Archive for the ‘Bal Taschit’ Category

To Till it and Tend it – Earth Day 2011

All that we see –

The heaven, the Earth, and all that fills it –

All these things

Are the external garments of God.

Rebbe Shneur Zalman (1745-1812), The “Alter Rebbe”

Happy Earth Day 2011! Although I am still in Passover mode, today is the perfect opportunity to share a few of the latest “Green Books” that have come across my desk in the past few weeks:

Can We Save the Tiger? By Martin Jenkins. Illustrated by Vicky White. ©2011. Candlewick Press. In this exceptional book, Mr. Jenkins shares the stories of animals teetering on the edge of extinction as a result of human behavior.  He gives us the choice of saving these beautiful creatures or having them disappear forever. Ms. White’s stunning pencil and oil paint illustrations support his efforts to see these animals as masterpieces of God’s creation. Can the loss of these species be any less devastating than losing works by Picasso or Michelangelo? (Ages 6-11)


Dear Tree by Doba Rivka Weber. Illustrated by Phyllis Saroff. ©2010. Hachai Publishing. In this endearing story, a young boy writes a New Year’s (Tu B’Shevat)  letter to his tree wishing it all good things for the year to come. The lovely illustrations show, in detail, exactly what the boy hopes the tree receives – sunlight, rain, birds, bees, strength, etc. The boy promises to take good care of his tree and knows, in return, the tree will provide fruit and shade.  As appropriate for Earth Day as for Tu B’Shevat.  (Ages 3-8)

Gabby & Grandma Go Green written and illustrated by Monica Wellington. ©2011. Beginning with sewing the bags they will use to go shopping, Gabby and her grandmother shop at the Farmer’s Market, walk to the park, recycle their plastic bottles and newspapers and check out Earth Day books at the library. Instructions for making cloth bags and many “Green Tips” accompany the simple text. The brightly colored pictures are a collage of cut-out photographs and gouache on paper artwork.  (Ages 3-7)

A Grand Old Tree written and illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma. ©2005. Arthur A. Levine Books. The life cycle of trees is explained in this marvelously simple yet eloquent book. The bright, colorful tissue paper collage illustrations show a tree filled with life, branching out, creating new trees and finally aging until it’s branches wither back into the earth where it gives life to another generation of trees. (ages 3-7)

Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise illustrated by Tomie dePaola.  ©2011. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.  Inspired by Psalm 148, this exquisitely illustrated book is a beautiful prayer for Earth Day and every day. Whenever you want to appreciate the world we live in and renew your pledge to work toward repairing all the harm that has been done to it in recent years, simply pull this book off the shelf. (all ages)

Who Will Plant a Tree? By Jerry Pallotta. Illustrated by Tom Leonard. ©2010. Sleeping Bear Press. An amazing fact of nature is the different ways seeds have found to disperse themselves. Some seeds have developed burrs to stick to the fur coats of black bears, others have tough coverings to withstand being coughed up by an owl or pooped out by an elephant, and even others have developed parachutes to float in the wind. Whatever it is seeds find their way around the environment in a variety of interesting and wily ways. Using simple language and extraordinarily beautiful illustrations, this book for young readers makes it clear that from horses to humans, we all have a role in planting trees around the world. (Ages 4-8)

Any one of these books will enrich and enlighten your Earth Day experience. Most importantly, however, go out and enjoy this beautiful day. Take a walk. Plant a tree. Whatever you do, make sure you honor the earth and everything in it.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by the publisher, my local public library or are from my own collection.
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.

Delving Deeper into Sustainability and Tu B’Shevat

Once, while the sage, Honi, was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree.  Honi asked him:  “How many years will it take for this tree to give forth its fruit?”  The man answered that it would require 70 years.  Honi asked:  “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?”  The man answered:  “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me.  So, too, will I plant for my children.”  (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a)

This story, written a couple thousand years ago, perfectly illustrates Jewish sustainability. We do not plant trees for ourselves, but for our children and our children’s children. We, each of us, must act today, in order to protect the world for the future.

