Tag Archives: picture books

The Branch – Sharing an Experience

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I often pick up books at the library simply because they have that enticing yellow “new” sticker on them. I’m not sure exactly what drew me to “The Branch” by Mireille Messier and Pierre Pratt, but this is a wonderful book to share.

What is extraordinary about this book is that it shows a special multi-generational friendship between the little girl and her neighbor, and it encourages children to up-cycle a cherished item by turning it into something else.

When an ice storm snaps a small girl’s favorite branch from the tree in her yard, she’s crestfallen. The girl’s mom says it’s just a branch. But not to her! “That was the branch I sat on, jumped from, played under. It was my castle, my spy base, my ship . . .” the branch 1Luckily, her neighbor Mr. Frank understands. He says the branch has “potential.” “What’s potential?” she asks. “It means it’s worth keeping.” And so, with imagination and spirit, and Mr. Frank’s guidance and tools, the girl transforms the broken branch into something whole and new, giving it another purpose, and her another place to treasure.

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I Yam a Donkey – Making Grammar Fun

donkey coverTeaching children grammar doesn’t have to be boring. In the same vein as the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Cece Bell has created a winner in I Yam a Donkey.

This book helps children see the difference in saying “I Yam” versus “I am,” comically explained to a donkey by a yam. The donkey in this story does not use proper grammar and the yam tries to correct him, but doesn’t get very far. What helps this story along is the fact that the donkey fails to comprehend anything that the yam says, which only gets the yam more riled up.

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The fact that kids enjoy it is huge. In North Carolina, many of the school libraries participate in the NC Children’s Book Awards each year. I volunteer weekly in one of our local libraries and watch as the librarian reads them all of the nominated books and then has the kids vote on their favorites. This year, the winner of the picture book category, by an overwhelming majority, was I Yam a Donkey. Each year children nominate their favorite picture books, librarians read those books to their students, and then children vote on which was their favorite.

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The fact that a third of the votes cast this year went to I Yam a Donkey speaks volumes. Kids loved this book. They read it in the library and then checked it out to read at home. A book about grammar! Parents will also get a kick out of the book, especially if they ever heard the classic routine of Who’s on First by Abbot and Costello (a childhood favorite of mine). A book that was completely silly yet drove its point home. Cece Bell, job well done!

Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman’s Land Army of America

Most Americans know the story of Rosie the Riveter, the cultural icon representing the American women who went to work in the factories and shipyards during WWII when the men were away. But what about the women who stepped up to the plate during WWI? It wasn’t so much a problem of having all of the men go to war, but rather, the American farm workers were lured away from their farming jobs to earn higher wages working in manufacturing. There weren’t enough men to handle the crops needed to feed Americans and her allies. Well, it turns out that the Rosie of that time were women who trained to work on farms and got food to the public.

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In her book, Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman’s Land Army of America, Erin Hagar shows how young women joined the Women’s Agricultural Camp, which would later become the Women’s Land Army of America. The farmerettes, as they were called, were trained in all aspects of farming, but many farmers still didn’t believe that women were strong enough or skilled enough to do the job right.

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The story that Hagar focuses on is Helen Stevens, who was a real farmerette. Stevens was a college student when she signed up, but many women were dressmakers, factory workers, teachers, and housewives.

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The early Women’s Land Army of America girls had to prove that they could do the job and that they deserved the same wages as men. They were early fighters for equal rights and their story of perseverance and determination deserves to be told.

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As with most non-fiction picture books, the Author’s note was incredibly interesting and full of great facts. The inside front and back covers were filled with actual advertisements that were placed encouraging women to join in the land army.

nfpb2017Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

 

Happy Dreamer

There are some books that just scream out for certain children. When I walked my younger daughter into kindergarten today, her teacher had the latest Peter H. Reynolds book up on the counter. I love Peter H. Reynolds. He is the genius behind ish, The Dot, and Sky Color (among others). His latest book is called Happy Dreamer and it just calls out for E. Turns out that this book is due to come out at the end of March and I will have to purchase a copy of it at that point.

