Posts tagged ‘Jewish’

April 28, 2011

On the darkest side of beautiful

Fairy tales were never meant to be pretty.  The original stories are a lot less about princesses in pink dresses than about evil mothers and vengeful fairies.  Briar Rose, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, would make the authors of those original dark stories proud.  It is a story about an average American family, an average girl, and the darkest part of the human heart.

Title: Briar Rose
Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fairy Tale
Age: Older, mature Middle School students and High Schoolers

Summary and Review:

Rebecca is a young reporter who has always been very close to the red-headed grandmother she resembles.  Ever since she was a little girl, she has loved listening to the story her grandmother tells again and again–the story of Briar Rose, or Sleeping Beauty.  Rebecca can recite her grandmother’s version by heart, but loves to hear it again and again anyway.  But the story is full of mysteries, and the most important one guides this book: why does Rebecca’s grandmother insist that she is Briar Rose?  That she is a princess from another land, that she is Sleeping Beauty?

Rebecca makes a promise to her grandmother as she is dying that she will discover the truth, that she will learn what her grandma means when she claims to be Sleeping Beauty.  And while her older sisters mock her, Rebecca sets off on a life-changing journey and learns the remarkable story in her family’s past.

The idea that drives this book and the history behind it is brilliant.  It’s an incredible reinterpretation of the story of Sleeping Beauty, and this comes beautifully to light in the first half of the book.  If I can quibble with the book (and I guess I can…), I would say that I was a little disappointed with the second half.  It seemed very disjointed from the first half–I would have loved if the two stories were more interwoven.  However, that being said, this is a beautifully conceived story.  (More info about the plot below the spoiler line.)

I also felt that the “mystery” she is trying to solve—that is, how exactly her grandmother could have been Sleeping Beauty—is fairly obvious from very early on in the book.  (And I NEVER solve anything in a book until the end—I am a VERY clueless reader!)  So I found it distressing that I predicted most of the events way ahead of the main character, who in comparison seemed completely clueless and out of it.  I guess I would have preferred if it was just presented less as a mystery, but that’s just my take.  However, just in case there are those out there that like to hang on to the mystery, I have left the rest of my review below a spoiler line, although I will by no means give everything away!


Rebecca’s journey takes her to Poland, where she finds the proof that her grandmother came to America near the end of World War II, not before the war as her family had been led to believe.  What happened to her grandmother during the war and the people she met along the way pose the setting and the characters for a dark and violent Sleeping Beauty story.

Parents might want to know that despite the happy and very G-rated first half of the book, the story definitely takes a turn that will require a more mature reader for the end.  The violence of the concentration camps and death camps is described in a lot of detail, including descriptions of inmates being forced to do things like roll in the cold snow, mentions of the gay inmates being asked to “try” themselves in brothels and be castrated if they “fail”, talk about babies being killed and people being stuffed into trucks with their children and gassed to death, among other descriptions of the horror that was the Holocaust.  There is also some mention of having sex (although no description of this).  Nothing is gratuitous and it’s all within the range of acceptable for a young adult reader, but parents and teachers might want to read the book along with their children to provide support.

January 29, 2011

Call Me When You’re Bleeding

We went to the playground today; it was the first day in a long time it was warm enough to do so.  (I had thought when we packed the moving boxes that I was moving to the “sunny” South, but I was actually moving to the freezing-cold-winters/hot-sticky-summers/nice-couple-of-months-in-the-fall-and-spring South.)  But that’s a different story.

Every time we go to the playground, I’m usually shocked by someone’s parenting.  I’m sure they are shocked by mine as well, and they are welcome to blog about it, but this is my podium, so to speak.  Here is what I see all the time: a young child, taking some tentative steps up a ladder or towards a slide, or onto a boulder and the parent snatching them up, explaining how it’s “too dangerous” for them, and re-directing them towards something safer, and usually way more boring.

Now, I know that many of these parents have very opposite (but similarly disapproving) thoughts on my own child-rearing skills because I’ve actually had parents tell my child to be careful or not go too high despite the fact that I was standing right there, obviously the mom, and obviously without any concerns.  Well, it’s not that I don’t have any concerns, it’s just that I weigh them differently.  (For the record, I have never suggested to someone else’s kid that she keep climbing.)  Here’s my version of risk analysis:

1) how likely is he to fall? (I base this on similar falls, similar climbing experiences, or similar feats I’ve seen him accomplish in gymnastics class or on my living room furniture)

2) if he does fall, how likely is he to get hurt? (I base these extraordinarily unprecise calculations on things like the height off the ground, the material said ground is made of, and his position on the apparatus and the body part mostly likely to hit the ground material first)

3) if he does get hurt, how close am I to an ER? (Okay, I don’t actually ask myself that, but it’s possible I should.)

4) How much energy do I have and do I really feel like going over to the monkey bars to rescue him?  (This might indicate a slight downside to my plan, as given this logic he is increasingly likely to fall the more pregnant I get.)

And then here’s the thing: even after judging, I still almost never take him off and redirect.  When I can, I stand underneath, so that my soft, cushiony body will act like the firefighters’ trampoline.  If I can’t do that, I try to support a little bit–hold a foot in place so he’s less likely to slip, etc.  And if I can’t help at all and it really does look too high up with too great a possibility of falling, I resign myself to asking him not to do it (he’s usually figured this out on his own at this point anyway), and try a modified version to increase the likelihood he’ll be able to do it on his own soon.

(For example, I did discourage my 2-year-old from jumping from the side of a high platform in an attempt to reach a pole to slide down.  But I did let him come down to the ground, where I lifted him up to the pole and showed him how to slide down.  He’s still learning, and maybe by the time he feels good at it, he’ll be tall enough to reach out and grab that pole at the top of the platform.  I look forward to that day.)

I certainly don’t think my way is the only way, but I do think parents need to worry a little bit less about their kids.  Specifically, they need to worry a little less about physical danger.  In my world, I worry (perhaps too much) about digital media, screen time, and junk food.  I do this because I’ve been in classrooms with middle schoolers for many years and have yet to see anyone permanently damaged by a playground fall, but have seen many that have suffered the consequences of too much of the stuff I mention above.  So yes, parents, it’s okay to worry.  But think first about what you’re worried about and why.  Ask yourself what your kids would be allowed to do if you weren’t worried about it, and think about the trade-offs.

And that’s all to say that Wendy Mogel is a great author.  Not just because she would agree with me on some of these things, but because she has good, solid advice delivered in about raising kids and how to deal with the mistakes they will inevitably make along the way.  She’s professional, humorous, and knows what she’s talking about.  So here it is.

Title: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children
Author: Wendy Mogel, PhD
Genre: Parenting

Summary and Review:

Ah, the religious disclaimer: Religion tends to be a touchy subject for some people, so I should let you know that the book is written from a “Jewish” perspective.  I put Jewish in quotes because it’s also written from the perspective of a PhD and parenting expert, and I truly believe that everything in the book is universally applicable.  But you should know that she will quote from and refer often to Jewish texts such as the Bible (which of course is also Christian), the Talmud, and others.

If you are Jewish, or religious and not Jewish but open to learning the perspectives of other religions, or even just interested in spirituality and history, then I think these quotes serve as a unique and refreshing perspective through which to look at family life.  She also talks about teaching religion and spirituality to children and how to honor the holy in everyday life.  So, if you believe religion is responsible for all bad things in the world, then you might want to skip this one. 

Topics in the book include honoring each child as their own person (and learning to accept “good enough”), honoring parents (and how parents can better be someone to honor), overprotecting your child (hence my playground story), and many other gems of parenting confident and capable children.