I usually recommend books for elementary school age children and younger. This year, I will also be recommending books for readers in Middle School through High School. After all, older readers should be equally prepared for, in this case, Tu B’Shevat on January 19-20, or whatever the value of the month is, right? What better way to start thinking about the future than with some great books?

My Life in Pink and Green. By Lisa Greenwald. © 2009, Amulet Books. Ages 10 – 13 years. After 12-year-old Lucy joins the eco-club at her school, she comes up with a brilliant plan to save her family’s pharmacy. She’ll open an eco-spa with a “going green” grant from the city!

Seedfolks. By Paul Fleischman. Illustrated by Judy Pedersen. © 1997, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.. Ages 10 – 15 years. Thirteen people living in apartments around a vacant lot in Cleveland share stories of how turning that lot into a neighborhood garden saved, changed and empowered their lives.

Who Really Killed Cock Robin?: An Eco Mystery. By Jean Craighead George. © 1991, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.. Ages 10 – 14 years. Cock Robin, the mascot of Saddleboro, the cleanest town anywhere, has mysteriously died. Who would have killed such a beautiful bird? Or perhaps the question is what killed it?

The Carbon Diaries 2015. By Saci Lloyd. © 2008, Holiday House. Ages 13 – 17 years. The year is 2015. Global Warming is wreeking havoc on the world’s weather systems. Great Britain has volunteered to be the first nation on earth to try Carbon Rationing. You hold in your hands the diary of 16-year-old Laura as she documents the world as it “may be.”

The Man Who Planted Trees: A Story By Jean Giono. © 2005, Chelsea Green Publishing Company. Age 15 +. One man, living alone with his dog, transforms his isolated and barren part of France into a verdant forest by planting 100 acorns a day for more than 40 years.

As you read one or more of these books, think of ways to improve your “Sustainability Quotient.” Research Jewish organizations like Hazon and COEJL (The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) that have many wonderful ideas, and be sure to attend your local Tu B’Shevat celebrations where there will surely be environmental demonstrations. If not, why don’t you offer to do one?

Whatever you do during this month, find ways to appreciate this beautiful world and its miracles and say a blessing for all the Source of All Things has provided.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by 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.

Waste Not, Want Not

One of the things I love about Judaism is that it has answers before we even know we have questions. Today, you cannot go anywhere without seeing a sign reminding you to Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, but several thousand years ago, the Torah wrote a simple rule:

“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy (lo tash-chit) its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?” (Deuteronomy 20:19)

The Rabbis of the Talmud took those words “you must not destroy (lo tash-chit),” created a mitzvah/commandment, Bal Tashchit /Do Not Destroy Needlessly, and layered everything one might possibly think of as wasteful behavior onto it. Thus, have Jews been reducing, reusing and recycling for thousands of years.

What about the trees, you might ask, because yes, that verse, did mention trees. Trees have been part of God’s plan from the beginning of time. “…Vegetation: seed bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind…” (Genesis 1:11-13) were fashioned on the Third Day of Creation even before the sun, the moon and the stars. Trees get their own New Year on the Jewish calendar. The Birthday of the Trees or Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of Shevat occurs in order that their fruit not be harvested before they are ready. This year, Tu B’Shevat begins at sundown January 19 and ends at sundown January 20, 2011. For many, Tu B’Shevat has become the Jewish Earth Day or Arbor Day, so you will see activities in and around your community encouraging you to learn how to  Reduce-Reuse-Recycle the Jewish way.

In preparation for this holiday, I have selected some books for younger children and their families to enjoy reading together:

This Tree Counts. By Alison Formento. Illustrated by Sarah Snow. © 2010, Albert Whitman & Company. Ages 4 – 8 years. Before planting more trees behind the school, Mr. Tate wants his class to “listen” to the story the old oak tree has to tell. A counting book about the importance of trees.

Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green. By Eileen Spinelli. Illustrated by Anne Kennedy. © 2009, Albert Whitman & Company. Ages 5 – 9 years. When Miss Fox rides her bike to school one morning, she inspires her class to think of ways to “Go Green.” As each student thinks of individual ways to change their behavior, they soon inspire the entire student body and their community to become more green.


