Archive for the ‘Emet/Truth’ Category

Book Review | An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank
by Elaine Marie Alphin

Score: 4

© 2010, Carolrhoda Books. While reading this riveting account of the murder of Mary Phagan, a poor, white, 13-year-old factory worker from Atlanta, Georgia, and the trial of her accused murderer, Leo Frank, a 29-year-old, Jewish man from New York,  I often had to stop and remember that this event actually took place on American [...]

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Book Review | Queen of Secrets
by Jenny Meyerhoff

Score: 3

© 2010, Farrar Straus Giroux. In the game of High School popularity politics whose side do you take – friends or family? For Essie, the charming protaganist of this interesting story loosely based on the Book of Esther, the answer to that question can shake up a lot of relationships. Essie, an orphan raised by [...]

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Book Review | Extraordinary
by Nancy Werlin

Score: 3.5

© 2010, Dial. Imagine that in the 18th century Mayer Rothschild, founder of the famous Jewish banking family, found himself lost in the forest and stumbled upon a portal into the Fairie Kingdom. Fascinated by the Fairie society and enamored by their culture, he fell in love with and had an affair with the Fairie [...]

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Emet: Speak the Truth to One Another… (Zech. 8:16)

In keeping with my goal to “target a Jewish value each month and find secular books that support it,” February’s Jewish value is Emet, Truth. Teaching children the value of telling the truth is a big task for parents and among the hardest. Books can help by leaving an important impression on young minds.

In February, we celebrate President’s day, the holiday that combines Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday. When I was growing up (or back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, as my kids would say), we celebrated both those holidays. I listened to stories about George Washington admitting to chopping down the cherry tree and Honest Abe studying by the fireplace. It was clear – through those stories – that telling the truth would get us ahead in this world.

We are also in the Hebrew month of Adar, the month when we celebrate the holiday of Purim. On 14 Adar, which begins at sundown on February 27, we start our Purim celebration with the reading of the Megillat Esther, The Book of Esther. The Book of Esther is full of palace intrigue and mystery. There are many secrets, slights and lies, all leading to misunderstandings, mistakes and apprehension. When the truth comes out, it makes for quite an impressive story.  The story of Esther, Mordechai and Hamen cleverly teaches us that truth wins out in the end.

To honor this month’s “Heroes of Truth,” I have selected some of my favorite “telling the truth-themed” books to share with you:

The Empty Pot adapted and illustrated by Demi. Henry Holt & Company, 1996. Ages 4-8. 32 pages. Ping has a Green Thumb. When the Emperor decides that his successor will be the child who can grow the best plant from the seeds the emperor provides, Ping is sure he will be the winner.  However, in spite of his best efforts, Ping’s seeds do not grow. Disappointed but proud of his attempt, Ping goes to the Emperor with his empty pot. Ignoring the pots filled with gorgeous flowers and overflowing plants, the Emperor chooses Ping to be his successor, stating that the seeds he handed out were boiled and nothing should have grown.  The exquisite illustrations mimic round Chinese fans and beautifully support the simple yet powerful story.

The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson. Illustrated by Virginia Burton. Houghton Mifflin, 1977. Ages 4-8.  48 pages.  The classic story about the sovereign who, thinking more about his wardrobe than about his kingdom, spends more time in the day changing clothes than listening to his people. When two thieves offer him the opportunity to have an outfit made out of cloth that “could not be seen by anyone unfit for the office he held or was very stupid,” he jumps at the chance. Providing them with anything they want – jewels, coins, gold – they begin “weaving” the cloth. Seeing nothing, but not wanting to seem incompetent or stupid, every trusted person the king sends to review the progress reports back that the cloth is gorgeous. When the suit is ready and the king parades through the town in his “new suit,” it takes a child to point out the truth – “The king is not wearing any clothes!”  This version illustrated by Virginia Burton is absolutely classic in every detail.