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This beautiful book encourages the dreamer in all of us, but especially in children. E is one of those children who loves to create her own worlds, who is constantly doing some sort of art project, and who of course leaves a mess in her wake. She marches to the beat of her own drummer and happily dances around to the music in her soul. Her older sister and I are more literal, but her path is anything but straight. It is what makes her so special.

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Peter H. Reynolds gets what it is like for children, especially for dreamers. He understands how hard it can be to sit still sometimes when there is so much going on in your brain. He understands how it can be hard to be quiet when there is so much to shout about. Poignantly, he gets how challenging it can be for some to sit still and pay attention in school when your dreams have a mind of their own (and can be more interesting then what’s in front of you).

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Happy Dreamer celebrates all kinds of dreamers. He acknowledges that sometimes it can be really hard, like when your parents tell you to clean up – because if I put my things away, “there is less me to show” (seriously, it feels like he talked to E before writing this page). That life doesn’t always work out, but that true dreamers must believe in themselves at all times and they will be able to find a way back to their happy spots, because “Dreamers have a way of bouncing back…and moving forward!”

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I adored this book. I think this book is important for all of the dreamers our there. “There are so many ways to be a happy dreamer. What kind of dreamer are you?”dreamer-inside-cover

Learning of the Legacy of Harriet Tubman

It is hard for children to comprehend the notion of slavery as it once was in this country. However, slavery, and the horrors that went along with it, is something that we need to retell so that it never happens again. It is also an important part in understanding how divided this country has always been in terms of race. When looking for books on strong female figures in our history, I came across two really wonderful books about Harriet Tubman that not only tell her story, but tell the story of slavery for future generations to understand.

apple-for-harrietIn An Apple for Harriet Tubman, author Glenette Tilley Turner does a marvelous job telling the story of young Harriet Tubman and how she became a conductor for the Underground Railroad. Through beautiful illustrations by Susan Keeter and words that are meant for a child to understand Tuner tells the story of what it was like to be a slave, to endlessly work but never taste the fruits of your labor, to constantly fear being whipped, to fear that you will be sold and separated from those you love. These are things that children can understand and relate to.

Harriet Tubman had promised herself that one day she would be free. Through the kindness of strangers along the Underground Railroad, she finally got a taste of freedom. But rather than stay safely in the North, she risked her life repeatedly to save others. Additionally Harriet Tubman loved apples, but as a slave was never able to eat them. In her freedom, she planted apple trees and every fall she invited the town around her to pick their fill. Those apples “were a symbol of freedom for everyone to share.”

mosesA more fictional and spiritual look at Harriet Tubman and her work on the Underground Railroad comes in Carol Boston Weatherford’s Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom.

Through lyrical text and conversations with God, this book shows Harriet Tubman as a Moses figure for slaves. She leaves her family behind to avoid being sold and to finally gain her freedom. All she takes with her is her faith in God. She is guided North and into the helpful hands of workers on the Underground Railroad. She is led to church where she finds that it is a stopping place for the Underground Railroad and where she learns how to be a conductor herself.

This version is more complex for a young child to understand, but is still a beautiful way to look at such a remarkable woman. Older children can also get a wealth of information from a very well written and researched author’s note.

nfpb2017I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post a nonfiction picture book, or at least nonfiction, every Wednesday. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.

The Orphan Singer

orphan-coverThere are times when books move us, but we can’t put our finger on exactly what it is that sets it apart. The Orphan Singer, by Emily Arnold McCully, is one such book. Even more interesting is that the story is based on real Venetian institutions that cared for orphaned girls while giving them amazing musical educations.

