One of the tenderest stories in the Bible is the tale of Ruth, the young widow who chose to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Although it fills only four short chapters, the two characters are vivid and their story involving and touching. Joined in their love for Ruth’s late husband, they stay together until Naomi arranges for Ruth to marry the kind Boaz.
In the 1950’s, Selma Kritzer Silverberg wrote Naomi’s Song, the story of Naomi’s early life, but her manuscript was not discovered until 2005 by Silverberg’s daughter, who felt that its story and its message would be meaningful to young women. The daughter, Judy Vida, writes in the introduction that the book’s publication “brings to fruition [Silverberg’s] lifelong goals of teaching, Bible storytelling, and empowering girls to have ‘that necessary courage and conviction.'”
Silverberg immerses the reader in the era, giving us insights into the experiences and qualities that made Naomi such a strong and dedicated woman. She faces enormous challenges in her early life and she must overcome personal tragedy and community upheaval. She responds with loyalty and perseverance, developing the strength and understanding that would make her a wise and loving mother-in-law for Ruth. It is easy to understand why Silverberg’s daughter would want to share this story with others. Like the story her mother tells, the story behind it is an example of sharing history and values l’dor vador, from generation to generation.
I have one copy of the book to give away to the first person who sends me an email at email@example.com with “Naomi” in the subject line. Good luck!
Maurice Sendak’s spare, poetic, and deeply wise book has been lovingly unfolded into a movie about the child who lives in all of us, brave and fearful, generous and needy, angry and peaceful, confident and insecure, adventuresome and very glad to come home. The movie may challenge children who are used to bright, shiny colors and having everything explained to them but if they allow it, Max and his story will bloom inside them as it will for anyone open to its profound pleasures.
The book’s opening line is as well-remembered as “Call me Ishmael” or “It was a dark and stormy night.” “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him ‘WILD THING.'” Those who wondered what prompted Max’s mischief will accompany him as he experiences the jubilation of creating his own cozy space, a snowball-stocked igloo, and as he joyously takes on his sister’s friends in a snowball fight, only to be inconsolably crushed when they carelessly smash his icy lair and then leave without him.
There has never been a more evocative portrayal on film of the purity, the intensity, the transcendence of childhood emotions. The hallmark of maturity is the way we temper our feelings; it is not a compliment when we call someone “childish” for not being able to do so. Our experiences — and our parents — teach us that life is complex, that sorrow and joy are always mixed, and that we can find the patience to respond to frustration without breaking anything. But one reason that we mis-remember childhood as idyllic is the longing for the ferocity of childhood pleasures. Jonze and his Max (Max Records) bring us straight into the immediacy and open-heartedness of a child’s emotions.
We know we are in a child’s world even before the movie begins, with scrawled-on opening credits and then a breathtaking, child’s eye opening bursting with sensation, all the feelings rushing together. The film brilliantly evokes the feeling of childhood with the same freshness and intimacy director Spike Jonze showed in the influential videos he made when he was barely out of his teens. Max’s mother is beautifully played by Catherine Keener who makes clear to us, if not to Max, her devotion and sensitivity in the midst of concerns about work and a budding romance. His incoherent fury at her being distracted, including a kiss from a date who seems to think he has the right to tell Max how to behave almost hurtles him from the house, into the night, where he runs and runs, and then to a boat, where he sails and sails, until he comes to the land of the Wild Things.
They begin to attack him, but Max tames them with his bravado and imagination and he becomes the king, promising to do away with loneliness and make everyone happy. The book’s brief story blooms here as Max interacts with the Wild Things (voices of James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, and Chris Cooper). Each of them represents or reflects Max’s emotions or experiences. They love sleeping in a big pile and are thrilled with Max’s plans for a fort. But Max learns how difficult it is to be responsible for the happiness of others, and before long, like other children in stories who have traveled to lands filled with magic and wonder, he longs for home.
The movie’s look is steeped in the natural world, with forests and beaches, and intricate Waldorf-school-style constructions that evoke a sense of wonder. The screenplay by Dave Eggers and Jonze locates the heart of Sendak’s story. They have not turned it into a movie; they have made their own movie as a tribute to Sendak, to childhood, to parenthood, to the Wild Things we all are at times, and to the home that waits for us when those times are over.
I have some real treasures to give away and I want them to go to people who are real treasures. I can’t think of more fitting recipients than teachers. Here are the prizes:
The first is a collection from my very favorite series for kids, the wonderful My Very First Treasury of 50 Storybook Classics: Preschool Stories.
The second is a gorgeous book, The Art of Kung Fu Panda, with beautiful illustrations and details about the making of the film. The artwork and attention to detail are breathtaking.
And here’s how to win: Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with either “Kung Fu Panda” or “Scholastic Treasury” in the subject line. Tell me what grade you teach and where. Only one prize to a recipient, but the first email for each will be the winner. Thanks for visiting my site, thanks for all you do, and good luck!
The best of intentions and a welcome willingness to engage on the touchiest issues is not enough to keep this movie from feeling more like a seminar than a story. It betrays its origins as a play, still talky and static. But its ideas are so provocative and its approach so sincere and constructive that it is worth a look.
Sarah Jessica Parker, far away from designer duds and trying to look serious and a little mousy, plays Sarah Daniels, the dean of a small liberal arts college with a genteel, Vermont campus. Some anonymous racist attacks are leveled at a new black student and there is disagreement within the faculty and administration about how to handle it. They schedules a campus-wide meeting, but the students are not invited to speak. A local news reporter (Mykelti Williamson) wants to cover the story but the administration is furious. In the middle of all of this is Sarah, who wants to explore the issue in a substantive and constructive way and acknowledges that she has some internal conflicts she is not proud of.
The title comes from the classic children’s story Little Black Sambo, now considered unacceptably racist. In that story, the tigers chase each other so fast that they spin into butter. Here, the way that the issue is addressed — or sidestepped — leads to a similar result, with everyone racing to avoid responsibility. Out of the best of intentions, at the beginning of the film, Sarah asks a student (the always-superb Victor Rasuk) to change his racial classification from NYrican to Puerto Rican to qualify for a scholarship. It is a good lead-in to a series of discussions, confrontations, and missed communications about America’s most sensitive and least-often honestly discussed issue. The best thing about this movie will be the conversations it inspires on the way home.