Review: A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

by Chani Altein, illustrated by Miri Rooney and Marc Lumer

Hachai Publishing, 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Marcia M. Rosenthal

Buy at Hachai

A Walk in the Woods is the latest picture book of the Benny and Tzvi Adventures. This time, the characters are joined by Benny’s bubby as they take a walk in the woods. The woods provide an ideal setting for Bubby to explain an important Jewish concept: every creation can teach us something and thereby inspire us to do a mitzvah. She says, “Because every creation that’s under the sun/Has something important to teach everyone.” This lesson is repeated each time the boys make a discovery: a school of fish; a forest of trees; a deer; and a stream. Each of these is an example of a creation and therefore presents an opportunity to do a mitzvah or a good deed. But how can the boys know where the mitzvah is within each discovery? With Bubbie’s guidance, Benny and Tzvi figure it out together.

What is particularly impressive about A Walk in the Woods is that it provides an understanding of how a child can do mitzvahs: (1) We should always try to identify opportunities where we can do a mitzvah; (2) We should be confident that we can fulfill that mitzvah; (3) We should “run” to do a mitzvah, meaning that we should do the mitzvah as soon as possible and not put it off. The author applies each concept to a specific finding in the woods. The story’s resolution occurs when a mitzvah opportunity suddenly presents itself at the end of their walk. Benny applies the lessons he has just learned and fulfills an extremely important mitzvah: saving a life. The last line of the story summarizes the underlying message of the story: “To live what you learn is the best lesson yet.” Benny has done just that.

There are many children’s books about mitzvahs. This book, however, offers deeper insight. Chani Altein skillfully presents the ways children can identify mitzvah opportunities, feel empowered to do them, and be aware of the importance of timeliness. This gives the child a broader understanding of mitzvahs, which are fundamental to Jewish life.

Although this book might be characterized as Orthodox, the text itself does not identify in this way. The illustration of the characters is the only facet of the book that identifies as Orthodox. Bubby is dressed modestly in a long skirt, not the expected choice of clothing for a walk in the woods, and the boys are characterized as Orthodox by their yarmulkes and tzistzis. The book therefore lends itself to a broad spectrum of young Jewish readers.

A Walk in the Woods is an excellent addition to a Jewish child’s library. The text and the illustrations work beautifully together to elicit a sense of rhythm created by the meter. It mimics the rhythm of a walk, as if the words are escorting the reader through the woods. The plot line is strong, the illustrations are delightful, and the story itself is educational, meaningful, and fun.

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Reviewer Marcia M. Rosenthal recently left her long-standing position as a teacher at an orthodox Jewish Day School outside of Philadelphia to devote more time to fulfilling her dream of writing and illustrating Jewish picture books. She has taught first-grade general studies, art, middle school language arts, and Jewish studies. She is a past recipient of the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.