Books used in this review are from my personal library, were provided by my local public library or were sent to me by a publisher for review. I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my website 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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We are on the third blessing of the Nisim B’Chol Yom/the blessings for daily miracles recited during morning prayers:
“Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,
who frees the captive.”
In our modern world, finding everyday miracles can be challenging. Opportunities to ransom people from slavery or captivity do not present themselves on a daily basis, at least not in obvious ways. That is not to say these concepts do not exist, they are most certainly present, just not in a form we may recognize. Instead of chains of iron, we have chains of hunger, hatred, debt or lack of education. Individuals may be “in captivity” as a result of illness, disability or abuse. To search for modern day captives, we must be aware of the world around us and its possibilities. Then we must ask ourselves if we are doing all that we can to “free the captives” who are trapped in a way that keep them far from those possibilities.
Releasing those chains could be as simple as providing a ride to the doctor for your elderly neighbor who has a serious chest cold or as difficult as publishing a letter to convince world leaders to take some real action regarding Global Climate Change. This is where one of my favorite quotes comes in:
Rabbi Tarfon used to say:
“It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” ~ Pirke Avot 2:21
We all have our limits – age, resources, space, energy, you name it – however, those limits do not preclude us for doing something…some…thing…to free someone from a difficulty that binds them. I know I cannot fix the Israeli-Palestinian situation, problems in Syria, hunger in America, gun violence, the imminent shut down of the US government or any of the innumerable crises I read about in the newspaper every day. I can hand a protein bar to the person on the street asking for money and feel like I provided some nutrition to that individual. I can stand up to someone cursing on the bus when children are present and tell them to stop. I can write and link readers to books that may help them help others. While that certainly is not going to “complete the work,” I feel like I have made a good start.
Here are some books that may help you find the “captives” in your world. Look around, you will be surprised how helpful you can be when your eyes are wide open.
Legend of Freedom Hill by Linda Jacobs Altman. Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu. ©2003, Lee & Low Books. Ages 5-10. In a California Gold Rush town, Sophie, a Jewish girl, and Rosabel, and African American girl, become close friends because they are unique from everyone else. When a slave catcher captures Rosabel’s mother, the two girls use all they know about the town and its surroundings to raise enough money to redeem her and several other slaves. A beautiful example of the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim/Freeing the Captive.
Say Something by Peggy Moss. Illustrated by Lea Lyon. ©2004, Tilbury House Publishers. Ages 6-11. The narrator in this timely book sees children in her school who are teased and picked on. While she does not participate, neither does she say anything to stop the actions of her peers. When the day arrives that she is the focus of the teasing and bullying, she realizes that none of her “friends” came to her aid. Her experience frees her from staying away from others for no reason and from staying silent.
Playing War by Kathy Beckwith. Illustrated by Lea Lyon. ©2005, Tilbury House Publishers. Ages 5-10. On a day too hot to play basketball, Luke and his friends decide to play War. Sameer, who is new to the neighborhood, declines to play and reveals that he has lived in a war zone. Sharing his story teaches his new friends that “playing war” may not be such a good idea after all.
The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson. Illustrated by Christy Hale. ©2012, Feiwel and Friends. Ages 5-10. Two villages living across the river from one another have a long history of mutual contempt. When a young boy from one village throws a rock that hits a young girl from the other, anger, fear, and hatred reach a fever pitch. The boy is captured by the girl’s village, and she is asked to throw a rock at him to begin another war. Instead she throws the rock to the ground and begins building a Forgiveness Garden where the two villages can to talk about their past and learn about each other.
Pigeon and Pigeonette By Dirk Derom. Illustrations by Sarah Verroken. ©2009, Enchanted Lion Books. Ages 4-10. Pigeonette’s wings are so small he cannot fly. Pigeon is blind and cannot see where he is going. Understanding that each needs help from the other, they become good friends. After many attempts to learn the ups and downs of navigation and flying, they work together to leave the cold winter forest to travel to the place of sun and warm toes.
Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier. Illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter. ©2001, Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Ages 4-10. Beatrice lives in a small village in Uganda where she must help her mother take care of the smaller children, plant the fields, feed the chickens and grind cassava into flour. What Beatrice really wants to do is go to school and learn to read and write. There is no money for books or a uniform, however. When the news comes that they are going to receive a goat, the lives of Beatrice and her family take an amazing turn for the better.
