Archive for October, 2011

“Did you ask a good question today?”*: Arriving Early For Study/Hashkamat beit hamidrash

*from a story about Isador Rabi, Nobel Laureate

The importance of education and learning, the third value outlined in the Eilu D’varim prayer – Arriving Early for Study/Hashkamat beit hamidrash - is one of the hallmarks of the Jewish people. Perhaps because our history has included so many exoduses, expulsions, exiles and the like, we decided long ago that keeping our most valuable possessions – our ideals, ideas and values – in our heads would be the best way to transport them from one place to the next with minimal loss.

However, It is not enough to simply memorize the ideas and facts we are given, we must embrace and understand the reasons behind the information we are given.  Engaging in our education is held in equally high regard as the learning experience itself. We do this through questioning, an essential, if not fundamental, part of the Jewish learning experience. To ask is the bedrock of Jewish life.

The following books embrace education and encourage us to ask some wonderful questions:

Wow! School! Written and illustrated by Robert Neubecker, ©2007. Hyperion Books for Children.  Ages 3-6. Explore school with Izzy as she experiences the wonder and delight of a day in the classroom. From learning the alphabet to singing to making new friends to story time, school is a fun filled and exciting time. The bold, bright, colorful pictures practically shout for you to have a good time.

Sammy Spider’s First Day of School. Written by Sylvia A. Rouss. Illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn, ©2009. Kar-Ben Publishing. Ages 3-6.  Sammy Spider goes to school with Josh, listens to the story of Noah’s ark and escapes being hurt when the children learn about being kind to animals.

Wolf! By Becky Bloom. Illustrated by Pascal Biet, ©1999. Orchard Books. Ages 4-8.  Wolf is tired and hungry, but is totally ignored by the farm animals engaged in reading their books.  In order to be taken seriously, he must get an education, which he does, with surprising results.

The Art Lesson. Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, ©1989. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Ages 4-8. Tommy plans to be an artist when he grows up, but how will that happen if he only gets one piece of paper during art class, cannot use his own box of 64 Crayola crayons and has to copy the pictures the art teacher draws?

The Royal Bee by Frances Park and Ginger Park. Illustrated by Christopher Zhong-Yuan Zhang, ©2000. Boyds Mill Press.  Ages 6-9.  Song-ho is a poor boy who desperately wants to learn to read and write, a privilege only given to the wealthy. However, he finds a way to listen to the lessons taught outside the schoolroom doors and eventually learns enough to change his circumstances.

Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco, ©1996. Philomel Books. Ages 7-10.  ”There will be consequences,” says Aunt Chip as she takes to her bed when the TV Tower goes up and the entire town sits glued to their televisions morning, noon and night.  And consequences there were…

Freedom School, Yes! by Amy Littlesugar. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ©2001. Philomel Books. Ages 7-11. In a place where school is not available and where making it available is met with anger and violence, a group of young people find the courage to teach and students find the courage to learn. This was Mississippi in 1964.

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill, © 2000.  Aladdin Paperbacks. Ages 9-12.  After losing another of many teachers because the village is too cold, the children smell of fish  or the parents put hunting over learning, Miss Agness comes to the one-room schoolhouse in Alaska. How long will she stay?

The Report Card by Andrew Clements, © 2005.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Ages 10-13. A middle school genius is discovered when she carefully fails several classes in an effort to demonstrate that test scores and grades do not necessarily reflect intelligence.

The Secret School by Avi, © 2001.  Sandpiper. Ages 10-14. When their teacher leaves before the end of the year, the School Board decides to close down the one-room school to save money. But where does that leave the students who must take end-of-year tests in order to move on to the next grade.

As you read these books, discuss them with your children using the “Speak Volumes” guide for this month. You may be surprised to learn that you are practicing the value of Arriving Early for Study/Hashkamat beit hamidrash. Think of the many times you practice this value every day as you answer questions, teach new skills and ask or learn about new things yourself.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review came from my own collection or my local public library.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

Book Review | Gershon’s Monster
by Eric A. Kimmel

Score: 5

Illustrated by John J. Muth © 2000, Scholastic, Inc. For the most part, we try to be on our best behavior throughout the year. We remember to say please and thank you. We speak kindly of and to others. We tell the truth. Of course, everyone makes an occasional mistake, and when we do we [...]

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Book Review | Sukkot Treasure Hunt
by Allison Ofanansky

Score: 3

Photographs by Eliyahu Alpern © 2011, Kar-Ben Publishing. How much fun would it be to take the children on a hike and look for and pick the willow, myrtle and palm branch for your very own lulav? What would it be like to pick bay leaves for your soup pot, grapes or dates for your [...]

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Book Review | Greater than Gold and Silver
by Rav Naftali Ehrmann

Score: 3

Adapted and Illustrated by Chedvah Rubin © 2009, Feldheim Publishers This beautiful story reveals, the true meaning, and consequences, of performing a mitvah with real intention or kavanah.  Reb Itzik is a poor peddler who loves Sukkot and above all observing the mitvah of having a perfect etrog during the holiday. When one year he [...]

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Do the Right Thing, in the Right Way, and Often: G’milut Hasidim/Acts of Loving Kindness

As we continue to follow the text of the Eilu D’Varim prayer, this month we will focus on the second item in the list: G’milut Hasidim/Acts of Loving Kindness.

So important are these deeds that they are part of what, according to The Rabbis, is holding up the world: “The world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah (worship), and Gemiilut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness)” (Ethics of the Fathers/Pirke Avot, 1:2).

