Religion, money, how best to spend our...

Religion, money, how best to spend our lives, what does it all mean--kids can be more interested in this stuff than we give them credit for.

HOW DO YOU SPELL GOD?: ANSWERS TO THE BIG QUESTIONS FROM AROUND THE WORLD (William Morrow: $15; ages 10 and up) is a book I would have loved as a youthful soul-searcher. Written by a rabbi (Marc Gellman) and a priest (Thomas Hartman), with an introduction by the Dalai Lama, this is an ecumenical, compact course in comparative religions.

What a concept: Un-sappy spiritual books for kids are rare, and even rarer is the opportunity to learn about any religion except the one you’re being brought up in. Raised Catholic, I had a devil of a time until college locating information about anything else. This book is organized, not by religion, but by concerns we all have: What is our place is the world, what happens after we die, why do bad things happen to good people. The world’s major religions--Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism and Taoism--are a “bunch of big answers to the really big questions.”

The authors tackle this thorny material in a clear, smooth, even amusing (though always respectful), style. An outstanding choice for a child approaching a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, confirmation or religious holiday.


From the sacred to the profane--another all-important topic is cash. With MONEY, MONEY, MONEY: THE MEANING OF THE ART AND SYMBOLS ON UNITED STATES PAPER CURRENCY (HarperCollins: $14.95; ages 7 to 12), author-illustrator Nancy Winslow Parker sidles into her topic by taking a colorful excursion into your wallet. Analyzing all the people and symbols printed on our currency, she supplies a lively introduction to financial essentials, as well as a lot about American history, math, art and interesting diversions like counterfeiting.

For legitimate, creative ways to obtain the cash, turn to BRAINSTORM!: THE STORIES OF TWENTY AMERICAN KID INVENTORS by Tom Tucker, illustrated by Rochard Loehle (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $15; ages 8 and up).

This is a collection of biographies of smart kids who worked hard and didn’t waste time. From the famous (Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison) to the 11-year-old who invented the Popsicle and the 8-year-old who created the resealable cereal box--these entrepreneurs made life happen now . Engaging and inspiring, with step-by-step advice for future inventors.

Narrowing the focus to one career is MUSIC IN THE WOOD by Cornelia Cornelissen, photographs by John MacLachlan (Delacorte: $21.95; ages 8 and up). A close look at how a cello-maker works, this is not a flashy book but rather an unusual, fascinating ode to the joy and serenity found in a life of exquisite craftsmanship. An elegant volume, packaged with a CD of Bach and Bocherini.