A Love for Nature in ‘A Child’s Prayer of Wonder and Gratitude’
I was already familiar with Karen Guth’s previous book, “Bubie’s in Bidud (Grandma’s in Isolation),” her book that came out in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic. It was timely and gave an opportunity to grandchildren to understand why they were not able to see their grandparents when the COVID-19 outbreak spread and what their grandparents might have been experiencing. I enjoyed reading it to my own grandchildren.
Guth has published another book and, while the previous one was whimsically illustrated, this time the same illustrator, Meital Maor, has created a magnificent work of art that would stand on its own. According to Guth, this time Maor said to her, “Let me go with my vision” and she did. Every page could be framed and hung on your child’s wall.
All this comes to complement the main message in the book, one that is – now more than ever – relevant, as Guth points out that she is inspired by Psalm 104, “which is about the protection of nature.” The 23-page book is aimed at ages two-to-six but as with all good books, the secret is finding one that the parents also will not tire of reading. Did someone say “Goodnight Moon”?
Actually, someone did. Guth says that she wanted this book to have a cadence that is similar to Goodnight Moon, recognizing that it is something children everywhere love. But unlike “Goodnight Moon,” “Wow” goes beyond, and the fact that its subtitle is “A Child’s Prayer of Wonder and Gratitude” reflects Guth’s own approach to life, being someone who looks at the world with eyes wide open.
A short excerpt from the book illustrates that cadence:
WOW to the forests!
WOW to the seas!
WOW to the apples growing on trees!
WOW to the lions, the deserts, and fields!
WOW to the eagles, giraffes, and the deer!
In Psalm 104, the author – King David – writes about the majesty of God and His world, about the seas and the mountains, the cedars of Lebanon, the grapevines and the birds, the sun and the moon and the quaking of the earth, whales and great oceans, the animals and the curtain of heaven. And a warning: to respect the Lord so He will not flood the world or set the mountains ablaze. Concluding “Hallelujah.”
Guth writes in her introduction, “I was inspired by a visit to the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem with our grandchildren. The children were awed by the live animals, both large and small, as well as the greenery and gardens which provide a natural environment for many of these spectacular creatures. Every other word out of their mouths as we roamed the gardens and encountered its inhabitants was, ‘Wow!’”
“There are so many discussions about protecting Nature, but I think those values must be instilled in children when they are young and they first begin appreciating our environment.”
She adds, in our interview, “I wanted to share with my grandchildren, as well as others, the wonders that we have in our natural world; a gift from the Borah Olam (the Creator, as He is called in the book), but one that requires guarding. There are so many discussions about protecting Nature, but I think those values must be instilled in children when they are young and they first begin appreciating our environment.
“This book has been in my thoughts for many years now. In addition to being inspired by Psalm 104, I was inspired by a course I took with Rabbi Dov Singer, head of the Makor Chaim Yeshiva High school in Gush Etzion and founder of the Beit Midrash Lehitchadshut (spiritual renewal), called ‘Va’Ani Tefilla’ (“Prepare my prayer”). In one of the sessions, he speaks about the ‘Wow’ in our world which God continually creates for us. I decided then to finish writing the book and instead of using King David’s word, “Halleluyah”, I changed it to ‘Wow!’”
Guth, who holds a Doctorate in Education, has been teaching English in Israel for 20 years, and before that she taught in the U.S. “In the states, I taught both English and other general studies as well as Limudei Kodesh (Jewish studies).” In 2000, Guth and her husband, Eric, made aliyah with their two sons Aaron Tzvi and Adam Elan, from Denver, Colorado.
The translator of the book into Hebrew, Michal Yechieli Coppenhagen, was a former student of Guth’s when she was in high school. In addition to her recent book, “Bubie’s in Bidud,” Guth worked with Meital Maor a number of years ago on books they created for the Gush Etzion Foundation, the first was “Courage, and Hope, Inspirational Writings by Youth in Gush Etzion,” which included short essays by children in Israel who were trying to cope with a bloody intifada. The second was “Courage and Hope, Inspirational writings by Youth of Gush Etzion” in the aftermath of the expulsion from Gaza.
I wondered about the response of Guth’s own six grandchildren, who live a very insular life in Mea Shearim; hence their excitement, she thinks, when she took them to the zoo and they saw animals they had never even imagined existed. “They love the book,” she says, “and I have had some wonderful feedback from other young people, as well as from other parents and grandparents.”
How did it all begin? A few years ago, Guth started a blog called Tell Me a Story Bubie (https://www.tellmeastorybubie.com) in which, she says, “I attempted to explain ideas, dreams, and values to our grandchildren through the art of storytelling. From this evolved several stories that I could read to our grandchildren. I decided to share those stories with others, both in blog form for older children and in short children’s books for younger children. ‘Wow! A Child’s Prayer of Wonder and Gratitude,’ represents the second of these story books.”
Maor, the illustrator, studied visual communication at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and has a music degree in cello performance from the Jerusalem Academy for Music and Dance. See more of her work at www.meitalmaor.com.
“Wow! A Child’s Prayer of Wonder and Gratitude” is available in both English and in Hebrew editions and can be purchased at Israel at Pomeranz Bookseller’s in Jerusalem and at Mintzer’s Books in Efrat. Paperpack copies can be purchased on Amazon. It will be in its third printing soon.
King David would be proud.
Toby Klein Greenwald is the award-winning artistic director of Raise Your Spirits Theatre, a recipient of American Jewish Press Association Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism, and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.