- Meet Rebecca (American Girls Collection: Rebecca 1914). by Jacqueline Green. American Girl, 2009. 96 pgs. Ages 8-up.
- Candlelight for Rebecca (American Girl) by Jacqueline Green. American Girl, 2009. 96 pgs. Ages 8-up.
I had the great pleasure of discussing these two books with my six-year-old daughter yesterday. We both enjoyed them very much. As I’ve said before, the writing in the American Girl books is crisp, well-paced, and heart-felt. The characters are all very sympathetic, and Rebecca herself is a realistic mixture of human short-comings and high ideals.
In contrast to Kirsten, whom we discussed here a few weeks ago in this post, Rebecca’s stories all involve her Jewish heritage, and as such, attempt to deal with religion. In Meet Rebecca, the plot revolves around her desire to be more grown up–in particular, her hope to someday take her sisters’ place and light their Sabbath candles at a family meal. Her religion is presented as primarily cultural or a background for the real focus of the plot, growing up. However, in Candlelight for Rebecca, religion is much more central to the story. In fact, I would say this story qualifies as a primer on comparative religion, since it looks at how Rebecca deals with the pressure from teachers and classmates to celebrate Christmas. Her family celebrates Hanukkah at home, but her public school teacher declares that Christmas is an American holiday, and everyone must celebrate it. Rebecca struggles with feelings of shame and betrayal of her family and heritage as she participates in singing Christmas carols and creating a Christmas centerpiece in class, which she knows her grandmother would highly disapprove of.
In talking to my daughter, I found that these books gave her a new understanding of what it must have been like to come to a new country and be different from the mainstream. She was particularly interested in Rebecca’s religious traditions, and in teasing her thoughts out a little, she explained to me that if she had been Rebecca, she would have been sad that most people didn’t understand her religion and tried to make her celebrate Christmas. A wonderful realization. I consider it a gift that through this book, my daughter has developed affection for a Jewish girl in such a foreign setting, and that she now sympathizes with her struggles and triumphs.
However, the thing I am most grateful for is the opportunity these books gave us to talk about the third religion being promoted here: tolerance or cherished pluralism, as D. A. Carson would say. We obviously see Judaism and Christianity in the story, but the quiet worldview–in place of a religion for many in our culture–is the idea that people are all basically good and all religions equal. By limiting the scope of religion to lighting candles, memorizing prayers, and being kind to people, we as a culture have tried to do away with the need for Christ.
People are made in His image, and Rebecca and her family are a beautiful, though limited, picture of His humility and kindness to other people. In that way, they are good examples, and they show us something of the God who is there. However, we will never be good enough on our own. My daughter will never be good enough. I will never be good enough. And sweet, kindly Jewish immigrants from Russia won’t be good enough. We are all naked before Him.
Tonight I read a letter from John Piper to a 12 year-old girl who wanted to know the eternal destiny of people who never hear the gospel. The implication is that those people, apart from the gospel of Christ, might be good enough on their own….just like the Rebecca’s of the world. And I had to wonder whether she had grown up reading the American Girl books, or the thousands of other books that aren’t nearly so good but which contain the same message that you don’t need God to be good, or happy, or “make a difference” in the world. See the quote on the back of their books:
American Girl celebrates a girl’s inner star–that little whisper that encourages her to stand tall, reach high, dream big. We take pride and care in helping girls become their very best today, so they’ll grow up to be the women who make a difference tomorrow.
Only in Christ can we find one who not only encourages us to be our best, but who has conquered death for us, and can empower us to live lives of true humility and kindness. Which is why we’ll keep reading Rebecca’s stories, but at the same time, keep seeking to meet Christ in them, too.
Here are a few of the questions I asked my daughter in reviewing the books. By the way, the first two can be applied to any book:
1) What was it that Rebecca wanted most of all? (In both stories, she wants to be accepted and treated as significant.)
2) How does Christ provide that for those who trust in Him? (See Colossians 3:4)
3) How does Rebecca show kindness to others? Do you think that pleased God? Does that mean she doesn’t need Christ’s forgiveness?
4) What were some of the most interesting things about the time she lived?
5) How could our family or our church make immigrants like Rebecca and her family feel more welcome in our country?
See our previous American Girl posts for more on this topic, American Girls introduction and Review of Kirsten. Or read our interview with American Girls’ author, Jane Kurtz, and learn about her books set in Africa for young readers.