By Katherine K. Newman. Self-published, 2016. 90 pages. $31/paperback. Recommended for ages 2.5–5.
I recommend this book for all First-day schools and Quaker families with young children. When I write a review, I usually make my recommendations at the end. I like to tell my readers what is good and important about a book before I recommend it. It feels heavy to start a review with “you must get this book.” This is especially true when reviewing for Friends Journal, in which my goal is to offer insights into books that represent Quaker testimonies or have some affinity with Quaker values. Of all the books I have reviewed over the past ten years for Friends Journal, this one gets my highest recommendation. First Day Stories is not a high adventure book offering deep insights. Instead, it is a gentle book with quiet simple practices that present Quaker life in form and content. Beyond its literary and artistic merits, this book speaks to that of God in me.
First Day Stories is a collection of 12 short stories about Quaker practices and beliefs for preschool children. Although the author recommends the book for three- to six-year-olds, my experience with the book makes me recommend it for a slightly younger audience. I read a few of the stories to some of the children in our First-day school at Brooklyn (N.Y.) Meeting and felt comfortable with the younger age group. Six-year-olds might be held by some of the longer stories.
The book describes a series of experiences of a Quaker family in their meeting such as shaking hands, holding someone in the Light, and participating in workdays. A few of the stories deal with emotional issues that are uncomfortable and demonstrate how Quaker practice can help children with feelings like loneliness or anger. Reading this book I, a practicing Quaker for more than 20 years, was reminded of the community built in sitting silently listening for God.
The book is creatively illustrated by the author using photographs of multicultural dolls acting out the scenes. The author uses over 15 dolls to make a complete Quaker community. The photos and characters in the stories represent the diversity of ages in a Quaker community from our youngest members to the oldest. Everything about the book speaks to integrity, simplicity, and inner peace. In one story, “Uncle’s Dog,” I was reminded of why we help others, how difficult that can be, and why we do it anyway.
Newman uses her more than 35 years of experience as a First-day school teacher to make her stories clear and short. After reading a story, there is enough time for another activity like a discussion or drawing to offer a complete lesson. At Brooklyn Meeting, I read the story “Holding in the Light,” which speaks to the Quaker practice of holding someone in the Light. During the discussion, a four-year-old asked to have his brother held in the Light. Newman describes her reason for creating First Day Stories as being aware that, “There are few materials for teaching young children about Friends’ worship and the life of the meeting.” Newman exceeds her goal by reaching children through stories that are simple, focused, and quiet. First Day Stories is a perfect lesson starter for First-day schools and an important book to have in every Quaker home with young children.