The Best: A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
Reviewed by Tuvia Berman
Plot summary: Schoolgirl Camilla Cream loves lima beans but is afraid to reveal this to her classmates. As a result, on the first day of school, she becomes ill with a seemingly incurable, yet colorful, disease called Stripes. Her body changes in outlandish ways to reflect how she believes she appears to others. She becomes covered in stripes, stars, and checkerboard patterns. Eventually, she turns less human-like and almost completely disappears in to her environment. Despite the sometimes comic failures of traditional and non-traditional medicine, her situation deteriorates. A little old lady cures Camilla by convincing her to eat the food she loves and to disregard what others think about her.
Consumption Time: 32-page picture book appropriate for ages 3 to 9.
The critical aspects of reading to children: I recently reflected on my personal experience reading to my children and described the intimacy it generates. However, discussion of reading books with children in classical Jewish sources is non-existent. One of the few descriptions of early childhood education appears in Avot 5:21, “Judah ben Tema said…At five years of age the study of Scripture; at ten the study of Mishnah at thirteen subject to the commandments; at fifteen the study of Talmud.” However, Hazal here do not relate to the modern phenomenon of bedtime reading. Given that attitudes towards childhood have changed in modernity, it is perhaps quixotic to search for precedence in Jewish sources for explicit support of this practice.
However, as has been documented, reading to young children promotes cognitive, imaginative, and emotional development which are core Jewish values. To be sure, children’s books are not all cut of the same cloth; some present neutral messages while others suggest ideas which might run counter to Judaism. Of the myriad of works for parents to read with their children, ideal selections should stimulate positive growth while promoting Torah values.
Why this is the BEST: Works such as A Bad Case of Stripes dovetail nicely with tradition. This work, highly regarded by the National Education Association, emphasizes classic themes like not bending to peer pressure and taking pride in one’s self. This particular message is critical to us as Jews, living as a minority in a wider society.
A Bad Case of Stripes functions as a beautiful version of the famous aphorism of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, “If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you!”
Rabbi Tuvia Berman is the Director of Institutional Advancement and a Ram at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi.
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[Published March 5, 2020]