The wonders of G-d’s world in a short, beautifully illustrated book that seems like a child’s version of King David’s praise in Psalm 104.
By: Rochel Sylvetsky
When my grandchild Yaeli was of nursery school age, I would babysit when her mother worked late and on nice days, we loved to take a walk which we gave the name “a hike in Eretz Yisrael”- tiyul beEretz Yisrael, although it was all of a two block radius in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem. We looked for special things – Yaeli defined what was special–and she found a good many, sometimes a surprising burst of color when a window box that had been green was now filled with flowers, acorns of different sizes on the ground, birds chirping in the trees, different kinds of leaves, the sounds of learning from a yeshiva window–and the joy of choosing the flavor of her much anticipated ice cream cone.
Joy is the best word for a child’s response to what we often take for granted, wonder is the word for the things they see with fresh eyes. Children’s reactions to the world around them are contagious. It is said, and rightly so, that seeing the world through the eyes of a child is the purest joy that anyone can experience. It makes us look more attentively at many of the everyday things that we do not even notice anymore and realize how wondrous they are because they are being seen for the first time by the curious and sparkling eyes of a child.
Literature written for the young child often tries to put that wonder at the most ordinary of things into words, describe the natural curiosity children express before they learn the scientific explanations that eventually turn some of the sights into understandable phenomena – but hopefully, not the wonder at them.
Walter Isaacson wrote about Albert Einstein: “Throughout his life, Albert Einstein would retain the intuition and the awe of a child. He never lost his sense of wonder at the magic of nature’s phenomena-magnetic fields, gravity, inertia, acceleration, light beams-which grown-ups find so commonplace…”
The best children’s writers are able to express that joy and wonder, with children identifying with them for generations. Robert Louis Stevenson, for example, in a Child’s Garden of Verses knew how to do so in rhyme such as in “Oh how I love to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue…” and “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me…”. Walt Disney knew how to bring the filmed fairyland of nature to be on an equal footing with his fairy tale cartoon movies.
And in Judaism?
The Torah encourages children to ask questions. The Seder table and the Haggada including the Four Questions are prime examples of awakening curiosity and thereby involving children in the miraculous wonders of Jewish history and the traditions that help us remember them.
And yes, we are the people for whom the Reed Sea split, the people who received the Torah at Mount Sinai, but that did not keep David Hamelech from saying: “How wondrous are your deeds, Hashem”, as he describes the ordinary world in Psalm 104, Borchi Nafshi. The Jewish prayer book contains blessings to be recited upon seeing the wonders of the world for the first time, but the daily morning prayers describe the wonders of ordinary life as well, such as awakening in the morning, the rooster crowing at dawn, the workings of the human body and more.
One of an observant family’s goals in raising children is to do just that on a child’s level – to use the child’s natural curiosity and sense of wonder to encourage their feeling of gratitude to G-d for our beautiful world, its everyday as well as its unusual sights and experiences. And Karen D. Guth, helped by the beautiful illustrations by Metal Maor and translating skills of Michal Yechieli Coppenhagen and the editing of Jennifer Mayer, has created a beautiful book that does that–and she has published it in both Hebrew and English.
“WOW! A child’s prayer of wonder and gratitude” is a short, laminated book that is a feast for the eyes and which expresses the delight and surprise when a child first reacts with awe to the world that the Creator has placed us in. Once we understand Nature as a precious legacy, Guth writes, our children can begin to understand the need to protect and preserve it, describing another of the books’ educational benefits.
In Guth’s own words: “This book is dedicated to our grandchildren who continuously help us to recognize the “wow” in our world. It is a twofold privilege to have grandchildren. First they remind us of the beauty and majesty of Nature and the curiosity that is aroused when one first encounters its various wonders. The love of a grandparent for their grandchild knows no bounds, and this enables us to be mentors to those who will be actors in the next chapter of our human history..”.
What causes the WOWs in the book? The gorgeous illustrations and matching rhymes about the earth itself, special animals large and small, in the sky and on the ground, in the forest and the desert, growing things, foods and plants.
After familiarizing children with the book, adults can use it as a springboard for showing the wonder of clouds, a spider’s web, fireflies, rain, snow, oil on puddles – everything and anything created by G-d. Music and mathematics, electricity, the computer chip and cyber space, all are wonders in that world and looking at them in this way as teenagers and adults can begin when as children, they have felt that WOW while hearing this book.
Yaeli loved it. Her junior high brother found it nice to read and thought it a lovely way for young children to begin to notice the wonders of Creation that surround them. So did I.
Other ways to obtain the books in Israel: Pomeranz Booksellers English Hardcover (Hebrew hardcover available also – phone in order–+972-2-623-5559) or Mintzer’s Books at 02 9933490 (Mintzer’s Books Hebrew Hardcover) Information about Karen Guth’s other books can be found at her website https://www.tellmeastorybubie.com/
Karen D. Guth holds a Doctorate in Education and has been educating young people and adults for over 35 years. She has also worked as a teacher trainer for new English teachers. She currently teaches English in two high schools in Israel. Karen and her husband, Eric, made Aliya 21 years ago with their two sons from Denver, Colorado. They have six beautiful grandchildren, all of whom live in Jerusalem.
Rochel Sylvetsky made aliya to Israel with her family in 1971, coordinated Mathematics at Ulpenat Horev, worked in math curriculum planning at Hebrew U. and as academic coordinator at Touro College Graduate School in Jerusalem. She served as Chairperson of Emunah Israel and was CEO of Kfar Hassidim Youth Village. Upon her retirement, Arutz Sheva asked her to be managing editor of the English site, a position she filled for several years before becoming Senior Consultant and Op-ed and Judaism editor. She serves on the Boards of Orot Yisrael College and the Knesset Channel.