A godless parent’s request

I got a request for a children’s book on atheism—something to counter the usual sunday school tripe kids are fed, a version of The God Delusion for the younger set. Offhand, I couldn’t think of a thing. So, I thought, I’d turn to the collective wisdom and see if anyone out there knows of one or two.

You know, there is a niche here—all of us who have raised kids have wished that somewhere there was a primer on skeptical thinking, the scientific method, and religious criticism that was appropriate for early readers or junior high school kids. If you can’t think of one that’s already been done, who’s willing to volunteer to write one?


  1. Fatmop says

    If it were me writing it, it’d probably be a pop-up book or one of those that you can pull a little cardboard or paper slide thing to make things move. Anything to make a paper likeness of an axe coming down on William Dembski’s neck in a children’s book, really.

  2. says

    Dan Barker at the Freedom From Religion Foundation has written a couple…er, three:

    Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children

    Maybe Yes, Maybe No A guide for young skeptis

    Maybe Ride, Maybe Wrong a Guide for Young thinkers


    I can only find the first on the FFRF website but the others might still be available someplace besides my bookshelf.

  3. tristero says

    I’d suggest the Bible, either New or Old, or the Qu’ran, or any of the sacred texts from India, perhaps the Bhagavad Gita.

    When I read some of the first to my (then) six-year old, she asked intelligent, skeptical questions that are apparently beyond the intellectual grasp of Dobson, Falwell, et al.

    How did I respond? I answered, “Those are all great questions. Some of them I can’t answer. But here’s the thing, just because the Bible says it, or seems to say it, that doesn’t mean it’s true. You have to think about it and then make up your own mind. If you don’t understand something, or think it can’t possibly be true, speak up and explain why.

    “By the way, what goes for the Bible, goes for all books. Always ask, ‘why’? And if they can’t explain it in a way you can understand, don’t feel you have to believe it. You don’t.

    “And never accept “Because the Bible says so” as an explanation. And that goes for other books, and for people, too.”

    “Including you and Mom?” my precocious daughter said.

    “Especially Mom and I,” I replied.

  4. says

    Don’t rule out “The God Delusion”. I started reading books for adults when I was very young, like, say, third grade. Yeah, I didn’t understand a lot of them at first, but I really credit a lot of my present-day intellect to shrugging off the kiddy books early on and reading some real literature. If the kid can’t quite handle that yet, it may still be useful for a parent to read the book to the kid, pausing to explain things as necessary.

  5. Bob O'H says

    Not quite on-topic, but for fiction, I would recommend Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy. Much better than Harry Potter, and has a nice take on how religion can be mis-used.


  6. says

    What? Nothing available online for the kiddies? I’m a bit tapped at the moment. (“Moment” hereby defined as “the last 10 years, extending indefinitely.)

  7. says

    I have to agree with Tristero. The best thing that ever happened to me was reading and analyzing the Bible. When you realize that it’s all made up, it becomes much easier to move past it.

  8. Robert P. says

    yeah, sunday school tripe like “Do unto others like you would have them do unto you.” And, “love thy neighbor”.

    I’m all for a junior high aged discussion on scientific thought and skepticism, but I think you calling all Sunday school lessons tripe is as wrong-headed as your opponents attacks.

    There is a difference between “Jesus Camp” and sunday school.

  9. says

    I have been thinking about the Wizard of Oz for some reason this morning; but not knowing the ages of the kids that the parent was referring to I am not sure if the kids would grab the allegory, especially wrt “The Man Behind the Curtain.”

    I have to admit that I have only read portions of the book, but now that I think about it; Why isn’t the movie protested by good Christian parents who fear Harry Potter?

    Obviously, Natural Selection is the Man Behind the Curtain and Darwin is Dorothy.

  10. Stern Taskmistress says

    Offhand, I couldn’t think of a thing.

    You’re lagging badly in your campaign to indocrinate our nation’s children into atheism, PZ. If you’re going to do the devil’s work, then do it. Sheesh. You and your “I let Skatje think for herself” crap.

  11. says

    How about “A Dictionary of Creation Myths” by Leemer & Leemer? It’s not directed at children but provides some perspective.

  12. says

    Robert P.–

    Sure, these are great little pearls of wisdom, but aren’t they really just basic ideas that pretty much EVERY religion teaches? I think these are such elementary concepts that its rather disingenious to use them as some sort of defense of religion.

  13. TomDunlap says

    I don’t think the bible is necessarily appropriate reading for children. All that murder, rape and other mayhem, carried out at the order of a giant all powerful all knowing monster, is sure to give them nightmares and or scar them for life. There is a reason why they kept it in Latin for so long. The decline of Christianity can probably be traced to the translation into current language.

