Reading is my own favorite pastime, and as my daughter grows it’s important to me to instill that same value in her. It’s also important for me to instill other values (chiefly skepticism, honesty, and open-mindedness) in her, as well as a broader understanding of science, history, politics, and social issues than I trust her public school education to give her.
When it comes to supporting skeptical and progressive values, it practically goes without saying that we have far fewer options than religious families when it comes to reading material. While the vast majority of children’s literature isn’t explicitly religious in nature, there is plenty that is, and books that are explicitly non-religious or humanist can be difficult to find.
This list comprises of some of my personal favorites, including a few titles that I ordered as Christmas gifts for this year, and I highly recommend all of these books find their way onto your wish lists this holiday season.
1. Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox
This beautiful picture book is a perfect way to introduce very small children to the big bang. The evolving rhyme and simple illustrations make Older Than the Stars fun to read and look at.
2. The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson
This was one of my daughter’s favorite books from about age 3 to age 5 or so, and while it’s an old story it’s a great way to ease kids into some of the basic tenets of skeptical thinking.
This trio of science books tells the history of the universe in the form of a letter to children from the universe. Some skeptical parents may side-eye this approach, but I found it engaging, and the books themselves are full of information and adaptable to younger and older children alike.
4. Maybe Yes, Maybe No by Dan Barker
With cute illustrations, easy-to-read format, and repetitive language, this book teaches children about skepticism in a non-controversial manner.
5. The Franny K. Stein Series by Jim Benton
In a sea of books for girls about ponies, princesses, and fairies, the Franny K. Stein series stands out as a series of books about a girl mad scientist and her experiments. Perfect for early readers.
Science books for children are often color-coded to appeal more to boys, but the Basher series is bright, fun, and gender-neutral in addition to being packed with more information than most children are exposed to before highschool.
7. How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith
This one isn’t really a reading book; rather, it’s a guided journaling and exploration experience that encourages children to really examine the world around them and record the process.
8. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Not everyone loves this series, but I do, and there is a new omnibus edition of it coming out just in time for the holidays this year. The release date is December 6, and it’s simply gorgeous.
9. A Young People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
If you are concerned about making sure your child is exposed to history from perspectives that aren’t white and male, this is the book you want. It’s simple enough for an 8-year-old to read, and full of information that kids aren’t taught in school.
10. The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins
I can’t wait to read this with my daughter in the new year (it’s a Christmas gift), but I’ve sneaked more than a peak at it already. It’s amazing, and worth every penny to buy it in hardbound rather than waiting for the paperback in a year or so.
Bonus Gift Idea: Growing Up in the Universe DVD
It’s not a book, but this is a perfect companion to The Magic of Reality. Richard Dawkins gave this series of lectures in 1991, so some of the scientific information is perhaps a bit dated. However, if you are like me and think Dawkins is at his best when he’s talking science, you will love this. My daughter sat through these (and enjoyed them) at age 5, so any kid old enough for the new book will definitely be old enough for the lectures.
Bridget McKinney is an atheist, feminist, and socialist who lives near Cincinnati, Ohio with her partner and her 8-year-old daughter. She writes about atheism and social justice issues at Greater Than Lapsed, and she can also be found as greaterthanlapsed on Tumblr and as MoreThanLapsed on Twitter.