Milo and the Magical Stones. Written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister. © 1997, North-South Books. Ages 5 – 9 years. Milo and his mice friends live comfortably on an island mountain in the middle of the sea. When Milo finds a beautiful, glowing stone, buried deep in the mountain that gives off light and warmth, everyone wants one. As the mice hurry off to grab their stones, the wisest mouse warns, “Don’t forget, the stones belong to the island. If you take something from the island, you must give something in return.” With two endings, one happy, one sad, you decide which direction to take. You can make comparisons to the choices we make everyday as we live on our personal islands on earth. This is a great discussion starter about the consequences of our environmental choices and actions.

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa. Written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. © 2008, Harcourt, Inc.. Ages 5-10 years. A young girl grows up in Kenya surrounded by forests. She studies very hard and wins a scholarship to go to school in America. When she returns to Kenya, she discovers that all the forests have been cut down. She decides to bring the trees back one at a time, starting with her own back yard.  Based on the life of Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner, it is a real story about the power of one person to make a difference.

The Lorax. Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss. © 1971, Random House Books for Young Readers. Ages 5 – 10 years.  This will be the 40th anniversary year for the Lorax. It is still one of my all time favorite books about taking care of the earth, and if I were to pick an author to write a children’s book to save our planet, Dr. Seuss would be my choice. When Truffula Trees are discovered and their tufts turned into Thneeds, no amount of warning from the Lorax will dissuade the manufacturer from continuing the destruction of the Truffula Tree forest. When the last tree falls, the forest animals have disappeared and the environment damaged beyond repair, the Lorax’s message becomes clear. With his unmistakable Seussian rhyme and his characteristic Seussian illustrations, the inimitable Doctor describes what happens in a world where greed and selfishness take precedence over the needs of the planet, its plants and animals.

As you read these stories together, think of ideas to change your own family’s “environmental behavior.” Jewish organizations like Hazon and COEJL (The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) have many wonderful ideas, but your local celebrations of Tu B’Shevat will not only have environmental demonstrations, you will have a lot of fun meeting new families in the process.

Whatever you do during this month, find ways to appreciate this beautiful world and everything in it, there really is no place else like it.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by 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.

Take Care of Me, Because You Are the Only One Who Can.

My colleagues on the Sydney Taylor Book Awards Committee know that I have a certain “sensitivity” when the subject of animals in books is discussed. I generally begin any review I write or discussion I am involved in around this topic with the following disclaimer:

WARNING: The Reviewer has a Degree in  ZOOLOGY and does not believe animals experience EMOTIONS the same way humans experience emotions.

It should therefore come as no surprise, then, when I say I had a rather visceral reaction to Jennifer Armstrong’s essay in the Horn Book magazine entitled, “Eating Reading Animals.” In it, Ms. Armstrong attempts to make the case that “if you love children’s literature, you cannot kill animals just because they taste good on a bun.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I eat meat, usually chicken, occasionally beef and lamb, rarely veal, never pork or anything that has lived in water. I eat my meat in small amounts, preferring a majority of vegetables and grains in my diet. I have found however, that meat protein works best with my metabolism. I do my best to buy farm-raised meat from local farmers – it just tastes better, and I am told it is better for me. Truth is I would live on dark chocolate if I could, but my doctor says that is not possible.  My family includes a vegetarian (my son), an omnivore like myself (my daughter), and my husband who calls himself a “mixetarian” because he is mostly vegetarian but enjoys a good, extremely rare steak when the opportunity presents itself.

With that, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Ms. Armstrong begins her essay explaining why adults read animal books to children. There are certainly many reasons, but primarily adults use these types of books to assist in developing the moral and ethical standards of the children in their care. Animal books we read to children and the activities we do with them to support those books all provide examples of right behavior.  “Animals teach us ‘humane’ behavior, those behaviors that embody our highest human ideals. All of us concerned with literature for children, and the education and development of children in general, have animal guides to help us in our work,” Ms. Armstrong writes.