  14. says


    All that murder, rape and other mayhem, carried out at the order of a giant all powerful all knowing monster, is sure to give them nightmares and or scar them for life.

    It can’t be half as scary as the Oompa-Loompas.

  15. Carlo says

    For excellent, free-thinking children’s fiction, there is nothing better than Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad Trilogy.

  16. Stephen says

    The Usborne Children’s Encyclopedia. Great little book. Kids thirst for learning and knowledge will lead them to ‘invent’ atheism on their own. This book certainly helped me to do that.

  17. says

    Richard Dawkins’ letter to his daughter is an excellent choice. I’m a little leery of some freethought for kids books, they strike me as running a large risk of being hopelessly cheesy. I’d wouldn’t worry so much about teaching secularism as trying to get kids’ versions of comparative religion, mythology, and science books. Original religious texts may not be such a good idea as they can be a little boring from a kid’s point of view.

  18. Robert P. says

    I agree, I don’t think there is anything special about those teaching and christianity, and I don’t wouldn’t make any good or bad judgements about a religion based on the fact that they teach children these lessons. We should all be teaching our children these lessons.

  19. Carlie says

    It’s not for kids, but there’s a new atheist parenting book supposed to come out soon called “Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion” by Dale McGowan. It’s on amazon’s pre-order list. Anyone know anything about it?

  20. Carlie says

    Re: There is a difference between “Jesus Camp” and Sunday school.

    The following is the first paragraph of today’s lesson out of this quarter’s children’s (2nd-3rd grade) Sunday School curriculum, courtesy of Lifeway, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, which I will remind you is the largest Protestant denomination in the US:

    “Here the battle begins! With an increasingly loud voice, those who deny the existence and power of their own Creator refuse to accept God’s single-handed role in creation. The truth is that only God has the power to prove the truth to those who scoff at His existence. And someday, one way or another, He will.”

    What difference do you see between that and Jesus camp?

  21. Andrew says

    Stephen Law’s two philosophy books for children – The Philosophy Files and The Philosophy Files 2.

  22. Karen says

    It’s not for kids, but there’s a new atheist parenting book supposed to come out soon called “Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion” by Dale McGowan. It’s on amazon’s pre-order list. Anyone know anything about it?

    Yes. Friendly Atheist did an interview with the author back in January. It sounds like good stuff:


  23. Pierce R. Butler says

    Lifeway, publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention: … God’s single-handed role in creation.

    Always thought he was a real wanker…

  24. RyanG says

    For me, it was a book on Greek and Norse mythology, not anything specifically trying to teach atheism. When a kid learns about other belief systems, and is explicitly told that this used to be religion but nobody believes it anymore, that changes perspective.

  25. EJE says

    How about “There’s a hair in my dirt!” by Gary Larson. It’s about seeing nature as it really is, not through rose colored glasses. Definitely a book that promotes skeptical values. And a non-religeous look at death :-)

  26. notthedroids says

    I’m not sure that actively instilling skepticism in a young child is terribly age-appropriate.

    I think introducing a child to a broad range of well-written books is the best thing to do.

  27. isabelita says

    Heh. I figured out something was up when I was sent off to Sunday school, and my dad stayed home to sleep late on Sunday morning. He started answering my questions very early, and later I found he didn’t believe in any god but thought we all became energy when we died and went out into the universe. Not such a bad idea for him, being born in 1915, a white, rather conservative fellow. So I read lots of different kinds of mythology, and was an avid little scientist, too. Stopped going to the local Episcopal church after 8th grade.
    Anyway, I’ve always thought making kids go to church was a form of brain-washing. Instilling the Golden Rule in a wild little boy child was our focus, and when our son was older, around junior high age, he went to various places of worship with friends and formulated his own skepticism.
    Not sure we need “Mommy, There are Neocons and Biblebeaters Under my Bed!” After all, it would waste trees and could ultimately become a scam, like the rightwingers’ brainwashing literature for children. I think if you keep your communications open with your children, you can do a good job of rearing people who can think for themselves.

  28. Steve_C says

    I’m not sure what would be harmful about teaching children rational skeptical thinking.

    I don’t think it hurts their imagination. It probably frees it.

  29. Chinchillazilla says

    There is a difference between “Jesus Camp” and Sunday school.

    When I was invited to Sunday school by a friend once, I was required to read to the class about how evolution was a lie and we didn’t come from monkeys. At ten, I wanted to run screaming… but I didn’t have any transportation (and anyway, I was afraid they’d catch and sacrifice me).

