By: Susie Garber
Phyllis Blackman, well-known shadchan of Hineni (the organization founded by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis’ zt”l), has written meaningful songs and performed them on her wonderful children’s CDs, and now she has branched out and published her first picture book for children, ages 3-8.
A Bike for Mike is a beautifully illustrated picture book that entertains while it also teaches important Torah values. Mike longs to have his own blue bicycle that he sees every day in the neighborhood bike store, Bike Biz. Every night he says a fervent prayer. One day in school, a new boy comes to class, and he is a bit dirty and poor. The children make fun of him but Mike befriends him. The teacher, being compassionate and wise, makes a kindness contest for the class, offering a big prize to the child who can do the best act of kindness. One child’s parent takes the class to the zoo. One boy reads a story about his dad and the fireman. Mike buys the new boy, Joe, a pair of shoes because he sees Joe’s shoes are worn with holes. The story is told in a pleasant rhyme, and the end is a surprise with twists and turns (we don’t want to give away the ending), but I will say that it leaves you with a big smile on your face and a wonderful lesson for children.
This writer asked Phyllis what inspired her to write this book and how she started it. She shared that one day someone who wrote a children’s book sent it to her and that awakened something in her. She felt that it could be the next vehicle she wanted to use to express her messages. She woke up at 4 a.m. and started writing the poem that grew into this book. She always had strong feelings about bullying and how kindness needed to be taught more. Phyllis has always felt that music and books were a great way to teach lessons and grow children into the best people they can be.
She added that when she was a child, she did not like the scary stories she read, like Hansel and Gretel, Grimm’s Fairy Tales or even Three Blind Mice. “Childhood should be a time filled with magical happy stories that can stir your imagination and transport you to exciting places or situations you can relate to in your life, but they should always have happy endings. The world is hard enough.”
She added, “Introducing me to the world of reading was a great gift that my mother gave me.” Phyllis grew up being an avid reader, finishing all the Nancy Drew books and fairy tales, and classic works, but always disliking the violent stories.
She shared, “The Torah says to guard your gates – your eyes, ears, and other senses. What you read becomes a part of you forever. Why would you want your children reading scary or violent senseless stories when they could be inspired by seeing and hearing beautiful and meaningful things that help them to grow. I’ve tried to do that through my music and now with my first children’s book.”
As poet Julius Lester stated, “Literature can “link our souls like pearls on a string, bringing us together in a shared and luminous humanity.”
Lucy Calkins, in her book on teaching readers workshop, shared the importance of reading aloud. “Read to them,” Cynthia Rylant, children’s book author says. “Take their breath away.”
Lucy Calkins added, “We read aloud not only because it is good for our children as readers, but also because it is good for all of us as people.”
With her music for children and this book, Phyllis hopes to help children to become better people and that these works will imbue them with good values. “When they finish reading, I want them to have a smile and not to feel scared or anxious.”
She added that she loves to rhyme, as she is a song writer. “This little book is like a snippet of real life that teaches kindness.” She wrote this book to appeal to children from all backgrounds.
The following are reviews on Amazon: “Phyllis Blackman brings the attribute of kindness alive with her beautifully illustrated book, A Bike for Mike. The colorful illustrations and the rhyming storyline team up to encourage compassion – exactly what the world needs right now. Help your child become a giver form the heart. It is a perfect fit. Highly recommended.”
“A story that engages children and inspires kindness – and it rhymes! I loved how relatable this story is to children. Children love rhyme, kindness, surprise, and – bikes! What more can we ask for in a children’s book?”
A Bike for Mike is available on Amazon, Kindle, and in soft cover.