy uncle go awry as the authorities catch wind of Maggie’s hideout and her uncle’s role as a leader of the Covenanters, the Presbyterian movement to keep the church away from King Charles II’s control. Back in prison alongside her uncle, can Maggie escape the gallows again?

Meehl, Brian. You Don't Know About Me. Delacorte, 2011. 416p. Gr. 5–9 yrs.
Billy traveled the country with his mother, who was on a mission to vanquish the devil before he spread his evil at gay weddings or through Tickle Me Elmo dolls. Then, a mysterious package—a Bible with a DVD from his father who was supposedly dead—sends Billy on the trip of his lifetime. This modern spin on Huckleberry Finn follows Billy’s quest to uncover the video’s message as he questions his own conservative religious beliefs. Along the way Billy meets Ruah, a black baseball player, who helps further challenge Billy’s notions of Christianity, race, and sexuality.  

Meminger, Neesha. Shine, Coconut Moon. McElderry, 2009. 256p. Gr. 8–12.
Sam has never known much about her cultural heritage thanks to her mother’s conscious decision to shield Sam from her family. Then after 9/11, a turbaned man, her uncle Sandeep, appears on the doorstep to reconcile the family and introduces Sam to her Sikh heritage by taking her to temples and to her grandparents’ home for the first time. As Americans quickly grow wary of people in turbans, Sam experiences first-hand discrimination from her peers and realizes ignorance may be the most dangerous weapon of all.

Ostlere, Cathy. Karma. Razorbill, 2011. 500p. Gr. 8-12.
Maya, a fifteen-year-old Indo-Canadian girl, lost her mother to suicide and is now following her father to his native country for the first time. Unfortunately, their travels coincide with the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi, creating riots in the streets that her devoted Sikh father willingly joins. Now left to fend for herself, Maya makes her way to Delhi to find peace. This free verse novel follows Maya’s tragic journey through violence and grief as India’s political instability attempts to take way everything she holds dear, including her voice.

Padian, Maria. Out of Nowhere. Knopf, 2013. 352p. Gr. 8–12.
Tom Bouchard, high school soccer star, lives in small-town Enniston, Maine that has somehow turned into a “secondary migration” spot for Somali refugees. Not much initially changed for Tom until the four new guys on the soccer team showed some serious skill on the field, especially Saeed. Tempered by a strong sports theme, the main focus here is differences off the field, as Enniston struggles with accomodating the influx of refugees and the Somali immigrants’ struggle balancing their own religious customs with American society.

Restrepo, Bettina. Illegal. Tegen/HarperCollins, 2011. Gr. 7-10.
Three years ago, Nora’s father kissed her goodbye on his way from Cedula, Mexico to America in search of work. Now the letters and money have stopped coming in, and Nora convinces her mother they must go look for him in Texas. As Nora continually runs into obstacles on this quest, she battles with her own belief that a higher power may or may not exist.

Stratton, Allan. Borderline. HarperTeen, 2010. 320p. Gr. 9-12.
Mohammed Sami Sabiri, who goes by Sami, is a gutsy teen who has always felt like an outsider in his suburban home thanks to his Iranian parents’ traditional customs, but when Sami is swapped into a private school where his only friend is his gay teacher, he feels even more isolated. One day, the FBI barges in to Sami’s home accusing his father of working with a known terrorist group, and now Sami must risk everything to investigate his father’s true intentions.

Vanhee, Jason. Engines of the Broken World. Holt, 2013. 272p. Gr. 7-10.
Only a few moments after they lock their recently dead mother’s body in the kitchen, Merciful Truth and her brother Gospel hear a voice that sounds like strangely their mother singing a lullaby. Unfortunately, the Minister, a gospel preacher in animal form, is of no help, and Mercy and Gospel are left alone to escape the fog that causes things to simply vanish and confront the thing taking over their mother’s body. This post-apocalyptic tale delves into a reflection of the tough question of where God could be at the end of the world.

Vasey, Paul. A Troublesome Boy. Groundwood, 2012. 232p. Gr. 8-10.
Teddy’s mom’s new boyfriend has had it with Teddy’s behavior and decides to ship him off to St. Ignatius Academy, a Catholic boarding school. It does not take long for Teddy to realize that his bad attitude attracts those priests determined literally to whip boys into shape, while his new friend Cooper attracts a different kind of attention after “lights out” from Father Prince. Throughout the 1959 school year, Teddy witnesses St. Ignatius walk a fine line between punishment and sadism as he tries to stay out of trouble and save his friend…and himself.

Weber, Elka. The Yankee at the Seder; illus. by Adam Gustavson. 40p. 7-10 yrs.
The South has officially surrendered, killing ten-year-old Jacob’s dream of fighting for Virginia, when he spots a Yankee soldier approaching his house. While Jacob tries to muster up the courage to attack a real Yankee, the soldier asks for a piece of his matzoh. Based on a true story about a Southern family welcoming in a Jewish Yankee soldier for their Passover meal, this tale highlights the discomfort between North and South yet includes the unspoken bond created by sharing in religious traditions.

Wilson, John. Crusade: The Heretic’s Secret, Book I. Key Porter, 2009. P. Gr. 8–12.
Despite growing up together in a medieval Toulouse orphanage, John and Peter share wildly different beliefs on life and religion. When they are grown up and ready to move on from the orphanage, John decides to travel the world and partners with a troubadour, while Peter becomes the mentee of an ambitious Catholic priest. Several years later, the boys meet as men, not surprisingly fighting for opposing causes during the Crusades.

Zia, Farhana. The Garden of My Imaan. Peachtree, 2013. 230p. Gr. 4–7.
Aliya has enough trouble fitting in at middle school without the fact that she’s the only Indian-American in her mostly white school. While she is at home or Qu’ran study, Aliya is surrounded by more tension for refusing to wear the hijab. Then the new girl, Marwa, enters the picture as a confident Muslim girl that Aliya both fears and idolizes from afar and has Aliya questioning her own religious decisions.