Books used in this review are from my personal library or were provided by my local public library. I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my website 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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I have been looking at the Nisim B’Chol Yom/the blessings for daily miracles recited during morning prayers. As a Reform Jew, I am most familiar with these blessings as found in the Mishkan Tefillah Siddur (the Reform Movement’s Shabbat prayer book) and recited on Shabbat mornings (Observant Jews say these prayers every morning and in a slightly different order.) In a previous blog, we looked at books about time, because the first blessing is:
“Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,
who has given the mind the ability to distinguish day and night.”
The second blessing is:
“Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,
who opens the eyes of the blind.”
Even someone who is actually blind is required to read this blessing. That made me stop and think, are there other forms of blindness? That question led me to the value of Lifnei Iver/Do not put a stumbling block before the blind. It appears I discovered the “catch-all” mitzvah. Consider how many ways one might deliberately or inadvertently obstruct someone. If you wonder if something is right or wrong, apply the test of “Lifnei Iver/Do not put a stumbling block before the blind.” You will find your answer there.
As this one single value covers so much, I have narrowed my outlook to a certain form of blindness: The blindness that comes from not keeping an open mind to what is happening in the world around us. Of course, being human, I suffer from this form of blindness no matter how hard I try to avoid it. I try to remember that there are two sides to every story, but often, I have my side determined and planted before the other side even speaks. Still, I do listen, carefully, to what others say and do; I read everything I can get my hands on; I try to understand various viewpoints; and I have been known to have my mind and positions changed.
Getting a healthy dose of reality from children’s literature is very helpful. In the pages of these amazing books, people fight and make up, bad guys get what they deserve and lessons taught are lessons learned. If only the world could be so easy.
Here are a few of the books that have opened my mind lately:
Duck! Rabbit! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. ©2009, Chronicle Books. Ages 3-8. What do you see when you look at this figure? What does your child see? With very few words, and a very simple illustration, an entire lesson in perspective, listening and understanding can be generated. We all really do not see the world in the same way.
I Will Never NOT EVER Eat a Tomato. Written and illustrated by Lauren Child. ©2000, Candlewick Press. Ages 4-8. When I was a child, you could not get me to eat broccoli if my life depended on it. Lola feels the same way about peas, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and many other kinds of foods, until her older brother Charlie figures out a creative way of looking at the food we eat.
Amazing Grace. By Mary Hoffman. Illustrated by Caroline Binch. ©1991, Dial Books for Young Readers. Ages 4-8.”You can be anything you want, if you put your mind to it,” Says Grace’s Nana. Well, Grace wants to be Peter Pan in her school’s play. Even if Raj thinks she can’t because she is a girl. Natalie says she can’t because she is black. Grace will show them how she can, and will, and does!
The Most Magnificent Mosque. By Anne Jungman. Illustrated by Shelley Fowles. ©2004, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. Ages 6-10. Three young boys – Rashid, a Muslim, Samuel, a Jew, and Miguel, a Christian – play, and create mischief, together in the beautiful gardens of the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain. Until the day they were caught dropping rotten oranges on the Caliph! Their punishment – to work in the gardens for 3 months – creates a lifelong friendship between them and an enduring bond with the mosque. When a Christian king takes over Cordoba and threatens to destroy the Great Mosque, these three come to its rescue.
Mr. Lincoln’s Way. Written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. ©2001, Philomel Books. Ages 6-10. “Mean Gene” is the school bully, calling people terrible names, pushing smaller kids down, and he’s a terrible student as well. Mr. Lincoln, the principal, thinks the young man is “Troubled.” When Mr. Lincoln discovers that Gene is very knowledgeable about birds, a project develops into a friendship that turns a bully into a model citizen. Based on a true story.
Books used in this review are from my personal library or 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.
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There is no television in our home.
When either I or my husband shares that fact with friends or coworkers, we usually get an amazed stare followed by, “What do you do in the evening?” If we can stop from laughing, we try to explain that there is plenty to keep us occupied…we read, we take walks, we TALK to each other. Following that information, there is a lot of head shaking, perplexed looks and mumbled, “I could never give up TV.”
In 2006, both my husband and I had major health scares. In 2011, my mother passed away. If I learned anything from these experiences (and many others), it is that time is too short to be spent on useless tasks. We both found that sitting in a room with a television on, while admittedly engaging, was ultimately uninspiring and possibly damaging to our brains. We got rid of the televisions and never looked back.
Time is a precious commodity.
