Archive for October, 2009

Are the Times Changing?

Three articles arriving one after the other have raised my blood pressure recently.

–        “The School that Opted Out” by Julianna Baggott

–        “Heather Has Two Mommies Turns 20” by Leslea Newman

–        “Scholastic Censors ‘Luv Ya Bunches’ from Book Fairs.” by Rocco Staino

I have thought, long and hard, about how I could put into words my reactions, my feelings about the contents of these pieces. What could I write that could possibly make a difference, effect a change in what has been written? How can I respond in a positive way to what I so strongly disagree with?

I could rant and rave, call principals and teachers, congress people and librarians, Scholastic, perhaps all of publishing on the carpet declaring them all wrong (of course) and me all right (of course). I am pretty good at that, but it doesn’t feel right. Why add fuel to the fire.

I could stay silent and let it all pass over and wait for a quieter moment, an easier topic to write about. Not being the silent type, that doesn’t feel right either.

Instead, I decided to look through the piles of books in my office to see if there might be an answer or two there. As always, the response was right under my nose:

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We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures

© 2008We Are All Born Free Amnesty International. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Ages 4-8

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 30 artist-illustrators from around the world have provided art for this extraordinary picture book representing a simplified version of these rights for children of all ages.  A profound and meaningful way to begin discussions of the theme: “Dignity and Justice for All.”

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Somewhere Today: A Book of Peace

By ShelleSomewhere Todayy Moore Thomas. Photographs by Eric Futran.

©1998 Albert Whitman & Company.

Ages 3-8

Beautiful photographs of the world’s children with their friends and families demonstrate the many ways they create peace everyday by taking care of each other and the world,  like “planting a tree,” “visiting someone who is old” or “reading a book.”  The text is simple enough for even the youngest child to understand.

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Peace Week in Miss Fox’s Class

By EileePeace Week Miss Foxn Spinelli. Illustrated by Anne Kennedy.

©2009 Albert Whitman & Company.

Ages 4-8

I wish I were a student of Miss Fox. She has the best ideas! As her student’s quarrel and squabble with each other, she implements the idea of Peace Week. The language of this book is simple enough that even the youngest child can understand. The dilemmas faced by the students are realistic and the solutions easy to appreciate: “Don’t say mean things,” “Help others,” for example. The artwork is expressive, colorful and fun. It would be easy to implement a “Peace Week” in your own school using the ideas in this book. Perhaps children’s publishing could institute a Peace Week and we all write happy blogs and blissful news for one entire week.

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I believe that Shalom Bayit, peace in the house, and Derekh Eretz, Common Courtesy/Respect will always take us farther than intolerance and misunderstanding.  Who would ever have thought that Bob Dylan would be writing about his own generation when he composed the  lyrics to The Times They Are A-changin’ :

“Come mothers and fathers/Throughout the land/And don’t criticize/What you can’t understand/Your sons and your daughters/Are beyond your command/Your old road is/Rapidly agin’./Please get out of the new one/If you can’t lend your hand/For the times they are a-changin’.”

Indeed.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

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I received the copies of We Are All Born Free, Peace Week in Miss Fox’s Class and Somewhere Today that I reviewed in this blog from the publishers at my request.

I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click to Amazon from the book covers of books pictured in my blogs and buy something, I receive a portion of the book price.

© Kathleen M. Bloomfield of forwordsbooks.com

Is “Where The Wild Things Are” a Jewish Book?

Wild ThingsMaurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are, has been all over the news lately, as well he should be. I’m sure you’re aware that Sendak based the Wild Things on relatives from Europe, who his father rescued from the Holocaust. He has discussed this in Newsweek magazine, but in perhaps the most interesting interview, recorded on his 80th birthday and recently replayed on WBUR radio’s Here and Now, he described how most of his books have their roots in the Holocaust. It was a fascinating interview and I loved listening to him speak.  However, he didn’t specifically address the relative merits – Jewishly – of his time honored classic, Where the Wild Things Are, as much as I might have liked. Since finding Jewish values in secular books is one of my specialties, permit me to correct that oversight.

