Friday, May 28, 2010

Once upon a time there was a little rescue dog

Gretchen was a little dog we rescued at a local street fair. We were told that she was a Jack Russell-Dachshund mix, which made sense, but we would never know for sure - the only thing we were sure of was that she was a mutt. She was the silliest looking dog we had ever seen, and she made us laugh. She lived with us for six years, and brightened our days and nights with her attentiveness. Gretchen was my inspiration for my newest book, Mitzvah the Mutt (Yaldah Publishing, 2010). I imagined her when I had Mitzvah say "I’m a little dog with short brown hair. My ears are small and floppy. One hangs down a little while the other stands up. I have large brown eyes, a long nose, a crooked mouth and a tail that never stops wagging. I must have agood sense of humor because when Mr. Ruben takes me for a walk I always hear people say,“Look at that dog! He’s so funny!” Then they roar with laughter."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How Current Events Have Influenced My Writing

When I read the news this morning on the oil spill in the Gulf, I was reminded how current events have influenced my writing.

In 2003, I was in Israel just before the launch of the space shuttle Columbia, and the Israeli press was full of articles on Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli Astronaut. On my return to the United States, I read a short story in the LA Times about the little Torah that Ilan had taken on the shuttle and contacted Professor Joseph to whom it belonged. By email, I asked him to allow me to write a children’s story about it. When he agreed, I was thrilled.

This was almost a week prior to the crash. However, at the time of the crash, I shelved the project. I wasn’t sure how to approach this difficult subject in a way that would be appropriate for children.

I spoke to some of the Rabbis in our community and finally to the professor. Everyone felt it was a story that should be told, in spite of the difficult subject matter. I embarked on a journey, researching the Torah’s owner, Rabbi Simon Dasberg, chief Rabbi of Amsterdam. I contacted the Bergen Belsen memorial and found out about the horrors of this particular camp where he and his wife and one child perished.

The professor shared his Bar Mitzvah experience in the camp with me, and also, his close friendship with Ilan Ramon and the other astronauts.

What evolved is a beautiful story of human courage, love and kindness, the central teaching of the Torah. Reach for the Stars, A Little Torah's Journey (Pitspopany 2004) is sad story, but at the same time, uplifting. Every character in the story is a wonderful role model for children as well as adults.

In the years since, I have had the privilege of personally visiting Professor Joseph and Rabbi Dasberg's daughters in Israel.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Could you write your name using just your toes?

I always find it interesting that many parents in my classes want their children to write their name by the end of the school year.
If you were asked to remove one shoe and hold a pencil between your toes and write your name, could you do it? Writing is an acquired ability and it is as difficult for young children to control a pencil in their hands as it is for you to control it with your toes.
As your teacher, I could help you develop your toe muscles, for example, by allowing you to manipulate play dough or clay with your toes.
For the past nine months, the children in my classroom have regularly played with the materials in their environment to develop the fine motor skills necessary for writing. So what may appear as play to parents is actually active learning, giving each child the opportunity to be active, rather than passive learners, and to foster creativity, initiative, and spontaneity.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How do children learn?

It has been said that children learn more during their preschool years than they will ever learn during all the years they spend in college. Research in early childhood development shows that young children learn through active use of their senses as they explore their environment. There is no way a young child can learn the difference between sweet and sour, rough and smooth, hot and cold, loud and quiet, dark and light without using the senses to understand these concepts.
In my book, God's World (Pitspopany, 2005),the mother dramatizes the story of the Creation to her child: "On Yom Rishon, the first day, God created the light. I swiftly pull the blanket away. Eli blinks as his eyes adjust to the bright daylight. God divided the light from the darkness, and found it pleasing. The light God called day, and the darkness, night."