Laurel Snyder’s Jewish Dreams of Trees

Amy Levin: Jewish parents today have their pick of ethically themed children’s books with just-enough-but-not-too-much religion. But there’s something refreshingly unique about Laurel Snyder’s new book, Good Night, Laila Tov. Snyder’s tale follows two children on an outdoor family vacation, replete with camping on the beach, walking in fields full of berries, and catching shelter in the deep woods. Illustrated with lush greens and warm hues, Good Night, Laila Tov makes you want to take a nap on a rainbow after you’ve saved a coral reef from extinction. In other words, it’s the perfect blend of accessible environmentalism (the kids help their parents plant trees) and a rhythmic bedtime serenade.

Take out the “Laila Tov” (Hebrew for “good night”) in the title, the little girl’s magen david necklace and menorah visibly placed in the home and you’ve got a good old fashioned American family tale. However, though universal in its message, Jewish readers will pick up on the significance of the Jewish tropes, using this book to teach their children about the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world. The gesture of planting trees to give thanks for the gifts of nature and life is perhaps the book’s most characteristically Jewish element. The ritual of planting trees evokes a number of pastimes for Jews – settling the land of Israel, the festival of Tu Bishvat (the new year for the trees), and the Garden of Eden.

Each time the children in Synder’s tale fall asleep in their natural environment, they hear nature call to them, “Good night, laila tov.” Whether the “sky sang,” the “storm shushed,” or the “road rumbled” “good night,” their parent’s familiar words are instead communicated by nature. Whether or not the listener believes in a cosmic voice in the sky or a soothing hush of the wind, this ritual bedtime call to go to sleep offers children both comfort and appreciation for the natural earth.

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