According to Judaism, each of us is born with a tendency toward immoral behavior or choices, known as the Yezter Hara, the evil inclination. In Jewish tradition, 13 years after we are born, we receive our Yetzer Tov, our good inclination, which enables us to have the free will to choose between our good and evil tendencies. It’s this concept – of the Yetzer Hara and the Yetzer Tov – that makes Where the Wild Things Are a Jewish book.

Max, wearing his wolf suit, is hammering nails into walls, chasing the dog and yelling at his mother. He has clearly allowed his Yetzer Hara to take control of him and he is enjoying every moment of it. His imagination runs wild as he creates a world filled with Wild Things who move at his command. “Let the wild rumpus start!” Max cries, and everyone howls at the moon, swings from the trees and dances in the forest. However, Max quickly learns that days and nights of debauchery can be very exhausting. He yearns for a warm, loving place.

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When IMG_3466he returns home, we see him beginning to remove his wolf skin and smiling to see “his supper waiting for him/ and it was still hot.” If you compare Max before he left his room for the Wild Things with Max upon his return, you will notice a few changes. Max looks a bit taller, a bit more mature. Could it be…is it possible…he is tapping into his Yetzer Tov.

As tradition teaches and the book reveals, it gets easier to choose the Yetzer Tov over the Yetzer Hara as we mature. Nonetheless, there is a wild thing (or two or three) in each one of us eager for a wild rumpus every now and then. Sometimes we need help taming them, as Max’s mom did by sending him to bed without his supper. Other times we sail across the sea to Wild Things Island and swing from the trees or howl at the moon, personally a brisk walk around the block, a little yoga and some journal writing tend to do the trick for me.  What’s important to know is that we have both tendencies – Hara and Tov – and the choice to use either. We would not be human otherwise. It is in learning how to choose between them, how to manage our Wild Things, and where to find our “still hot supper waiting for us” that moves us from childhood fantasy to adult reality.

So, is Where the Wild Things Are a Jewish book? Absolutely!

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

The copy of Where the Wild Things Are that I reviewed was from my personal collection.

I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click to Amazon from the book covers of books pictured in my blogs  and buy something, I receive a portion of the book price.

© Kathleen M. Bloomfield of forwordsbooks.com

Imagine – One World, One Voice, One Topic…One Book

Today I am participating in Blog Action Day ’09 and the topic is Climate Change. The concept of over 8000 bloggers from all over the world all writing about the same topic on the same day in order to spark a worldwide discussion is any educator’s dream. One would think we could change the world with this action, right? Read more about this incredible event at http://www.blogactionday.org/.

As I considered what I would write about for my blog on this important and somewhat overwhelming day (Al Gore…the Smithsonian…Engineers are blogging!), I thought about the mission of forwordsbooks. I have always been about building a foundation of values for children (and adults) using quality children’s literature as a base. Can you think of a better way to start any discussion on any topic than with a good book? Since Torah is one of the best books I know, I will start with a very short D’var Torah (a word of Torah).

Is it a coincidence Blog Action Day ’09 – Climate Change so closely coincides with beginning our new Torah cycle? As we read, Bere’shit, this upcoming Shabbat morning, we will hear (in Hebrew, of course), “God said to them, ‘Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.’” (Genesis 1:28)  Further on we will listen to, “God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to till it and to tend it.” (Genesis 2:15) Both of these verses remind me of the passage in Midrash, “See to it that you do not soil or destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah §1) There is certainly nothing like a good call to action from the Torah and our Rabbis to get things moving, wouldn’t you say? The human race seems to have the being fertile and increasing, mastering and ruling down pat, the tilling and tending, I am not so sure about. If several thousand years ago, an incredibly intelligent Rabbi interpreted the message as THERE WILL BE NO ONE ELSE TO REPAIR IT, why haven’t we been listening?