Judaism has always recognized this. It is obvious in the way we honor the dead – the rituals of burial, shiva (7 days after death), shloshim (1 month after death) and yahrzeit (1 year after death). It is there in the holiday cycle from Rosh Hashanah through Tisha B’Av, tied as they are to the waxing and waning of the moon, the planting and harvesting of the fields. Even the 19-year cycle that adds a leap month periodically to keep everything roughly in sync recognizes that the cycles and rhythms of time are important.
Time is a Jewish value we too easily take for granted as we rush through our busy days and weeks, yet we have been given a weekly “oasis” and several annual “island refuges” to rest and renew ourselves. Understanding time’s flow over the Jewish year, knowing that Friday nights are going to be fun and restful, the start of a New Jewish Year will be celebrated with apples and sweet honey, Yom Kippur is for introspection, Sukkot will enable us to eat outdoors with welcome guests, all make for an interesting and engaging calendar. All these are opportunities to watch time move – so quickly – hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year…
Here are some books to give you a variety of different perspectives of time:
Sammy Spider’s FIRST book of Jewish Holidays. by Sylvia A. Rouss, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn. © 2013, KarBen Publishing. Ages 2-5. As Sammy Spider celebrates 20 years in publication, he introduces his youngest readers to the cycle of the Jewish year using the Jewish holidays. In this colorful board book, each holiday is brightly illustrated with a very short message about its theme. Perfect for small little hands.
All in a Day. By Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Nikki McClure. © 2009, Abrams Books for Young Readers. Ages 3-8. What will you do today? Each day is filled with possibility and will never come again. Using a lovely rhyming text and striking paper cut art, this simple book takes us on an adventure filled with opportunities that even the youngest reader will embrace.
The Schmutzy Family. by Madelyn Rosenberg, illustrated by Paul Meisel. © 2012, Holiday House. Ages 4-9. From Sunday through Friday, Mr. and Mrs. Scmutzy encourage their children to explore the world around them in as physical a manner as possible. Dirt, paint, tomato sauce, frogs and cheese are fine in this “anything goes for the sake of education” household. However, when Friday afternoon comes, the entire family participates in cleaning the house and themselves, setting the table for guests and making sure everything and everyone is ready to welcome Shabbat. An extreme story matched by hilarious illustrations will have everyone roaring – and wishing their parents were so liberal!
The Keeping Quilt: 25th Anniversary Edition. Written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. © 1998, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Ages 5-10. Based on the true story of the author’s quilt, we read as a family heirloom is created and used for innumerable life events, becoming part of a family’s tradition over time and even into today. Exquisite pictures and heartwarming text make this one of my all-time favorite books.
Home. Written and illustrated by Jeannie Baker. © 2004, Greenwillow Books. Ages 5-10. Watch through a window as a family moves into a neighborhood, as a child grows into a woman, as a city grows into a neighborhood. This wordless picture book uses collage art to deliver a powerful message about the time it takes for children to grow into adults and for cities to become communities.
To Everything There is a Season: Verses from Ecclesiastes. Written and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon. © 1998, The Blue Sky Press. Ages 5-10. While the biblical verses in this book are timeless, the artists have chosen to illustrate each couplet in an artistic style from diverse cultures around the world and from prehistoric times through today. The effect serves to validate the ageless nature of the text and the unity of all the earth’s inhabitants.
As always, Rosh Hashanah is on 1 Tishrei and Yom Kippur is on 10 Tishrei beginning the year 5774 since the creation of the world. In the year 2013 of the Common Era, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown Wednesday, September 4. Those of us living on both the Jewish and Gregorian calendars are experiencing a few heart palpitations as we realize that we have to prepare for the beginning of school AND the High Holidays at virtually the same time. In a couple of months, we will be equally shocked when we are frying latkes on Thanksgiving as the first day of Hanukkah begins on Wednesday evening, November 27/25 Kislev (a once in a Millennium event, I’m told.)
As always, it has been a busy couple of months. I have found a job! And while of course, I feel so fortunate and blessed, it has caused many things in my life – like blogs – to take a back seat as I try to develop a routine for my new schedule. I did bring my car to DC from California, so that is helping.
Before I was hired, however, I had made some commitments: To attend the Bloggers’ Conference at Book Expo America at the end of May, to accept an invitation from my niece to visit her in London at the beginning of June and to host the June Jewish Book Carnival. So here we are! I am going to provide a few brief notes on what I learned at Book Expo, describe some of the wonderful blogging that is going on in the Jewish Lit-osphere, and head off to London this evening.
