Interfaith Inspiration

Interfaith Reading Club Helps Kids Find the “True, Good, and Beautiful” in Stories

By Abijah Crawford
A group of school children eagerly listening to their teacher read a storybook. (FatCamera/Getty)

A group of school children eagerly listening to their teacher read a storybook. (FatCamera/Getty)

Hope was right.  

“A true thing is that sometimes you do fall asleep in the middle of a conversation.” Of course, while you and I might begin to recall late night conversations with college roommates, Hope was talking about the character of our latest book: “Paddington.  

Sometimes the answers the children come up with are more profound and less factual, such as, “I think a beautiful thing is how Frog and Toad took care of each other when they weren’t feeling well.” Silly or not, they nearly always had answers to the question I asked in every class: What is one true, one good, and one beautiful thing about the story we read today? 

I don’t know about you, but stories and books have always played a huge part of my life. When I got in trouble, I was not grounded from playing outside; I was grounded from being allowed to read books. It was the worst.  

Every story was a chance to see life through someone else’s eyes, to imagine worlds I had yet to visit, to taste and experience joy and hope and sorrow and loss. As I keep growing I am learning how every story is an opportunity to explore the truth, beauty and goodness that the God I believe in has woven into the world as I know it.  

The reading group's bookshelf. Photo courtesy of Abijah Crawford

These last few months I have been given the gift of exploring this with 5- to 12-year-old children in California’s Bay Area. Since graduating, and with the help of the Emerging Leaders Grant from Interfaith America, I have hosted and led reading clubs with children from various faith and ethnic backgrounds. Whether they come from Christian, Muslim, Hindu or other homes, it has been so sweet to create a space to read with intention and pursue goodness, truth and beauty as we learn to ask deeper questions about the world we live in. It has been especially wonderful to watch them cross religious and ethnic boundaries, exhibiting kindness and a growing eagerness to learn together. 

I did not stumble on this approach by sheer coincidence. God, in His kindness, led me to the Torrey Honors College at Biola University where I began to study what it meant to engage deeply with philosophy, theology, history, poetry and so much more. I am still learning how to do this better each day and doing it with 7-year-olds has been a unique experience of discovering not just the complicated profundity of life, but also the simple.  

Our weekly gatherings are divided into “semesters” or “terms” that revolve around a theme. In the summer we read short stories, books, poems and even scripture from various faith backgrounds that dealt with the topic of friendship. After that, we moved into the topic of courage – a theme that impacted my everyday life far more than I could have anticipated.  

I knew that true stories of people dying or being persecuted for their beliefs could be powerful, but as a Christian I was worried I would scare off the kids who came from Muslim or agnostic homes. As I prayed over how I might invite my students to consider what it means to be courageous and what motivates bravery, I felt convicted by the words of my own faith – of Paul when he spoke to the Corinthians. I inwardly trembled when I thought about the next gathering. However, I resolved to openly share how that faith I have in a God who loves and cares for me sparks my own courage. 

I had very few expectations for the impact of these biographies. I was sure the children would take the stories with a grain of salt. At most, they might even come away with a mild respect for people who stood up to their fears.  You can imagine my surprise when they reacted with joyous delight to read about a girl who saved a town because she trusted God to take care of her, or a man who showed compassion in dire circumstances because he believed God gave him the courage to seek the good of those around him.  

I was so caught up in the worry that they might despise a story I deeply resonated with only because they weren’t of the same background. In reality, they delighted in the beauty and goodness of what it means to be brave, far better than I did.  

I am so glad I was wrong.  

I did not have to be afraid to share the stories that mattered most to me, because they held truths that even the youngest could appreciate and admire. If I really believed in the goodness and beauty infused into those stories, then it was my responsibility, not my burden, to share them. 

Every day we meet for reading club is a day to remember the value of a good story. I am watching these children ask deeper questions, seek the beautiful and encourage one another when they recognize good answers that their peers have come up with. It is humbling to be a part of that, and I am thankful for it every time. So next time you have a story to share that requires a little courage on your part, do it anyway. Next time you read a story wildly different from your own, don’t forget to ask yourself what the true, good and beautiful things in it are, because I am confident they will point to greater things and your life will be better for it. 

Abijah Crawford is a graduate from Biola University with a degree in political science and a double-minor in Middle East studies and Islamic studies. She is also a perpetual member of the Torrey Honors College and spent some time studying overseas. She grew up in India, where she first cultivated a passion for interfaith dialogue and has continued to seek the strengthening of her interfaith leadership skills from a biblical perspective. Now you can find her leading reading clubs in the Bay Area, encouraging kids to read with intention and to pursue goodness, truth and beauty, through deeper questions about the world we live in. Find Abijah @abi.the.pak on Instagram