Not only that, those incredibly intelligent Rabbis gave us the values of Shomrei Haadamah (protecting the Earth) and Bal Tashchit (do not destroy or be wasteful). If that wasn’t enough, they provided the holiday of Tu B’Shevat (the Fifteenth of Av, commonly known as the Birthday of the Trees or the Jewish Arbor Day). Can you hear God now?

The books I am reviewing and recommending to you today will be helpful in discussions of those values, the holiday and the subject of Climate Change. However, in true forwordsbooks fashion, they will not hit you over the head with information so much as provide you and the children in your care with a place to start on their journey of discovery about the fascinating and important topic of Climate Change.

Measuring Angels

By Lesley Ely. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. © 2008 Frances Lincoln Limited.

Ages 4-8

“Every blade of grass below has a guardian official above.” Zohar (Book of Enlightenment) Rabbi Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon

Measuring AngelsIn this charming and brightly colored book, a smart teacher uses sunflower seeds and flowerpots to help rebuild a friendship. A little girl, who used to be best friends with Sophie, is very unhappy when she finds out that she and Sophie are partners in the sunflower-growing contest. Their flower does not grow at all until…they begin talking nicely to it every day, and together with their friend Gabriel, create a beautiful angel to watch over it. Demonstrates the power of working together for a common cause and that every living thing needs tender loving care.

Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green

By Eileen Spinelli. Illustrated by Anne Kennedy. © 2009 Albert Whitman & Company.

Ages 4-8

Mrs Fox Goes GreenWhen Miss Fox rides her bike to school to help reduce air pollution, she starts a chain reaction that involves the students in her class and ultimately the entire school. There are many simple ideas for young and old to help reduce-reuse-recycle in school and around the house. This book would help begin a discussion of ways to help the environment in and around the classroom and at home.

Vegetable Dreams/ Huerto Soñado

By Dawn Jeffers. Illustrated by Claude Schneider. © 2006 Raven Tree Press.

Ages 4-8

Vegetable DreamsErin has a beautiful dream of planting a vegetable garden in her backyard. When she tells her parents about it and asks to create her own garden, they tell her she is too young for that responsibility. When her next-door neighbor, Mr. Martinez, learns of her dilemma, he offers to give her part of his garden and teach her everything she needs to know – but she must do the work. When Erin and her parents agree, a wonderful partnership begins.  This is a book about sustainable living, the gifts of intergenerational friendships and supporting our kids’ dreams. This book is bilingual English/Spanish

The Man Who Flies With Birds

By Carole Garbuny Vogel and Yossi Leshem. © 2009 Kar-Ben Publishing.

Ages 10-15

A unique and fascinating book about Israel’s history and wildlife through the lens of bMan Who Fliesird migration, the authors cover everything having to do with bird flight over Israel. Such subjects as the impact of birds on airplanes, the science of bird migration, the effect of global warming on bird nesting grounds, how birds fly, where birds fly, tracking bird travels, keeping birds safe, using birds for peace and ecological tourism are covered. This is an excellent place to look for ideas to give children interested in working to save the planet. A list of many resources in the back of the book provides additional research and connections.

The Kids’ Catalog of Animals and the Earth

By Chaya M. Burstein. © 2006 Jewish Publication Society.

Ages 9-14

As with all the Kids’ Catalogs, this is a comprehensive overview of what Kids Catalog Animals EarthJudaism has to say about taking care of planet earth and everything on it, in it and around it. It contains many kid-friendly activities from creating a compost pile to writing letters to Congress. Primarily, it is a well-written and understandable look at what is happening to the earth, the issues society must deal with and what kids’ can do about those issues.

This, of course, has been a very brief overview of books about Climate Change that I am currently reviewing or have reviewed. As Tu B’Shevat approaches (January 30, 2010) I will look for additional books to review and add to my forwords Catalog of Jewish Books. In the meantime, keep checking here for more book reviews and commentary on what is happening in the world of Jewish children’s books.

Happy Reading!

Kathy B.

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