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Many Ways: How Families Practice Their Beliefs and Religions

by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly(Millbrook Press; $22.90; ages 4-8)

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I was raised in a Protestant church. My husband is Catholic. I'm the outsider when we attend mass as a family, the person who stays seated while everyone else takes Communion. But I want my children to feel that they fit in, so I recently pored through two beautiful kids' books (and one book for parents) about faith, family, and fitting in. I'm no expert on world religions, but I know this: These books will help adopted children feel at home in their families' chosen faith.

Many Ways: How Families Practice Their Beliefs and Religions, by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly, is another beautiful and simply written book—one that consciously includes adoptive families. Its photographs portray a wide range of families (including a Caucasian mom with an Asian daughter), and the diverse ways they practice religion.

Many Ways explains that, while religions have different names, different places of worship, and different teachings and customs, they have a lot in common. One universal teaching is that we should love and care for one another. Our families can relate to that!

Like many parents who adopt internationally, my husband and I are committed to teaching our daughter, Natalie, about the culture and customs of her birth country, Russia. But until I came across Soul Sunday: A Family’s Guide to Exploring Faith and Teaching Tolerance (TEO Summit Press; $22.95), it hadn't occurred to me to teach Natalie about the religious traditions of her birth country.

"Soul Sunday" is a practice developed by author Carrie Brown-Wolf to teach her children about world religions. (Brown-Wolf herself is in an interfaith marriage.) It involves setting aside family time to explore the teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Native American spirituality through hands-on activities.

"In my experience, most adoptive parents raise their children in the faith they practice at home, but do not expose them to the cultural heritage of their birth country. Religion is a large aspect of a culture," says Brown-Wolf.

The author finds that adoptive families are less likely than traditional families to be fearful of exploring different religions. "Fear is a major obstacle to compassion and understanding for different faith practices," she says. "Research shows that children raised to respect other traditions have higher self-esteem and a better regard for their own belief system. Observing Soul Sunday is a great way for adoptive families to learn about a birth country together."

When Lauren Seidman began to work on What Makes Someone a Jew? (Jewish Lights; $8.99; ages 3-6), she asked Jewish families to share their photos with her. The pictures that poured in reflect an ultra-diverse community, where anyone who chooses to "live Jewishly" through their "deeds, thoughts, and heart" will be welcome.

Seidman pairs these photos with simple, often funny, rhyming text, through which she introduces Jewish holidays, traditions, and symbols. The diversity of the families pictured within makes the book especially appropriate for Jewish families formed through international adoption, and for multiracial Jewish families.

Reviewed by Kay Marner, a mom by birth and adoption, who works in the public library in Ames, Iowa.

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