The Orphan Singer tells of a family in 18th century Venice with a musically gifted son, Antonio Dolci. He loves to sing and has the voice of an angel but his family cannot afford vocal training due to their extreme poverty. When their newborn daughter, Nina, shows signs of musical prodigy as well, they lament keeping her from her destiny. A brilliant, but tragic idea comes in the form of “abandoning” her to the “ospedalo,” an orphanage that also boasted a superb music conservatory. orphan-singer-3

The young girl, renamed Caterina by the ospedalo, grows and is an outstanding singer. While her voice is angelic, her behavior is problematic, causing friction with the instructors. The pain of the Dolcis’ sacrifice eases somewhat as they eventually attend concerts performed by the ospedalo’s chorus and befriend their growing daughter, never informing her of their bond. When the family doesn’t appear one day because Antonio is deathly ill, she realizes how important they are to her and sneaks out to him. When Caterina’s voice proves the elixir that heals Antonio, she knows that their bond can only be one of family.

orphan-singer-2Caterina knows that she should be kicked out of the chorus for sneaking out, but fortunately, the teacher who opens the door upon her return is kind and understands why she went. That kindness is paid back tenfold as it teaches Caterina to lead with kindness and teach all of the younger girls.

Both J and I really enjoyed this book. The illustrations pull you back to Venice in the 1800s. The rich colors in the clothes of those with money versus the drab clothing of those without is an example of the simple, but important details. This is a true to life story of a society that treasured music and artistic talent. Filled with beautiful artwork and fascinating details, this book is a masterpiece.

The Many Faces of Cinderella

The story of Cinderella, at its heart, is the story of kindness overcoming vanity and cruelty. There are many ways to tell this story, but the message always comes back to the fact that the Cinderella character takes care of those around her, big and small, while her cruel step-sisters only think of themselves and expect everything to be handed to them without having to lift a finger.

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Three years ago, I wrote about various versions of Cinderella told from around the world. It was really eye opening to see how so many different cultures have looked at the classic fairy tale over the years. When we were at our local library recently, they had a display about fairy tales and mentioned a few other versions of Cinderella so my mind started churning again. The story always stays within certain parameters, but it is the people and animals who surround Cinderella that always change. I was pleasantly surprised when I found additional versions to add to my original list.

smoky-cover-2In Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella, by Alan Schroeder, we get the classic story, but Cinderella’s name is Rose. Rose’s father marries “the crossest, fearsomest woman that side o’Tarbelly Creek,” and when she makes Rose do all of her chores, her father figured it was best to just stay out of it. Rose’s life only got worse when her father died. Rather than a prince throwing a ball, it’s just a rich young man trying to find a wife, but Rose’s sisters don’t let her go to the party. Fortunately, one of the pigs on the farm knows some magic and sends her off. Her step-sisters recognize her, a nice twist on the original, but can’t do anything about it as Seb, the rich gent, immediately takes a shine to her. Her step-mother plans to whip Rose first thing in the morning, but Seb arrived before she could. Of course the shoe fits Rose and she forgives her step-sisters for all of the sorrow they had caused her and she and Seb live happily ever after.

edna-marriageCinderEdna is a fun twist on the story with Cinderella and CinderEdna living next door to each other. Both are forced to do chores, but CinderEdna finds way to bring joy to her life and to avoid sitting in the cinders. To keep warm, Edna kept herself busy and earned extra money working for other families. Another key difference is that while Cinderella is beautiful under her rags, Edna isn’t much to look at, but she is strong, spunky, and knows some good jokes. Rather than rely on a fairy godmother to get her to the ball, Edna takes the bus. When she meets the prince, she finds him a bore and instead falls head over heels for his younger brother who runs a recycling plant and a home for orphaned kittens. The prince and his younger brother, Rupert, fall for the two girls and go searching for them after they each run off. Rupert can’t see Edna because his glasses were smashed, but he knows it is her when she can recite 15 different recipes for tuna casserole and tells him a joke about a kangaroo from Kalamazoo. The two couples wed in a joint ceremony, BUT, Cinderella finds herself bored with endless ceremonies and speeches while Edna and Rupert enjoy their life making the world a better place and caring for cats.

