Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review of Mitzvah the Mutt

I just read my first review of Mitzvah the Mutt, and it was wonderful!! In the Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter for May/June 2010, Andrea Davidson, Temple Tifereth Israel, Beachwood, Ohio wrote: Readers will laugh at Mitzvah’s zany misadventures,…Rouss uses Mitzvah’s humorous interpretations of the celebrations and his reactions to the food, along with short chapters, large print, and lots of white space, to make this appropriate for the intended audience of children 6-9. However, by having Mitzvah use the terms “Mommy” and “Daddy,” she makes her reading audience younger, so that this could be read with children as young as five years of age.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sammy Spider's First Simchat Torah

Our Rabbi’s, past and present, have taught us the importance of being a part of the community and have admonished us by saying, “Don’t separate yourself from the community.”

Embodied within the Torah are values which teach us how to treat others.

Several years ago at Simchat Torah, I showed the children in my class a small Torah Scroll and asked, “What is this?”

“A Torah!” several children shouted.

“What is inside the Torah?” I continued.

“Writing!” “It’s a book,” “No, it’s a scroll!”

I nodded. “It’s all those things, but what do the words in the Torah tell us?”

None of the children responded.

When I told the children that the Torah was the story about the Jewish people, the children still looked confused. “Would you like to hear a Torah story?”

“Yes!” the children responded.

“This is the first story in the Torah,” I explained as I told the children the story of Creation. “We celebrate Shabbat because God rested on the seventh day. He was very tired after making the whole world.”

“My daddy gets tired from working too.”

Next I read the story of Noah’s Ark. Many of the children were familiar with the story and added the names of several of the animals on Noah’s Ark.

The children, almost as if a chorus, said, “I like Torah stories!”

We decided that each Friday we would read a different Torah Story, & make our own classroom Torah.

The next week, after reading a story, I asked, “The Torah tells us how we should treat each other. Can you think of how we treat our friends in this classroom?”

“We share,” “We don’t hit.” “We help each other.”

The following week I showed the children pictures I had taken of them celebrating holidays, sharing, helping each other and playing together.

“Can you think of a way these pages can become a Torah Scroll?”

“Put them in a book? “Put them in a folder?” “We can draw the Torah?” “We can read it?” “We can glue the pages together?”

And so, our class made our Torah.

My newest Sammy adventure celebrates the holiday of Simchat Torah. As I wrote the story, the children from this class were my inspiration.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sammy Spider

When I was growing up I had several younger siblings and cousins. Rather than read stories to them, I often made up stories but I never actually wrote anything down. As an adult, I became a teacher and continued to tell my stories to the children in my classroom. I try to base my stories on their interests and I often read them my manuscripts and let them share their ideas about my work. I ask them what they liked about the story, what they didn’t like, how they would change the story, etc. I welcome their comments even if they are negative. If they like it, I know it’s ready to send to my publisher, but if they are bored, I don’t bother sending it.
I hope that Jewish children see the beauty of the Jewish holidays and appreciate our celebrations and values in my Sammy Spider books. Sammy Spider is an outsider that wants to be a part of our holidays. Sammy sees the beauty of it. We are very lucky because we have a yearly cycle of celebrations that serve to reaffirm our Jewishness almost every month. I have been told that my Sammy Spider stories instill in children and their parents a sense of excitement and joy about being Jewish.
Sammy Spider is very active and he has taken on a life of his own. For me, Sammy is real. I never know what his next adventure will be, but as long as Sammy continues to have an audience of children that love and enjoy him, I’ll continue to find something to write about.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Discussion & Activity Guide for Mitzvah the Mutt

I am pleased to share this guide that can be used either at home or in the classroom for my newest book, Mitzvah the Mutt.

It was developed by a wonderful committee of colleagues, authors, educators & friends. Special thanks to Barbara Gelb for chairing the initiative.


Written by Sylvia Rouss and Illustrated by Martha Rast

“A Mitzvah for Shabbat” Chapters 1-6

Discussion Topics

1. What are some things that make you laugh or smile?

2. The mutt talks to the mommy without using words. What are some ways that you talk to your friends and family without using words?

3. Why did they think Mitzvah was a good name?

4. Who are Bubbie and Zaydie? What do you call your grandparents?

5. Do you celebrate Shabbat? In what ways?


1. Mitzvah communicates without using words. We can do the same by playing a game of charade and/or this “special” game of hide and seek. One person leaves the room and another hides a toy. The other people have to help the person who was asked to leave the room find the object without using any words.