The Bloggers’ Conference at Book Expo America:
As mentioned, I attended the Bloggers’ Conference in New York last week. It was excellent. I learned a lot. I will write a longer piece when I return from my trip, however I want to share s few key takeaways:
1) Books Really Do Matter: According to Will Schwalbe (author of The End of Your Life Book Club),as bloggers we are becoming increasingly important in discovering new and interesting books that readers may never learn about any other way. We are successful when we can connect the author, through our blog, with the reader. I have to say that in all the years I have attended BookExpo, I have never had such welcoming and open conversations with publishers as I had this year. They are eager to embrace bloggers, send them review copies and provide anything else we need to get a book on a blog.
2) “What Are You Reading?” Books are a very important tool in the human arsenal. When you ask someone this question – instead of “How are you?” or “What’s up?” You open a dialogue very different from the routine of daily interactions.
3) The new Common Core Curriculum Standards are BIG NEWS! Familiarize yourself with them and use them in reviewing your books. This will be a huge win for you.
4) Randi Zuckerburg (yes, Mr. Facebook’s SISTER) gave the ending address. Her topic was “The 10 Trends Shaping How Content is Consumed Today.” Key ideas:
- More Signal, Less Noise: Bloggers curate content for our readers. This helps dilute the noise on the internet,
- The Gamification of Everything: Rewards for everything. E.g. Retweet this and earn points. Hit this and donate $1 to charity.
- Use Video for Storytelling. Seems pretty obvious, but there are now 6 second twitter-like videos available on some sites.
More to come…let’s get to the real business of the day shall we? The June Jewish Book Carnival. I am so excited to be able to present this fine list of reviews, interviews and activities to you. With the summer season upon us, I am thankful for this group of bloggers “curating” the many books that are published this time of year and selecting the must reads for me.
Many thanks to the Jewish Book Council for providing a list of 2013 Summer Reads. This should keep you quietly reading, sipping your preferred drinks under the sun, near water or not, throughout the many months ahead.
It appears that The Golem and The Jinni may be a must read. I am a fantasy/sci-fi fan myself, and LOVE Golem stories, so I may have to pick this up for the plane ride over to London!
Here’s what Rhapsody in Books has to say about this historical fiction/fantasy/sci-fi/ romance (Did you know there’s a term for this now? It is called a mash-up.) with an immigration theme, while Lori M. Writings and Photography provides a second point of view with more details.
Would you rather read real history instead of historical fiction? Then head on over to My Machberet, where Erika Dreifus asks Jonathan Kirsch about his new book, The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris, I guarantee you will be eager to get your hands on the book.
At last, a children’s picture book! Heidi Estrin at the Book of Life Podcast interviews the folks at Holiday House about the hilarious Shabbat picture book, The Schmutzy Family by Madelyn Rosenberg on The Book of Life podcast. This will definitely keep the kids entertained while you keep reading…
…but if they get bored, grab some glitter pens and colored markers then click on to Ann D. Koffsky’s home page and print out these fabulous glasses for coloring that will keep the kids occupied for pages!
When you want a break from reading all those novels or heavy history books, hop on over to The Whole Megillah and learn about Emily Mitchell, an agent with Wernick & Pratt. Then read this extraordinary interview with poet and children’s book author Lesléa Newman. Do yourself a favor and watch the book trailer for October Mourning. Be sure to have tissues at hand.
Last, but most certainly not least, The 48th Annual Conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries is taking place in Houston, TX June 16-19, 2013. The proceedings will be live blogged via Facebook! Get pictures and comments from the conference starting on June 16. You do not have to be a Facebook subscriber to view it – but if you’d like to leave comments, do be sure to log in and “like” AJL’s Facebook page!
A late edition to the June Carnival arrived while I was in London. Now that I have returned, I am adding it to this recap:
Torkel S. Wachter asks that you visit his website to learn more about the narrative non-fiction book, The Investigation, set in Nazi Germany. Based on authentic local government documents as well as private letters and diaries, it provides an insight into the way in which Hitler’s first months in power affect a German-Jewish civil servant’s family in Hamburg. In addition, you might want to look at this fascinating website where you can read 32 authentic postcards sent from Hamburg during 1940 and 1941. The first of these was published on March 29th 2010, seventy years to the day since it was written. The additional 31 postcards have been published in simulated real time – on the date they were written, but 70 years later.
So there you have it – The June Jewish Book Carnival! Can I have a round of applause for all our participants? Please visit everyone’s sites and leave a comment. It is nice to let the bloggers know you were there. Have a great month.
©2013 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.