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'Beyond Belief': children's skepticism book paints with a broad brush

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‘Beyond Belief’: children’s skepticism book paints with a broad brush

You’ll want to know the contents of this one before picking it up.

There seems to be a lot of kid-friendly skepticism books on the market these days, and it can be tough to figure out just what your little critical thinker is ready for. Some books are imaginative, beautiful, creative, and fun; while others are more methodical, dry, matter-of-fact, and read more like a textbook. Until recently, I hadn’t really come across one that gave a hint of arrogance and pretension.

The description of Beyond Belief: The Adventure Begins, by child psychologist Ron Crouch (aka “Dr. Dad”), reads like a wild journey of a young boy named Kenai, who “chases after werewolves, hunts ghosts, and tracks sasquatch,” on the trail to find his missing parents. Unfortunately, none of that actually happens, and the story is so rushed that it’s almost as if those things aren’t that important, a side quest to Kenai’s mental cataloging of psychology terms like “cognitive dissonance,” “cold reading,” and “confirmation bias.”

 

'Beyond Belief': children's skepticism book paints with a broad brush

The parts of Beyond Belief that are about the search for Kenai’s parents are kind of interesting, despite being somewhat dry and rushed. I honestly felt sort of cheated when it turned out there are no run-ins with presumed aliens, or ghost investigations. All the creatures, Men in Black, Sasquatch families, UFOs, etc. are actually costumed workers at a compound in the forest.

The compound is the headquarters for a publishing company that promotes fear of the unknown by having people dress as aliens or Sasquatches, and scaring people in nearby towns. They capture people, such as Kenai’s parents, and lock them inside as forced writers for their outlandish stories.

Since Kenai never gets to to meet the cryptids and monsters prior to knowing they’re just people in costumes, and there are never any truly unexplained things for Kenai to face, there’s very little suspense to speak of. All of this makes Beyond Belief feel incomplete, and the characters seem shallow.

It’s not mentioned in Beyond Belief‘s summary that religion was going to feature so prominently. The first villain we encounter is Reverend Twinkle, a televangelist and faith healer that Kenai and his uncle plot to uncover as a scam artist.

While this religious figure is definitely a villain, Crouch doesn’t make any distinctions between the televangelism type and the leaders of your generic hometown church. This actually made me uncomfortable, even as a non-affiliated, non-religious person, and for this reason, I highly recommend parents reading Beyond Belief before giving it to their kids.

On the plus side, Kenai is a loveable character that’s having a rough go at life, and that’s something we can all identify with. There are are also some interesting real-life, true items strung along the pages that are kind of cool.

The dialogue, when not somewhat condescending, is kind of silly, which some kids may find relatable. If you can get past the “common clay of the West” type vibes and the snarky presentation, the age best suited for Beyond Belief is probably the 8 to 13 range.

Sometimes critical thinkers get so wrapped up in being correct that they forget the people they’re butting heads with are still simply that: people. Though Beyond Belief wasn’t right for our family, it may be right for some. I hope that parents will read it first and offer a bit more of a compassionate stance to their kids.

'Beyond Belief" back cover

Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture, and skepticism *OF* pop culture. 

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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