Posts Tagged ‘Bal Tashchit’

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.

Bal Tashchit – Do Not Be Wasteful

While it may be difficult for those of us in the cold northeast to appreciate, at the end of January – on January 30 to be exact – we will be celebrating the Jewish Holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees also known as the Birthday of the Trees. Tu B’Shevat literally means the fifteenth of Shevat, referring to the date on the Jewish calendar when the holiday occurs. Because there are not many customs surrounding this holiday, it has become very popular with the Jewish “Green” Movement. As a result, you may hear this holiday referred to as the Jewish Arbor Day or Jewish Earth Day.

Books appropriate for Tu B’Shevat support the Jewish values of Bal Tashchit (do not be wasteful) and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).  The following quote says it all:

“See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah §1-7:13

With that in mind, I want to introduce a few wonderful,  secular books about trees, nature and taking care of our planet that can be enjoyed during this holiday:

A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry, illustrated by Marc Simont. Ages 4-8.  First published in 1956, this timeless classic is a perfect book for Tu B’Shevat explaining in simple language all the benefits that trees provide children and their families. From fruit to shade to the air we breathe, trees are an important and necessary part of our world.  The Caldecott Award winning illustrations further enhance the message, “Trees are very nice.

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The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Ages 5-9.  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.

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Measuring Angels by Lesley Ely, illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Ages 4-8. “Every blade of grass below has a guardian official above.” Zohar (Book of Enlightenment.) In this charming and brightly illustrated 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. This delightful story demonstrates the power of working together for a common cause and that every living thing needs tender loving care.

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Milo and the Magical Stones by Marcus Pfister. Ages 4-8. 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.

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Once There Was a Tree by Natalia Romanova, illustrated by Gennady Spirin. Ages 4-8. A tree falls during a forest thunderstorm. Its stump becomes home to many of the forest’s animals from the smallest termite to the largest bear.  All claim the stump belongs to them, but who actually owns it? With rich text and magnificent illustrations, the author and artist make the interconnectedness of all living things clearly visible in this outstanding book.

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Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert. Ages 3-8. For the very youngest children, this delightful, colorful book tells the simple story of a how a maple tree found its way to a young child’s yard, how the child helped to plant it and now watches it – and their friendship – grow. The text is simple and the illustrations are vibrant. The back of the book shares tips for selecting and planting a tree at your own home.

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Last but not least,  a new book I stumbled upon while wandering through my local bookstore. The Tree that Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science and Imagination is filled with the most amazing poems selected by Mary Ann Hoberman, the U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, and Linda Winston. All Ages. It is a perfect collection of poetry for Tu B’Shevat or anytime of year. It comes with an audio CD of some of the poets reading their verse aloud. Here is one of my favorites from this marvelous book:

FOR THE FUTURE

by Wendell Berry

Planting trees early in spring,

We make a place for birds to sing

in time to come.  How do we know?

They are singing here now.

There is no other guarantee

that singing will ever be.

May your Tu B’Shevat be filled with an appreciation and delight in the world around you.  Enjoy these books and allow them to add to your celebration.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were from my personal collection or my local 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,
however, will incur no additional cost. I appreciate your support.

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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