Review: Service, kindness and tradition in “The Lonely Ayil” by Rochell Weisfogel
One test of a children book is how the target audience, i.e. kids react to it. In this case my own first reading of the book was when I read it aloud to my 5-year old one evening. The book passed the crucial exam with flying color: she wanted to listen to it the following night again. When I asked her opinion about the book, she said that the first half was sad, but then it got good.
Whether a child likes a book depends on three things: values she learned from her surroundings, her personality/interests and current mood at the time. The values this book represents are service, kindness and tradition. The way the first of these manifests might be shocking for some. In an individualistic society, like we have in the US, sacrifice for the common good has usually limits on it. How many of us would give up, say a kidney for a complete stranger? Probably much less than for a family member. A lot of us are also often focused on outlook appearance. A missing kidney as an integral organ is not visible from the outside. How about giving up an ear? Now that would be really shocking, because everybody could see our impairment from that point on.
Spoiler: the protagonist gave up his horns not for total strangers, not for his immediate family, but for his community. Looking at a ram with just the base of his horns is disturbing. However it serves as a reminder of the sacrifice he offered, willingly, as his own initiative, out of kindness and out of respect for tradition. So if you want to protect your child from negative emotions (i.e. Ayil is lonely in the first half of the book) and disturbing image by all means don’t show the book to your child. However if you believe that in life not everything is always rosy and easy this is an excellent book to teach about how helping others can help ourselves and lift us out of sadness too.
I also liked the design of the book. On every page the image is on the left side and the text is on the right one. This meant, that my daughter on my left side could enjoy the illustration while I had easy access to the test to read it. I know this is a minor thing, but I read so many children books to her, where the text and image was intermingled, that I could appreciate the functionality of this one. The illustrations were simple, using a limited color palette with thin black outlines of most characters and major elements. It allowed the child to grasp the story but wasn’t too detailed to distract from it.
Thank you Ms. Weisfogel for the book that enabled me to teach my daughter a good lesson, while also entertaining her. I wholeheartedly recommend it to any Jewish (and non-Jewish) parent who is not afraid of sharing the value of personal sacrifice.
Disclaimer: I have received a copy of this book from the author for review.
The official short description of the book:
The Lonely Ayil is about a ram that wishes to do something important instead of just sitting and running around all day in a yard. He doesn’t think he will ever get the chance, until one day when the farmer forgets to lock the gate. He escapes and finds a purpose for his existence and does a good deed that benefited the Jewish community on the other side of the mountain. He is proud of his accomplishment and the community is thrilled with his assistance for the Jewish New Year.
Links of interest
- The book’s page on the publisher’s website
- The author’s LinkedIn page
- Press release
- Reviews of the book: JewishPress.com, Cleveland Jewish News, Bubby Joys and Oys
Year first published: 2017