Why I Write Jewish Books for Little Children

OK, so I act like a child sometimes. But that’s because a lot of me remains child-like, and I really want those aspects to continue right along with me.

There is a gigantic sense of wonder about the world, for instance, that doesn’t seem to be decreasing at all. And a delight in simple things that can seem ridiculously corny to some people, I guess, but that’s just how it is. So I’m finally understanding that’s why, even though I was once a top student in the psychology department at Harvard, I’ve not been drawn to write long professional treatises on scholarly subjects. Nearly halfway through my life, G-d willing, I’m starting to get (accept) (even appreciate) what my essence really loves to do.

It’s not easy, and I can see why, because I just now looked up “childish” in the thesaurus, to try to find another word to use, and look what I found: infantile, juvenile, babyish, brattish, senile, simpleminded, weak, and foolish. Not too positive. So that’s what I’ve been up against!

People who know my background find it hard to believe that my favorite books have always remained picture books, and that those concise volumes are what I’m still drawn to read, much more than longer things. Picture books opened up the world to me when I was little, and now still, when I open one that I love, worlds within open.

So, when I began to have children, I began writing the kinds of books I have always most wanted to read – books to unfold the deepest and most important mysteries of life – in the simplest way possible. The Happiness Box, for example, probably emerged from the excitement of potential that cardboard boxes of all sizes still manage to contain for me. My mother loved to say that the best toys are cardboard boxes because children can find so many ways to play with them – including playing under them and on top of them, of course. In this book, one of the most essential tools in life, the skill needed to achieve happiness, is demonstrated in a way that children, as early as possible, can learn how to create their own happiness.

The deep concept portrayed in Aliza in MitzvahLand is that we are not here to be entertained, but to make this world better. And even very young children can absorb this outlook about their purpose in life, if the understanding develops delightfully, with concrete examples of ways to help others so that a child need never feel bored. Remarkable Park shows how the natural world that surrounds us, is chock full of deep spiritual messages for us. When even the “lowly” ant has so much to tell us when we are receptive – what an amazing adventure life can become!

The Invisible Book actually proves, in the simplest way imaginable, that it makes perfect sense to believe in an invisible G-d. Oh how I yearned for this book as a child, when I had so many unanswered questions that I was afraid to verbalize, so my inner confusion just mounted.

There is the series of What Do You See board books designed to help even the littlest toddler begin to see the everyday objects around them through their uniquely Jewish eyes. And then there is my newest book, Let’s Stay Safe which, I realize now, actually came about because of two more words I found in the thesaurus when I just looked up the word, “childish.”

The two other words I haven’t mentioned yet, as synonyms provided for the word “childish” are “trusting” and “naïve.” These two words still apply to me as well, but dramatically less so, since I became painfully familiar with how molesters in our midst operate. I don’t want more of our children’s sense of wonder, kindness, or joy in the world to be destroyed on account of perpetrators. Therefore, I wrote this book, to increase our children’s awareness of real dangers that exist, so that they can be far better prepared to avoid them. Empowering children to be less vulnerable is the goal.

It has been dangerous for our children to remain naïve. Through a honed awareness that comes from learning to be more careful and wary, our little ones can actually be able to retain, yet refine their basic sense of trust in our world, instead of losing it, G-d forbid.

Children may appear very small, but their neshamas, just like ours, are infinitely gigantic, and always seeking pure nourishment.

I’m figuring out now that I became a children’s book author because I wanted children to be filled with hopefulness and the delight of discovery, for as long as possible, like me.

But unlike me, I also want them to be able to grow up seeing clearly that spiritual meaning can be found all along this wondrous journey through life, from their very earliest pages.

Bracha Goetz is the author of 16 children’s books, including Remarkable Park , The Invisible Book and Let’s Stay Safe! She also coordinates a Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program in Baltimore, Maryland, and can be contacted for questions, comments or presentations at bgoetzster@gmail.com.