Here in the Children and Young People's team – part of Quaker Life – we offer lots of fantastic resources that help children and young people feel part of vibrant Quaker communities.
One of my favourites is the book Quaker meeting and me, a book by Rebecca Price that was published in 2010. Its beautiful illustrations and simple text introduce children to meeting for worship and have been a starting point for many precious conversations.
Although aimed at smaller children, this book has also been handed on to older newcomers – myself included – at Quaker meetings up and down the country and has been found to be a really helpful introduction to Quakerism. It's also been used in schools and found its way around the world.
So you can imagine how delighted I am that we recently published a new illustrated children's book by Rebecca: Let's explore the Quaker way. This time it takes a look at our values or 'testimonies' of equality, peace, truth, and simplicity.
The book was 18 months in the making and went through a very thorough production process. The first question Rebecca had to tackle was finding a way to explain something as abstract as the testimonies to very young children.
“At first I thought we might make a collection of folk tales that were about peace, truth, simplicity and equality," she explains.
“But in fact it is very hard to find many suitable ones; folk tales often feature a hero who succeeds through outwitting the enemy; not very compatible with our testimonies of truth and peace! Then a couple of years ago I suddenly had the idea of continuing with the garden theme from Quaker meeting and me, but this time with four separate 'testimony' gardens that the children could visit."
Looking at the light
Once she'd decided on her main theme Rebecca sent in a rough draft. We then assembled an advisory committee to help ensure that the booklet would resonate with as many people as possible.
This lead to many interesting discussions, including around how to depict the inner Light – something that is central to Quaker faith, but certainly not the same for all Quakers.
“In my first version of the picnic scene, everyone had the inward light shining inside them but I also included the inward light in the animals and plants too," says Rebecca.
“There was a slightly heated discussion about this as some Friends felt that the inward light is exclusive to humans. I have always felt very strongly that it is present in all living things, but clearly not all Friends would be happy with this. In the end I did a sort of toned down version where you could decide for yourself whether the animals had their own inward light."
As well as their role in steering the direction of the publication, the advisory group were able to get many other Friends involved to share their opinions. Again this helped us get a better idea of whether the booklet would go down in the way we hoped.
“It was enormously helpful to get feedback from Friends, both adults and children," says Rebecca. “Some pages we felt would always produce conflicting reactions, such as the scene where the girl takes her teddies to Oxfam; most children seem to find this page rather brutal, while parents seem to really like it! But hopefully these are the pages that will spark off discussion."
I think the Rebecca's hard work has really paid off and the new book will bring as much joy and provoke as much curiosity as its predecessor. If you have or work with children you can find out for yourself by ordering a free copy: just email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7663 1013.