    I’d love to write a kids’ book, but I’m closer to actually being a kid than a parent, I think. Should probably leave this one to those who have kids.

  30. David Marjanović says

    I’m not sure that actively instilling skepticism in a young child is terribly age-appropriate.

    I think introducing a child to a broad range of well-written books is the best thing to do.

    Where is the difference?

  31. David Marjanović says

    I’m not sure that actively instilling skepticism in a young child is terribly age-appropriate.

    I think introducing a child to a broad range of well-written books is the best thing to do.

    Where is the difference?

  32. says

    The “Three Investigators” series. A juvenile mystery series with three kids who investigate supernatural crimes. In its early days, it was called “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators” because Hitch “introduced” each book and was a supporting player in the stories.

    It was only a few years ago that I realized that this series (along with Scooby-Doo, to be honest) helped prepare my mind to be skeptical about supernatural stuff, since, in the books, if something looked supernatural, it was just a matter of finding where the bad guys had hidden the tape players and holographic projectors…

  33. says

    “I’m not sure that actively instilling skepticism in a young child is terribly age-appropriate.” ~notthedroid

    Gasp! I did it, and my daughter grew up to be a godless marine biologist!

  34. says

    Wow, this is the internet at its best, what a great bunch of suggestions! I had no idea there was so much literature out there in this age range. And here I am thinking the only thing we had was Harry Potter….

    Regarding if it is a good idea to instill atheism in a child you are responsible for: It could be a very bad idea. One of my best friend’s kids is deeply religious owing to this sort of upbringing. The trick is knowing in advance if your chld is going to rebel, and if so, how!

  35. says

    Yeah, and one trick is not to push at all — just make the stuff available, and if they don’t want to read it, that’s fine. Also don’t go into hysterics if they start reading religious stuff. Our son once came home with some Mormon comic books, and all I did was read them when he was through with them. It’s no big deal if you don’t make it a big deal.

  36. says

    The first few times Julia came home (in 5th grade) with stories of religion being brought into the public classroom, I wanted to go after the teacher, but she talked me out of it.

    I thought this was because she did not have the stomach for it and wanted me to not embarrass her. That would be reasonable. So I stayed out of it.

    But it turns out I was wrong. She was simply plotting out her own way of doing it.

    Now, it is very interesting to see how the teachers at her school have divided into two groups. One group stays who stays back, watching her subversion (occasionally giving her some extra room to work, like when her music teacher asked her to MC the class concert, and did not impose any editing or censorship even though it might have been appropriate! … but most of her jokes went over everyone’s head anyway) vs. the other teachers who try very hard to avoid getting her attention.

  37. says

    I would agree, don’t push anything in particular – push everything. Casual exposure to comparative religions is the best vaccine against brainwashing. And it’s easy to acquire skepticism when you read voraciously – all the books contradict one another!

  38. Caliban says

    The Foundation for Critical Thinking has a great many pamphlets and books of educational materials for children of varying ages.

    I have purchased a few things from them and think they are great educational tools, but not exactly fun. Still, i highly recomend them to anyone intrested in exposing children to the basics of critical thinking.


  39. SCate says

    For a periodical, you can check out the “Jr. Skeptic” supplement that is featured in “Skeptic” magazine ( skeptic.com )

  40. Johan Richter says

    I second the recomendation for various holy texts. I read the bible in fifth grade, since then I haven’t had any respect for religion. The bible is good for teaching atheism, while at the same time being a fun read. (Well, if you skip the most boring profecies.)

  41. Jennifer says

    I strongly recommend any of Isaac Asimov’s nonfiction. While most of his stuff is not openly atheist, it is utterly rational yet interesting and even exciting. I spent my childhood reading him, and I credit him and his F & SF science essays with teaching me how science really works and how amazing it can be. And once you learn that …

    One of my favorite passages was from his article about the lightning rod. It explained how, due to their height and their pointed steeples, churches were the most frequent victims of lightning, and the only ones after Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod and all those god-not-fearing secularists put them up. Until Brescia, that is. In 1769, the people of Brescia, Italy, stored their gunpowder in the basement of their church to keep it safe. Then lighting hit the church, blew up the magazine, and destroyed a sixth of the town. After that, churches started putting up lightning rods. So much for trusting in God!

    Another excellent article was on the European witch hunts, and Asimov’s analysis of them and what made them so irrational. It concluded that old men, with beards covering their wrinkles, were much more common and more handsome than old crones, and these old crones, of course, supported themselves by being healers, and as widows, it was easy to pick on the poor old ladies when one of their patients died naturally. Made me really think about how dangerous jumping to conclusions can be.