raisel-insideI will admit that I was shocked to find a Jewish retelling of the Cinderella story, but Raisel’s Riddle, by Erica Silverman, is just that. Raisel is a girl being raised by her grandfather, a town scholar, and she has studied alongside him, something highly unusual in the old setting where this story takes place. When he dies, she must find a way to survive and winds up finding work in a faraway village as the helper to a rabbi’s cook, a jealous and harsh woman who could rival any evil stepmother. Raisel wishes to go to the Purim play but has no costume and has chores that must be done. On the night of the play she feeds an old woman who gives her three wishes for her kindness, thereby allowing Raisel to go the play. The Rabbi’s son is quickly taken by her, but when he tells her of her beauty, she responds with words from the Talmud that it is just a costume. When he tries to figure out who she is, she diverts him with a riddle. Before he can answer, the clock begins to toll midnight and she rushes off. The next day, rather than searching for the girl who can fit a glass slipper, the Rabbi and his son search for the educated girl with the good riddle. He finds Raisel and they live happily ever after.

101012the_golden_sandal_iraqi_cinderellaIn finding Raisel, I was thrilled to also find the beautiful version The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella, by Rebecca Hickox. The Golden Sandal is a retelling of an Iraqi folktale “The Little Red Fish and the Clog of Gold,” which has every aspect of the traditionally Cinderella story, but with cultural traditions of Iraq where marriages are often arranged. In this version, young Maha’s father is a fisherman and after his wife dies he remarries a woman who is jealous of his love for Maha. When Maha is carrying a basket of fish back from the river, a small red one starts to talk to her and begs her to spare his life. She does and he responds, “Allah says a kindness never goes unrewarded.  Call for me anytime and ask what you will.” Years pass and Maha grows sweeter by the day while her wicked step-sister has a face marked by her ugly nature. When the daughter of a wealthy merchant is to be married, there was great excitement “for it was at the women’s celebration that they were seen by the mothers of young men.  Whom would they choose to be brides for their sons?” Maha asks the fish to help her go to the henna party and her wish is granted, but she must leave before her step-mother does. As she rushes out she loses one of her golden slippers in the water. When Tariq, the brother of the bride, finds her shoe he decides that she who can fit it is the one he wants to marry. The step-mother of course tries to block this from happening, but like all Cinderella stories, the two live happily ever after.

cendrillon11Cendrillon is a Caribbean retelling of the classic fairy tale, but told from the godmother’s point of view. In this story, the godmother is a poor washer woman who had been given a magic wand by her mother. She was told that it would only work on someone that she  loved and at the time she had no one. Cendrillon’s mother dies and of course her father marries a mean woman and Cendrillon becomes a washer woman in her own home. She winds up building an even stronger bond with her godmother as they work side by side. When Cendrillon cannot attend the ball, her godmother recalls the want and puts it to good use. While true to the original story, it is the Creole words, beautiful illustrations, and the godmother’s true affection for Cendrillon that make this version unique and special.

The most unusual version I have seen so far comes in the form of The Irish Cinderlad. One thing that has remained true in all of the Cinderella retellings is that she attends the ball, the prince is enamored by her beauty, he searches for her, and they live happily ever after. So I was pleasantly surprised to find this version with a male lead. Becan, who is plagued with exceptionally large feet, finds himself with three horrible step-sisters when his father remarries. They taunt him and banish him to work in the fields. However, there he befriends a magical bull. With the bull’s help, Becan defeats a giant, slays a dragon, and rescues a princess. But before she can thank him, he disappears, leaving behind one of his enormous boots. The princess searches for him, and like all good fairy tales, they live happily ever after.

There is so much that we can learn about ourselves and other cultures by reading a wide variety of tellings of the same story. Fairy tales and folk tales in general will always be a key part of how our children learn. I’m so thrilled that there are so many versions of tales we thought we knew so well.

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The Courage to Try Something New – The Sandwich Swap

sandwich-coverWe read picture books to better understand the world around us. We read picture books to teach lessons in an enjoyable way. Sometimes picture books can help encourage children to change their behaviors, try new things, consider things in a different way. The Sandwich Swap, by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah is one of those wonderful books that gently reminds children that having the courage to try something new can have wonderful results.