She goes on to explain that human history has been on an upturn in the moral/ethical behavior scale over the course of the past few thousand years. Yes, we should try to overlook a few wars, Darfur and the Arizona legislature, “We no longer approve of burning live cats for amusement, as folks in earlier centuries did. Bear-baiting has all but disappeared as a sport, and although dog-fighting and cock-fighting still exist in our own country, they do so illegally, pushed underground by popular opprobrium and the force of law.” Some of us are even beginning to understand that the global climate change that is destroying habitats and endangering species may soon have an impact on human life as well. This is what comes from reading animal-based children’s literature.

However, clearly we have more work to do if the human race is to advance to the next level of enlightenment. We as adults must model for our children the willingness to suppress “those desires that cater to their selfish appetites in preference for upholding the more abstract ideals of dignity, compassion, and justice; in other words, those ideals that serve a greater good” proposes Ms. Armstrong. Apparently, animal books are going to help us do this.

It is at this juncture that Ms. Armstrong and I part ways. Her response to the question: “What is she [a child] to make of the trusted adult who holds in one hand a living baby chick to caress with tender care and a chicken nugget in the other hand to eat with special sauce?” is: Turn our children into vegetarians!

Mine would be quite different. Not every animal is supposed to be a pet. Most animals are part of the food chain, put on this earth to be part of the ecological system in one way or the other. Remember when you were in school and learned about the Life Cycle…the Rhythm of Life…the Circle of Life…the Ecosystem?  Why not teach our children, in our schools about how animals provide food, for each other and for us.

Today – animal books or not – children, and probably some adults as well, have no idea where their food comes from. They walk into a grocery store and everything they want or need is on a shelf, to be tossed in their basket, taken to a cashier and paid for with a piece of plastic.

When I was a girl, we received baby chicks for Easter (remember, I grew up in a Catholic home.) Oh, they were cute, but when they began to grow up, they were not so cute anymore. My mother gave the chickens to my grandmother, who raised them in her backyard, where we would go and visit them. Feeding them corn meal and grains along with the occasional worms they found in the grass, they grew into large chickens – one rooster and two hens. The hens laid some eggs that we got to retrieve from the nests the hens built. My grandmother used those eggs for our breakfast during our stay. They were delicious.

During one Sunday visit, grandma told us we were having chicken for dinner. She asked us to join her outside. You can guess what happened next. I have always understood very clearly the meaning of “like a chicken with its head cut off.” Were we upset? I guess, a little. Did we eat the chicken for dinner? Yes, we did, and it was delicious. We understood that this was part of life. We raised the chicken to be eaten, and now we were eating it.

Perhaps the 4-H Clubs, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America could join together to start a program for children. They could raise a few chickens on the school grounds, create a school vegetable garden or use a cow to mow the school lawn. Using the products from the “School Farm” in the school’s cafeteria, they could teach children about the proper way to care for animals so that the animals live healthy lives and so can they. Everyone knows that a big pot of vegetable chicken soup is nature’s best medicine, right?

I believe the moral and ethical thing to do is work toward a world where we support farmers who properly and humanely raise domestic livestock, fruits and vegetables using methods that do not compromise the people who work on the farm, the animals or the earth. The food that comes from these farms will be available at a reasonable cost. It will of course be healthy and delicious. There will be no need to visit fast food restaurants.

Rather than suppressing our appetite for all meat to “serve the greater good,” we should suppress our appetite for all food processed using unjust and inhumane methods – that might include vegetables harvested using migrant workers who are underpaid and receive no benefits.

Doing the right thing is never easy. Showing children how to properly care for our earth, and all its inhabitants – animal, vegetable and mineral – is our responsibility as adults. Buying food, produce or any kind of product produced locally is a much greater commitment than simply becoming a vegetarian.

The animals in children’s literature do not cry out to me, “Don’t eat me!” They cry out, “Take care of me and my world, because you are the only one who can.”

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.

Book Review | This Tree Counts
by Alison Formento

Score: 3.5

Illustrated by Sarah Snow © 2010, Albert Whitman & Company. One large oak tree stood at the back of Oak Lane School. Mr. Tate wants his class to plant some more oak trees, but before they do, he asks them to listen to the big tree’s story. As they stop and hug the tree, the [...]

Read the rest of this review »

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