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Ideally, Secular Solstice would be a holiday for families– one that teaches children humanist values. Unfortunately, it is at present celebrated by only a few hundred people, so we do not have picture books that explain Solstice-related concepts in an accessible fashion. We must appropriate picture books that were not written as Solstice books but which happen to address Solstice-related themes. I will review several here.

Many solstice themes appear to be entirely absent from picture books. For perhaps obvious reasons, few picture books appear to address existential risk, the fact that the universe doesn’t care, stoicism, or perseverence in the face of a harsh world. While many picture books do address the subject of death, few do it in a way anti-deathist atheists would find remotely satisfying. My selections also include a puzzling absence of books about trying to be good, building things together, or hope for the future, perhaps because I was mostly looking at humanist/atheist picture books and these topics are discussed more generally. I am interested in suggestions from readers for picture books that address each of these themes.

Older Than The Stars: A brief history of the universe. Excellent use of rhyme, rhythm, repetition, and alliteration make this book a delight to read out loud. The main text is relatively light on science, although it does touch on the Big Bang and how all atoms formed in stars; however, each page contains science facts for the older reader which are, as far as I know, accurate.

Solstice themes addressed: humans are built of meat and stardust; existence is neat.

Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution: A lovely, reasonably scientifically accurate book about evolution. The book explains that we are descended from various kinds of animal, who evolved various abilities, and related to all different kinds of animals. The book is interactive, prompting the reader to wiggle and chomp just like Grandmother Fish. I worry somewhat that it promotes a teleological view of evolution: it talks about how Grandmother Reptile evolved the ability to breathe air, but does not mention that Grandmother Reptile also lost certain abilities that Grandmother Fish had. However, that’s a fairly minor flaw in an otherwise wonderful book.

Solstice themes addressed: humans are built of meat and stardust; existence is neat.

If…: A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking At Big Ideas and Numbers: Each page offers a concrete visualization of a big, complicated number: what if the Milky Way galaxy were the size of a dinner plate? what if all the wealth in the world were a hundred coins? what if the events of the past 3000 years were condensed into a single month? As such, this book does not address many Solstice themes. However, it can be a jumping-off point for a lot of Solstice-y discussions. Families who prioritize global poverty may find its visualizations of wealth inequality a way to spark a discussion about why the family donates the way they do. The section about history may prompt conversations about past human achievements and what we might do in the future.

Solstice themes addressed: existence is neat; building things together; tangentially, trying to be good and hope for the future.

If The World Were A Village: A Book About The World’s People: Similar to If…, and written by the same authors, If The World Were A Village focuses on a single concrete visualization of a big, complicated number: what if the entire world were a village of a hundred people? How many people would be Christian? What languages would they speak? How much money would each person have? How many people would have a computer? The book is intended to build “world-mindedness,” a sense of the diversity of the world and caring about people in other countries; this seems like a good rationalist/effective altruist virtue, but perhaps not a Solstice-y one. If read around the time of Solstice, then this book mostly seems useful as a jumping-off point for discussion, particularly among families who prioritize global poverty. It brings up questions about why some countries have more food than others; the parent might also bring up that a few hundred years ago all countries were more similar to the global poor than to the global rich. The book was published in 2011, so many statistics may be out of date; figuring out how to update the statistics might be a good project for a homeschool.

Solstice themes addressed: tangentially, building things together, trying to be good and hope for the future.

I Wonder: This is an adorable book and I definitely recommend getting it. Eva takes a walk with her mother and asks many questions, from why the moon stays close to us to where butterflies come from. She learns the answer to some of her questions, but also learns that there are a lot of questions even grownups don’t know the answer to. I think this is a good book that models curiosity about the unknown, but I’m not sure that it’s very Solstice-y. Not every rationalist virtue needs to be crammed into a single holiday. This might be one to keep on the shelves year-round.

Solstice themes addressed: existence is neat? building things together? trying to be good?

Annabelle & Aiden Presents: Oh The Things We Believed: Very much disrecommended. The book itself is flimsy and feels cheap. The author is attempting to write verse, but does not seem to at all understand the concept of scansion, and the rhymes are very forced. The story is all over the place. I am baffled by the author’s choice to have a bunch of magic things happen in a book the moral of which is that magic doesn’t happen. The cloud isn’t magic, but what about the talking fucking stegosaurus? Maybe that might be magic? Worst of all, the book contains several factual inaccuracies, such as that people used to believe the earth was on the back of infinite turtles. As far as I am aware, no culture believed this. Do not buy this book for your child; I would also probably avoid the rest of the Annabelle & Aiden series.

Solstice themes addressed: we can build things together; perseverance in the face of a harsh world.