This story tells of two little girls who are best friends at school. We see that they are inseparable and love doing things together, including eating lunch. But what they eat each day is different – Lily eats PB&J and Salma eats hummus and pita. Silently, each girl looked at her friend’s lunch and thought it was gross and strange. One day, Lily just couldn’t hold back her negative thoughts and tells Salma that she thinks her sandwich looks kind of yucky.

sandwich-fightSalma is of course hurt by the unkind words and lashes back with similar words of her own. A rift grows between the girls. At the same time, the rest of the school hears of the peanut butter vs. hummus story and people start to take sides. More negative words fly about the food, but pretty soon the rude insults have nothing to do with food and are just mean. A food fight ends the name calling and both girls wind up in the principal’s office.

But the fight has made the girls realize that things have gotten out of hand and that their friendship was more important. They decide to try each other’s sandwiches and realize that what they thought was disgusting is actually quite delicious. The two hatch a plan for a special school-wide event encouraging everyone to try foods from all of the various nations of the students.

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Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah wrote The Sandwich Swap loosely based on experiences that she had as a child. Every day, her mother would send her to school with a hummus and pita sandwich. One day she watched a friend open her lunch box and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and was revolted. She tasted her friend’s sandwich because she didn’t want to hurt her feelings and was shocked that the item she thought was so disgusting was actually quite delicious.

As the Queen says in the back of this splendid book, “It’s easy to jump to conclusions when we come across something new or foreign or strange. But if we take the time to get to know each other, stand in each other’s shoes, and listen to a different point of view, we learn something wonderful – about someone else and about ourselves.”

Great Books about the High Holidays

It is once again time for the Jewish High Holiday season. I haven’t written about books that cover this ten day period of reflection and repentance in a few years, so I thought it was time to approach it again.collages17

The holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are important not only because they are the start of the new year, but because they are a time for people to think about their behaviors over the past year and how to approach the new year in a better way. It is time to cast off the sins and bad behaviors you might have had and to approach the year with a clean slate. Given the importance of these holidays for those in the Jewish faith, there are a number of truly excellent books to help younger children understand the complicated notion of Teshuva or returning to spiritual purity.

talia-and-rudeTalia and the Rude Vegetables – This fun book takes a misunderstanding of the term “root vegetables” and spins it into a parable of rude behaviors. Talia’s grandmother asks her to get seven different root vegetables from the garden for a Rosh Hashana stew, but she thinks she has been asked to get rude vegetables. “How can a vegetable be rude? Does it annoy its brothers and sisters? Does it talk back to its parents?” As she ponders these questions, she realizes that her own behavior over the past year hasn’t been perfect and that she must ask for forgiveness and do better.

Talia begins digging up vegetables. Since her grandmother requested rude vegetables, she places the beautiful ones into a separate basket. The “ornery onion” that doesn’t want to be pulled up, however, gets put into the pot for grandmother, as does the “garish garlic” who is just trying to show off.

Before bringing her grandmother the rude vegetables, Talia brings the good ones to the rabbi so that someone else can enjoy them. Without even meaning to, she performed the perfect mitzvah of helping feed others while also thinking about how to make her own behaviors better for the coming year. A great book for kids about thinking about their own actions while also doing good and caring for those around them.

gabriel-hornGabriel’s Horn – I think that Eric Kimmel might be one of my favorite authors when it comes to Jewish children’s books. This year he has a new book out called Gabriel’s horn. I have not gotten my hands on this book yet, but the little bits of preview and this information from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency show how wonderful it is.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, a young African-American soldier knocks on the door of the apartment where a young boy, Gabriel, lives with his parents, who are struggling to hang on to their small antiques shop. The solider explains he is going overseas and has no one to care for his special horn that once belonged to his grandpa, a musician, and brings good luck. Gabriel convinces his reluctant mom they can care for the horn. The name on the soldier’s uniform says Tishbi — the birthplace of the prophet Elijah, who is said to appear mysteriously on Earth, often disguised as a beggar who leaves behind him blessings of good fortune or health. Over the years Gabriel engages in tzedakah (acts of charity), and the horn magically brightens each time until its gleaming shine represents Gabriel’s family’s kindness and new prosperity.

