Teaching My Baby To Read

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A Child’s Garden of Torah

“Hey Mom! Don’t come into my room or you’ll turn into salt.” That’s what my son Bruce (6) told me earlier this morning when I was getting out the vacuum. He’s been apparently reading ahead in A Child’s Garden of Torah, by Joel Lurie Grishaver, and has come to the chapter “Sodom Goes Boom”.

Bruce and I are continuing on with my SLE inspired reading list , and now we are reading the Torah. Our family belongs to the United Methodist church so reading a book meant for Jewish children, might seem a bit odd. But it is actually pretty fantastic, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier. Bruce has heard most of these stories before from a Christian perspective, now he can hear them again in a new way.

Here are the Learning Goals for my SLE Inspired Reading List:

  • Understand that people from other countries, cultures and religious traditions might have different core beliefs and thoughts about the world than we do.
  • Identify, explore and evaluate those beliefs, and consider how they influence action and practice.

Here are the Values I would like Bruce to take away from A Child’s Garden of Torah

  • The Jewish faith and the Christian faith share a lot.
  • The Jewish Torah is the same as the first five books of the Christian Old Testament.
  • Listen carefully when you hear a story, because you might be asked detailed questions afterwards.

Here is the text we are using:

I chose A Child’s Garden of Torah because of the cartoonish pictures that accompany each page, which I thought would really appeal to Bruce as a six year old boy. (This isn’t a comic book however.) It turns out, that those pictures are a big hit, as evidenced in Bruce reading ahead of his own accord.

Other positive features of the book include the “Hearing Questions” and “Imagining Questions” at the end of each chapter. They really keep a listener on his toes, and provide embedded review of the text. I’ve never read Bible stories to a young child in this way, and this style of questioning is new to me. I am hoping there is a Jewish blog-reader out there who can tell me if this common in Judaism in general, or unique to the author. In any case, it’s pretty darn cool.

My favorite part of A Child’s Garden of Torah is the section at the end where Joel Lurie Grishaver provides notes to parents about each chapter. As a Christian reader, this commentary is fascinating because he discusses Jewish history and law in relation to the text. For example in the story of Joseph, two of Pharaoh’s servants tell him that Joseph is good at interpreting dreams. Grishaver writes that in Jewish law you need two witnesses to establish fact. As a Christian, that gives a new level of understanding to a story I have probably heard 100 times.

The downside of this book is the syntax. What a thing to complain about, I know! But most of the book goes: subject-predicate, subject-predicate, subject-predicate, subject-predicate. This gets really boring quickly. I think the author must have written this way in attempt to make the text easy for young children to read on their own. Indeed, I’d say this is written at the first grade reading level. So if your child is at a Guided Reading Level of E/F, this would be a good choice.

Finally, I want to point out that this book is divided into very short chapters that you can read aloud in 5-8 minutes. This makes it easy to tack on to a bedtime routine. It is also a good tie-in to The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, which we are listening to on audio CD.

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  1. Claire H. says:

    We recently read a couple of excellent books by Miriam Chaikin that have stories from the Jewish midrashim. Those are stories about Biblical figures like Moses, Adam & Eve, Abraham, etc. that are part of Jewish tradition but not actually found in the Torah. I’d heard some of them before (like Abram smashing idols in his father’s shop) but many were new to me as a Catholic. I highly recommend checking to see if you can get them through your library.

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