Acts of Loving Kindness/G’milut Hasidim are the actions we perform for others that require us to give a little bit of ourselves. They are activities we put some thought or effort into before, during and after we do them. We think about the people we are helping, the organization we are serving, or how exactly the money we are donating is going to help whoever we are giving it to.

Are we supposed to give until it hurts? Well not exactly, but we certainly should be aware that we are doing something important, not mindlessly going through the motions. We should be working, writing or acting with intention or kavannah.

The books I want to suggest to you this month, clearly demonstrate Acts of Loving Kindness filled with intention.

The Lion & the Mouse Written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, © 2009 (ages 3-9) In this Caldecott Award winning, wordless picture book adaptation of the classic Aesop’s fable, a meek little mouse disturbs a resting lion. Unexpectedly, the lion lets the mouse go. When later, the lion is captured in a rope trap, the mouse repays the kindness by freeing the lion.

The Bear Who Shared Written and illustrated by Catherine Rayner. Dial Books for Young Readers, © 2010 (Ages 3-7) The plorringe is about to ripen. Norris, the bear, patiently waits as Tulip, the raccoon, and Violet, the mouse, touch and test the delicious fruit. Who will get the ripened fruit when it finally falls?

Rabbit’s Gift By George Shannon. Illustrated by Laura Dronznek. Harcourt, Inc., © 2007 (Ages 3-8) Winter is coming. When Rabbit finds two turnips, he is happy thinking he will be set when the snow comes. However, when he thinks about his friend Donkey, who is all alone, Rabbit decides to give his second turnip to her. But Donkey has plenty of food, so she shares with Goat, who shares with Deer, who shares with…As each animal thinks of another friend, they come to realize there is enough food for all of them to share what they have together.

Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed By Emily Pearson. Illustrated by Fumi Kosaka. Gibbs Smith, Publisher,   © 2002 (Ages 4-8) Ordinary Mary changed the world by picking some ordinary blueberries from an ordinary bush, putting them in an ordinary bowl and setting them on Mrs. Bishop’s porch. Mary’s simple act sets off a chain reaction that sends a message of love to every person in the whole world.


God Said Amen By Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. Illustrated by Avi Katz. Jewish Lights Publishing, © 2000 (ages 5-9) The Kingdom of Midnight has plenty of water but needs oil to light their lamps at night. The Kingdom of the Desert has lots of oil but needs water for their garden plants.  Unfortunately, the Prince of Midnight and the Princess of the Desert are both too proud to ask for what they need and too stubborn to give what they have without being asked. In the end, a simple act of kindness by two young people brings the two kingdoms together.

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot: A True Story of the Berlin Airlift and the Candy that Dropped from the Sky By Margot Theis Raven. Illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Sleeping Bear Press, © 2002 (Ages 8-11) Mercedes and her mother are living in West Berlin during the Soviet blockade of the city in 1948. Food and fuel are scarce, but when Mercedes’ mother reads her a newspaper story about a Berlin Airlift pilot who is dropping candy for children out of his ariplane, Mercedes decides she must get some.

Love, Ruby Lavender By Deborah Wiles. Harcourt, Inc., © 2001 (ages 9-12). Ruby Lavender loves her grandmother, Eula.  She has the exact opposite feelings about her schoolmate, Melba Jane. When Ruby is “abandoned” by her grandmother, who must leave their small town of Halleluia, Mississippi to visit a new grandchild in Hawaii, Ruby puts her loneliness and energy into raising her three chickens.

Maniac Magee By Jerry Spinelli. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, © 1990 (Ages 10-14). In this Newbery Award Winning book by a master storyteller, we read the legend of Jeffrey Lionel Magee.  As with most legends, the lines between fact and fiction are a bit blurry. What is true, however, is that Jeffrey Lionel Magee left a definite impression on the town in which he lived.

Makeovers by Marcia By Claudia Mills. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, © 2005 (Ages 11-15). Marcia is “overweight” by 5 whole pounds, is praying her 8th grade dream date will ask her to the fall dance and has just learned her art teacher thinks her drawing of a girl looks like “Barbie.” Things could not get any worse…until her Social Studies teacher assigns her to a community service project at the nursing home! What is she supposed to do with a bunch of old people?

Every Soul A Star By Wendy Mass. Little, Brown and Company, © 2008 (Ages 11-15). Three teens come together to witness a total eclipse of the sun and find that their lives are about to be changed forever.

Notes from the Dog By Gary Paulsen. Wendy Lamb Books, © 2009 (ages 13-16). Finn planned to spend the summer sitting at home, reading and not talking to any more than 12 people. That was until Joanna moved in to house sit next door. Joanna decided that Finn should plant a garden for her – in his back yard! But wait, there’s more…much more.

The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back. By Kevin Salwen & Hannah Salwen. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, © 2010 (ages 14-Adult). Seeing a homeless man and a person driving an expensive car at the same time on the same street corner triggers a life changing decision for one family. They will sell their house and give half of the profits to charity.

In order that each child reading these books will get the most from them, I created Speak Volumes: A Jewish Values Based Family Reading Program. Go to the Family Reading Program Section of my website, locate the October/Tishrei list of discussion questions and activities. Use these when reading together with your children to see and understand the value of G’milut Hasidim/Acts of Loving Kindness in each of these books.

Wishing you a wonderful Sukkot.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review came from my own collection or my local public library.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

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