This book will help children understand just how important tzedekah (helping those in need) is in the Jewish culture. When Gabriel and his family were blessed with what they needed, they then turned around and helped others in need. It will show children that people will often be blessed when they reach out to help and bless others, even when times look desperate.

Even Higher – There are actually two versions of this story available, but the basic story is the same as they are adapted from I.L Peretz’s “If Not Higher.”

even-higher-ungerIn Richard Unger’s version published in 2007, the boys of Nemirov are curious as to where their esteemed rabbi goes each year on the day before Rosh Hashanah. Rumor has it that he ascends to heaven to beg God to forgive the sins of the villagers, but Yossel, Menachem, and Reuven are skeptical and the bigger boys agree that Reuven should find out exactly what the rabbi is up to. He secretly follows him home, hides under his bed, and trails him the next day. Discovering that the man, disguised as a woodcutter, ventures into the forest to chop wood and deliver it to a poor widow, the boy reports back to his friends that not only does the rabbi ascend to heaven, but he ascends “even higher.”

even-higher-kimmelIn 2010, Eric Kimmel tells the same story from the viewpoint of a skeptical Litvak stranger, who does not believe in miracles. The villagers are certain their rabbi flies up to heaven to speak with God before the fate of every soul is decided for the coming year. But a skeptical Litvak scoffs at the villagers, claiming miracles cannot happen, and secretly follows the rabbi early one morning. What he witnesses–an enormous act of human compassion–changes his heart.  The bright mixed-media pictures in folk-art style show the rabbi’s hard work and joyful movements, a powerful, earthy contrast to the magic realism that the shtetl people imagine. Steeped in Yiddish idiom, the story sends an unforgettable message: the skeptic changes and sees that ordinary kindness is enough to save the world.

secret-shofarThe Secret Shofar of Barcelona – Many of the books about the High Holidays are aimed at a very young audience. This book really raises the bar being aimed at children grades 2-5. The first page of the book tells about a time in history when the rulers of Spain decreed that everyone must be Catholic. While most Jews sailed to other lands, many stayed in Spain and pretended to follow Catholic ways.

In the story, young Rafael’s father is the conductor of the Royal Orchestra of Barcelona. He convinces the Duke to hold a concert on Rosh Hashana so that Conversos could come together to celebrate the New Year being shielded by the celebration for the concert. Rafael thinks it would be special to add the call of the Shofar in with the other native instruments that his father has planned – hiding the shofar in plain sight.

The book explains the history of the shofar and the significance of the four different calls made yearly at Rosh Hashana. The Jews at the festival are touched by the sound they have longed to hear for so long and the Duke enjoys the music as well. A great way to bring an interesting part of Jewish history into the Rosh Hashana story.

Tashlich is an important ceremony that many people do as a part of their Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur observance. Usually it takes place on Rosh Hashana, however, in our little congregation we have Tashlich on the Sunday between the two holidays. The concept of Tashlich is to throw away the sins of the past year by throwing breadcrumbs into the water.

tashlich-turltle-rockTashlilch at Turtle Rock was co-written by Rabbi Susan Schnur and her daughter Anna Schnur-Fishman. What is wonderful about this book is that it is based on additional customs that their family have incorporated into Tashlich. Not only do they cast off their sins, they focus on the good things that have happened in the past year and a promise they would like to make for the coming year. In the story, young Annie leads them on a hiking path and they spend their time contemplating their year and changes they would like to see for the future. They share them all with each other except for the sins that they throw away with the breadcrumbs. They complete their hike at the old log where they share in apples and honey symbolizing the sweetness of the Jewish New Year. They also recite a special prayer that Annie’s mother has written:

“God, we have thrown out our mistakes and regrets. And we have picked the best things from the year to keep with us. Help us start over. Help us remember our vows and promises. And protect us this whole long year.” For that, may everyone say, Amen!

gershonGershon’s Monster – Another fabulous Eric Kimmel book to add to the list! In this tale, based on a Chasidic story, Kimmel brings in the importance not only of repenting for one’s sins or wrong-doings, but actually going about making changes. It is not enough to say you’ve done something bad, you must actually take the steps to amend your ways or your sins will come back to haunt you.