2. The Bergers had a sign on their door. We can make our own signs for our door or a name tag with Hebrew or English name.

3. Mitzvah tree - teacher or parent makes a tree trunk on a bulletin board. Each child takes home a 'leaf' and they write a mitzvah they did that week on it (“helped my mom load the dishwasher”, etc.). Leaves are stapled to the trunk each week.

4. Make a challah for Shabbat, or make/decorate a cover for the challah.

5. Invite a visitor to your class who has a trained dog and learn about how these dogs do mitzvot for people (who are visually impaired, assist the police or fire department, visit senior centers, etc.).

“A Miracle for Mitzvah” Chapters 7-13

Discussion Topics

1. What is the difference between mutts and “fancy –shmantzy dogs”?

2. Bubbie wanted to “play” with her knitting alone. What are some things you like to do alone?

3. Do you have a menorah at home? Is it old or new? What is special about an old menorah or other “old” things?

4. Mitzvah didn’t seem to like his hat very much. Did you ever get a present you didn’t like? What did you do?

5. Who were the Maccabees? How did they light the menorah?


1. Make dreidel or other Chanukah decorations to decorate your home or classroom.

2. Have a dreidel “spin off”. Give each participant a dreidel, have them pair off and spin, winner of each pair then gets to compete, and game continues until there are only two left to see whose dreidel spins the longest.

3. Play a CD of Chanukah blessings and songs and have a sing along.

4. Have someone teach the basics of knitting and then make a simple gift.

5. Play pin the flame on the candle (like pin the tail on the donkey)

“Dayenu, Mitzvah, Dayenu”

Chapters 14-19 Discussion Topics

1. Who is Moses, and why did Rachel and David say they thought Mitzvah was like him?

2. A tradition is something special that you do with your family that has often been done for years and years. Do you have some Passover traditions? Name some of your favorites?

3. What is your favorite Passover food?

4. What does “Dayenu” mean? Are there times when you feel, “Dayenu?”

5. Why didn't Mitzvah like the maror?


1. Make different types of haroset and have a tasting event

2. Draw or color a picture of Mitzvah and his family and friends at the Seder table.

3. Cross the red sea relay race. It is time to cross the red sea. Create teams (no more than four participants to a team) and give each team a suitcase full of clothes. Line the teams up at both ends of a large room and put the suitcase on the other end. The first person on each team has to run to the suitcase put on all the clothes to go on the trip to Egypt, then run back and take off all the clothes; the second person then puts all the clothes on and runs to the other side, where t is waiting, etc. until each has put on and taken off all the clothes and put them back into the suitcase.

4. Seder charades - Students pull out of a hat a Passover custom or a part of the Passover story - they act it out and the other students try to guess what it is

5. Visit a local matzah factory to see how matzah is made, or make matzah at your home or school.

Mitzvah the Mutt Academic Advisory Committee, June 2010

Barbara Gelb, Chair, Director of Education, Temple Israel, Memphis; Lorraine Arcus, Author and Educator, Washington DC; Mike and Linda Bennett, educator and journalist, San Diego; Sara Bogen, International Jewish Community Executive, Jerusalem; Esther Elfenbaum, Director of Early Childhood Education Services, Los Angeles; Heidi Estrin; Nancy Goldberg, Director, Gordon Center For Performing Arts, Baltimore; Gayle Jacobson-Huset, Editor, Minneapolis; Zev Hymowitz, Jewish Community Consultant, San Francisco; Lauren Marcus Johnson, Director Temple Israel Libraries and Media Center, West Bloomfield; Linda Kirsch, Director of Education, Temple Beth El South Orange County, California; Avi Lewinson, Jewish Community Executive, Palisades, New Jersey; Yael Mermelstein, Educator and Author, Israel; Rene A. Rusgo, Director, Department of Jewish Programs United Jewish Council, Toledo; Diane Saltzberg, Author and Screenwriter, Los Angeles; Linda R. Silver, Author and Librarian, Cleveland; Lesley Simpson, Author, Toronto; Peggy Wolf, Jewish Community Leader and Educator, Baltimore; Zoe Zelonky, Student; and Tanya Zucker, Educator, England.