  42. pkiwi says

    With my kids I just encourage a wide range of books, and of course I am not seeking to indoctrinate them with a bible! They seek out such cool science and history stuff (the ‘horrible’ series are great). And new and classic fiction too. Recently reading “Pride and Prejudice with my 9-yr-old girl we branched into a fascinating discussion about how Elizabeth Bennet learnt a valuable lesson – to not leap to conclusions. That was a great primer in skeptical thinking, and a delightful read too.

  43. Robert P. says

    Did you hear about the scientist that murdered his wife? I’m really ashamed of being a scientist now that I know I must paint all groups with one broad brush based on the worst case scenario.

    All Christians – Southern Baptist Convention equivalents.
    All Germans – Nazi equivalents.
    All Women – Paris Hilton bimbo equivalents.
    All Men – Jeffrey Dahmer necrophilia, dismemberment, cannibalism and torture equivalents.

    Thank you for your keen insight.

  44. Uber says

    Oh pplease Robert it’s not as if the Catholics down the street are any better.

    The rest of what you say has merit.

  45. says

    Uber, I’m sure that the Catholics down the street would be very surprised to learn that they are a monolith. The amount of tension and conflict in Catholicism these days is bested only by the Episcopalians.

  46. Chris says

    I’m not sure what would be harmful about teaching children rational skeptical thinking.

    Well, there is the fact that they might not have enough social consciousness to refrain from exercising it around their peers.

    What happens then may or may not be considered “harmful”, depending on the standards of the parent (and what results the other children are going to get when they tell their own parents about the conversation).

    Granted, indoctrinating the children to what everyone else believes just to have them “fit in” strikes *me* as a rather drastic step to take just to avoid having them piss people off with too much honesty, but it seems like a decision that parents should think about before making on behalf of their children.

  47. Carlie says

    Robert –
    And again, you can’t say “church is ok because I’ve seen a nice one” any more than you think I can’t say “church is bad because I’ve seen a bad one”. How children are being taught in a denomination of over 16 million people (second only to Roman Catholicism) isn’t just something you can dismiss as those weird kooks in the little church down the road. My point is that a lot of Sunday schools are like that, and there has been a heck of a lot of discussion here and elsewhere regarding how a lot of what moderates do and say actually enables the extremists to flourish.

  48. says

    Lots of Greek and Norse mythology.

    Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy — I mean, after all, the young protagonists discover that “angels” are really “ideas” and end up killing the “Authority” — the way too cocky individual who reigns for years pretending to be Yahweh. Doesn’t get better than that.

  49. chris hart says

    Actually, PZ, I’ve been thinking about writing children’s books with an atheistic outlook for quite a while now. I agree there seems to be a growing need for and interest in them.

    Now if I could just find a style that blends Dr. Suess with Dr. Dawkins…

  50. Bart says

    I found a gem at our local library on accident.

    Little Bunnys Loose Tooth. By Lucy Bates

    Little bunny gets a loose tooth, and is confronted by her parents with the Tooth Fairly myth. The parents gently encourage her to explore the idea of an invisible magical person who is looking out for you (or your teeth) In the end, Bunny dismisses the idea of myth, but asks for her parents to sneak in while she is sleeping and deliver the dime for the tooth.

    A nice story that shows we can use the good morals of myth (especialy when it brings us cash), but dispense with the mysticism.

  51. says

    Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy

    I was really irritated to hear that they were taking all mention of God out of the first movie, and presumably out of the whole series, to avoid offending anyone. I don’t know if that’s still going to happen, but I found it really disappointing and predictable.

  52. grey lady says

    The infant skeptic can be sung to sleep with this verse from “It Ain’t Necessarily So” by George and Ira Gershwin (from Porgy and Bess):

    It ain’t necessarily so.
    It ain’t necessarily so.
    De t’ings dat yo li’ble
    To read in de Bible –
    It ain’t necessarily so.

  53. notthedroids says

    “Gasp! I did it, and my daughter grew up to be a godless marine biologist!”

    Well, aren’t you special.

  54. says

    I’m busy writing one myself. It’s intended to be aimed more at teenage-level readers, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for the smartest of the younger kids as well.

    More on this later.

  55. JohnnieCanuck says

    Well, I for one am jealous of dorid, there’s no sign yet that my skepticism has overcome my wife’s proselytising for the patriarchy to our kids.