Gershon was not always the best person he could be. True, the mistakes he made were common, ordinary things: a broken promise, a temper lost for no reason, a little untruth told here and there. But unlike most people, Gershon never regretted what he did. He never apologized or asked anyone’s forgiveness. Rather than regret or atone for his everyday mistakes, baker Gershon simply sweeps them into his basement. At Rosh Hashana, he places all his sins and flaws, that hang on you like fringes with faces, from the cellar into a sack and take them down to the Black Sea. There in the Sea, he deposits them and forgets them. But do sins just disappear if true repentance is missing?

Of course, Gershon must discover sooner or later that his selfish acts cannot be disposed of so easily. In spite of a pointed warning from a rabbi, Gershon refuses to realize that his behavior will come back to haunt him someday. It’s only when he is faced with the monstrous bulk of his misdeeds that Gershon finally, truly repents.

shira-templeShira at the Temple – This summer at a Jewish educators conference I stumbled upon the Shira Series of books by Galia Sabbag. This series was inspired by Sabbag’s many years as a teacher herself and the students in her classes. Shira at the Temple is the story of a little girl trying to understand the holiday of Yom Kippur and how to pray to God. The story itself was inspired by a Chasidic folk tale that our rabbi actually used as his story for the children at this year’s Rosh Hashana service.

The first part of the book is about Yom Kippur itself – that it is the day of looking inward and asking if you were the best person you could be. It explains why adults fast and the importance of saying that you are sorry to people you may have hurt. I love the fact that the book is sprinkled with actual words in Hebrew, not just transliterated Hebrew.

As Shira goes sits at the temple on Yom Kippur listening to the Rabbi and cantor chanting prayers, mostly in Hebrew, she wants to pray, but doesn’t know how, especially since she cannot yet read Hebrew. While she couldn’t yet read Hebrew, she could recite her Hebrew alef-bet. She offers that up to God as her prayer so that God could take the letters and “make the most wonderful Yom Kippur prayer out of them.” The Rabbi hugged Shira and told her how special her prayer was simply because it was true and told from her heart. This is a series that I’m very glad to have found.

hardestwordThe Hardest Word – This is by far one of my favorite tales for the High Holidays and for every day. This story tells the tale of a mythical creature called the Ziz. He is a giant flying bird creature who happens to be something of a klutz. When flying through the air, he sometimes knocks into objects that have repercussions when they fall down to earth. He always tries to fix the problems before anyone notices, but one day he does some damage that he can’t figure out how to repair. The Ziz can’t figure it out on his own, so he goes to Mt. Sinai to have a talk with God. God tells him that he needs to search for “the hardest word.” He brings back a number of words and God keeps telling him that while the word might be hard to hear or hard for a child to say, it isn’t the hardest word. After bringing God more than 100 words, he hangs his head and tells God that he is sorry, but that he can’t find the hardest word. In that one instance, God tells him that he has finally found it – “sorry” is the hardest word. This really focuses on the truth behind teshuva – actually going up to the person that you have wronged and apologizing is a very difficult thing to do. The Mishnah says “For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones; but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.” We must do the hardest act and actually apologize to those that we have wronged. They may or may not accept that apology, but it is the only way to clear your soul. In a culture where we are so used to saying a blanket sorry for everything, it is good for children to learn that there is so much more to it.

These are all wonderful books to learn about the important time of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur for Jewish families and to teach everyone a little bit about kindness and generosity.

