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Kids’ Spirituality Feeds Book Market

Twelve-year-old Crystal Beyea’s life seemed at a standstill four years ago.

“She was extremely shy and suffered a lot from asthma,” said her mother, Cindy Beyea.

But that changed when Crystal began reading “Make Beliefs,” a book that its author, Bill Zimmerman, says is intended to spark the imagination and “help people find their own magic.”

“I gave it to Crystal, and she immediately began answering the question-and-answer format that encourages the reader to imagine and let the child within you come out,” Cindy Beyea said.

The exercise “made me feel that I was kind of special,” Crystal said.

Today, she writes weekly articles in the Hunterdon County Democrat, based in her hometown of Flemington, N.J., on such topics as student backpacks, posture, AIDS, light-up sneakers and the 911 emergency system. She said she hopes to inspire families.

Fourteen-year-old Richard Belva of Dix Hills, N.Y., who hopes to be a doctor or writer, said that another book, “Where Does God Live? Children’s Questions About God,” has helped him to cope with life’s day-to-day problems. It was extremely helpful at the time of his grandparents’ death, he said.

The book, which was a best seller, was written by Rabbi Marc Gellman and Msgr. Thomas Hartman, the hosts of television and radio’s “God squad” segments.

“I was very upset,” Richard said, recalling his feelings at that time. “My mom got me the book. It helped me to understand why my grandparents died.” Richard met Gellman at the temple his parents attend.

“The rabbi told me to remember the good memories of them,” Richard said.

Just 10 years ago, children’s books with such overt religious, biblical or spiritual themes would never have been published, let alone acknowledged as best sellers. But in the past two years, sales of these kinds of books have shown the fastest growth of any book category.

“Publishers and the buying public discovered a fresh interest in things spiritual, a desire to belong to something large and meaningful,” said Miriam Pollack, the owner of Choices, New York City’s largest shop devoted to books on recovery programs.

More than 19 million books in the juvenile spiritual and religious categories were sold in 1994, compared with 14.9 million in 1993, an increase of more than 34 percent, according to the 1994 Research Study of Book Publishing, produced for the Book Industry Study Group in New York.

This increase in sales is being generated by parents and grandparents, Pollack said.

Patricia Klein, a senior editor at HarperCollins in San Francisco who was a former religion buyer at Waldenbooks, agrees.

“With the recent growth of adult religion books,” she said, “parents are rediscovering their own spirituality, becoming more comfortable with spiritual exploration and in many cases returning to formal worship services.”



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