  56. M says

    As an atheist child of agnostic parents, I don’t think you need to particularly skepticise children. Their natural instinct is to ask ‘why’; the thing to do is to encourage them to keep asking why, and not accept the easy answers.

    I thought my child’s bible was fantastic by the way. Full of murder, violence and rivers of blood it was exactly my sort of reading as a six year old. Shelved next to a book of collected myths from round the world, Terry Jones’ very good fairy tales, and a good few books on classical history and mythology, the atheism sort of occurred naturally. When no-one can give you an answer as to why a particular fantasy story is true and the others aren’t it just happens.

    As for being different, well, I was the only atheist in my class in primary school. There was also one Hindu and two Muslims (it was a small class). As long as we all played nicely and sang hymns without quarrel it was a non-issue. Our nativity play I think had a Hindu lead magus and proto-atheist self as lead shepherd. In secondary school being an atheist was fine, but objecting to hymn singing was a no-no, because it was part of school ritual and ‘community’ (including all the non-Christian religous types as well). But then again, this is the UK, not the USA.

  57. khan says

    I agree with reading mythology/folklore. That’s how I started. Greek/Roman then Norse then Native American then Chinese and African…

  58. Greg Peterson says

    It’s not ON atheism, but atheist Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, starting with “The Golden Compass,” is sort of the Chronicles of Narnia of atheism.

  59. anon says

    I would love to see a book that explained religious experiences and invisible friends. Showed kids that it’s OK to have an imagination and make up friends and feel good about a day without having others call them Angels/Fairys and God Blessing them or something.

    I’ve seen books on reasoning, logic, good ways to treat others, morals, etc.

  60. Tat says

    A good grasp of logic and knowledge of comparative religion. I use to lie to my nephew from time to time, make up something absurd and explain why it was true giving the most absurd reasonings. “What that stuffed animal doesn’t like you it likes me.” “Because it told me.” “Of course it doesn’t talk to you it’s shy.” “No you just think it’s filled with stuffing and unable to talk.” “You can’t prove that I’m wrong.”

  61. PM says

    If your kids are a little older, this is easy. When they’re in puberty, teach them that lots of religions frown on sex except for making babies, but that if carefully managed, sex can be a whole lotta fun.

    Why do you think so many Catholic teens like me stopped going to confession, stopped receiving communion, and stopped going to church?

  62. Rey Fox says


    That would suck. Don’t the makers of the movie know that having a bunch of god-botherers wailing about their movie just drums up publicity?

  63. The Physicist says

    Critical thinking skills are very important for people, unfortunately the part of the brain that is capable of such, does not develop fully until age 25 as the mean. Anything else before that time is indoctrination. One cannot use these skills well until they are out of higher education. This is a fact of biology. If children are to be indoctrinated it should be the owner/parent and not the government.

  64. The Physicist says

    This is why the government can recruit young men to go fight an illegal war, they have not the critical thinking skills at that point to make good judgment. There is only war because of this tou will not find many 40 year olds fighting for democracy for othe countries.

    Ask me if my weapon would rather be a spoon eating Ice cream, or to give democracy to the world, hand me the spoon, I’ll die on my own terms.

  65. SER says

    I am a little late to the party (okay, very late, but I’ve never been here before), yet on reading PZ’s post it occurred to me that the religious types also have all the good hymns. I am here now to help rectify this with an, ehem, “un-spiritual” I composed this morning in the shower. In the tradition of the great tent revival songs, I’ve entitled it “Look to the Heavens”:

    Look to the Heavens

    If you are wondering about your existence
    Look to the heavens and there you will see
    A sky filled with light, not love,
    That comes from the sun above
    One of billions of stars in our galaxy

    If you are wondering about your person
    Look to your body and there you will see
    Five fingers and five toes
    Two eyes and a nose
    All part of animal biology

    For though people talk of gods
    And try to play the odds
    That they’ll live forever
    If they just believe
    We know facts are things we find
    Not invent in our minds
    And love exists
    When made by you and me

    If you are wondering about your history
    And doubt a monkey’s in your family tree
    Look upon your reverend soon
    He’s a bit of a baboon
    But he’s changed a bit evolutionarily

    If you are wondering how it is we know things
    Look to the world and there you will see
    With experiment and doubt
    We can often figure out
    How the world works scientifically

    Repeat Chorus
    For though people talk of gods
    And try to play the odds
    That they’ll live forever
    If they just believe
    We know facts are things we find
    Not invent in our minds
    And love exists
    When it comes from you and me

    General Disclaimer: I accept no liability for injuries real or imagined caused by bad puns, strained rhymes, and general doggrel. But it does sound good in the shower.