The Principal’s New Clothes by Stephanie Calmenson. Illustrated by Denise Brunkus. Scholastic. Ages 4-8. 40 pages. There are many adaptations of Hans Christians Anderson’s story. Some have different illustrators, some put a slightly different twist to the story. In this version, a couple of con artists visit a snappily dressed school principal.  They explain they will provide him with a suit that will be “invisible to anyone who is no good at his job or just plain stupid.” It takes a kindergarten child to point out what everyone clearly sees, but is unwilling to report – “The principal’s in his underwear!”

Wolf! Wolf! Adapted and illustrated by John Rocco. Hyperion Books for Children, 2007. Ages 4-8. 32 pages. There are also many versions of the Aesop’s fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Here, an old wolf, “too slow…and too stiff” for chasing the small animals he likes, is trying to grow a vegetable garden. Alas, all he is getting is weeds.   Hearing a boy’s voice calling, “Wolf! Wolf!” He slowly climbs to the meadow to check it out. Sitting behind some rocks, he watches a young boy play his “trick” with the adults.  He yells, “Wolf!” The adults run up the hill to help. The boy laughs at their funny looks when he tells them there is no wolf, he is just playing a joke on them. At last, the boy yells, “Wolf!” However, no adults respond. Instead, the wolf comes out from hiding and makes a deal with the terrified boy who will no doubt tell the truth from now on. The twist at the end of the story is sure to delight everyone, as will the beautiful, richly colored illustrations. .

The Honest-to-Goodness Truth by Patricia C. McKissack. Illustrated by Giselle Potter. Simon & Schuster, 2000. Ages 5-9. 36 pages.  Are there a right and a wrong way to tell the truth? Libby Louise Sullivan is about to find out. When Libby tells her mother a small white lie, she gets in some big trouble. She decides she will only tell the truth from that moment on. By the end of the week, she had told so many truths – like Ruthie Mae had a hole in her sock, Willie had not done his geography homework and Miz Tusselbury’s garden looked like a jungle – she had no friends left. Boy was she confused! When someone called Ol’ Boss, Libby’s aged carriage horse, an “old flea-ridden swayback,” she finally got it…and spent some time apologizing to her friends for being a little too truthful. This is a fun, engaging story with primitive-style illustrations.

Holes by Louis Sachar.  Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1998. Ages 9-12. 233 pages. This Newbery Medal and National Book Award winner is for older kids, but younger children may also enjoy it as a read-aloud. There are many stories in this amazing book, but among them is the story of Camp Green Lake, the juvenile detention center, where Stanley Yelnats and the other children are sent to dig their holes. What is the truth of the camp? Why are they really digging all of those holes? Stanley is in search of the truth, and it is quite an adventure.

Nothing but the Truth by Avi. Scholastic, 1991. Ages 9-12. 208 pages. Philip Malloy wants to run on the track team. He is not doing well in English. His English teacher is also his Homeroom teacher. Feeling she has it “out for him” and looking to find a way to get away from her, he comes up with a plan.  The school policy is to “stand at respectful silent attention” as the national anthem is played over the loud speaker during Homeroom. Philip Malloy stands and hums. This book, written in a documentary style format, demonstrates how a small act turns into a national debate on Freedom of Speech, individual rights and how society determines “the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

I hope you find these books helpful in your efforts to teach your children the importance of being honest and truthful. After all, Pirke Avot, the Sayings of the Fathers, informs us that “Rabbi Simeon, son of Gamliel, said: ‘On three things the world stands: on Justice, on Truth and on Peace…’ (Pirke Avot 1:18), so telling the truth is no small thing.

I wish you a Hag Sameach- Happy Holiday! May your Purim be filled with colorful costumes, noisy groggers, tasty hamentashen and lots of joy.

Happy Reading!

Kathy B.

This post is linked to the Kidlitosphere’s February Carnival of Children’s Literature, hosted this month at Ye Olde Blog – Whispers of Dawn. Visit for an excellent list of author interviews, book reviews and more.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved. Books used in this review were borrowed from my local library or my personal collection.
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