 

 

 

 

 

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Books that take on Bullies

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Bullying has always been an issue that kids are confronted with. No matter how much we try to protect them, there are always going to be kids who feel the need to pick on other kids. There are many reasons that kids bully others, but the thing that parents try to do is to help children deal with tough situations and to stand up for themselves. One of the marvelous things about books is that they are a great way for children to see other kids going through situations that might be similar to something that they are facing. There are tons of great books on this subject, but here are a few that I found extra special.

miss-brookI have a soft place in my heart for Miss Brooks – a school librarian who knows that there is a book out there for everyone. In Miss Brooks’ Story Nook, a companion to Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t), young Missy is tormented by a neighborhood boy when she tries to get to school early for Story Nook. When the lights go out one day, rather than listening to stories, the children are encouraged to tell their own. Stuck with writer’s block, Missy is told to “think of a problem that needs solving.” Through an explanation of what makes a good story, Missy also discovers how to stand up to the bully and face her fears.

felix-coverIn Rosemary Wells’ Felix Stands Tall, young Felix doesn’t think twice when his friend Fiona says that they should be in the talent show together singing and dancing as pixies. The two win first prize, but then a group of bullies begin  to make fun of him and call him “Twinkle toes.” His mother tells him that he will have to stand tall, but he doesn’t know how to do that. Luckily, his friend Fiona does. She allows Felix to borrow one of her invisible magic protection suits and suddenly Felix is brave. A great way to show the importance of friendship and believing in yourself.

weird-coverI wasn’t sure what to think the first time I read Weird! by Erin Frankel, but this book really does a marvelous job of showing multiple sides of the bullying issue. In this story, Luisa changes everything about herself to avoid being called weird by fellow classmate, Sam. Luisa can’t understand why Sam says that everything she does is weird, but as she stops doing the things Sam considers weird, she also stops feeling like herself. She finally talks to her mom about the problem and one of her friends encourages her to go back to doing the things that make her special. weird-3As she started to truly believe in herself and to “act like I don’t care what she says, the more I really don’t care.” This shows a great way to take away a bully’s power by not allowing what they say and do to affect you. What is also special about this book is that at the end there are notes from Luisa, Sam, and Jayla (the girl who encouraged Luisa to be herself). This book is a great way to show all sides of bullying and has two companion books that focus on the other two girls – Dare and Tough.weird-4

stick-and-stoneWhen I wrote about books that teach kindness, I mentioned the book Stick and Stone. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but in this book they actually stand up for each other. When Pinecone tries to use words to hurt them, the two lonely figures learn that standing up for a friend is the best thing you can do to counter-balance a bully. It’s a comical take on the old rhyme that we all grew up hearing and perhaps better than ignoring the taunt, shows kids to stand up for others, even if they are not your friend to start with, you may make a friend in the end. As stick tells stone, “You rock.” And stone replies, “That’s just what stones do. Best friendship rocks too.”

billy-bullyYoung children don’t always understand that the things they are doing can be considered bullying and that repeated acts of selfishness can have a lasting impact. Being a bully isn’t just about calling people names and teasing them. In this reverse counting billy-interiorbook, Billy Bully arrives at the school playground and starts taking others toys, cutting in line, and chasing others off of the slide, his friends dwindle down to zero. With a little effort, Billy Bully realizes that a real friend doesn’t think only of himself. This is an important take on the bullying theme to show kids how others respond when they are selfish and can’t share properly. Billy Bully gets his act together and brings the whole group back together in the end.

molly-louStand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon, by Patty Lovell, is a book that focuses on believing in yourself as a way to stand up to bullies. Little Molly Lou Mellon is tiny, buck-toothed and clumsy but her grandmother has always taught her to believe in herself. When she moves to a new school the local bully taunts her in various ways but each time she just stands up for herself and turns whatever he has said to her around. If he makes fun of her buck teeth, she wows everyone by balancing pennies on them. She manages to put the bully in his place and gains many friends in the process. In the end, she calls her grandma to let her know that all of the thing she had taught her were true. Sometimes it is really hard to be different, but this book shows how believing in yourself allows your differences to shine.

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