Reviewed by Norman Blumenthal
When teaching children about safety, educators and parents alike face a formidable challenge: how does one impart lessons about potential danger and the need to take precautions but not instill undue fear or trepidation? Ideally, our children should have an awareness of an array of dangers and responses to them that ensure safety in an otherwise secure and carefree environment.
When I teach about safety, the example I like to use is the fire drill. Part of the school experience for decades, this essential disruption of class time periodically reminds the staff and students of a potential lethal situation and how to respond effectively to it. Nevertheless, these drills are spaced in such a way that few—if any—children are thinking about fires during the routine school day.
Let’s Stay Safe, written by Bracha Goetz and illustrated by Tova Leff, seems to have effectively accomplished the difficult goal of conveying the need to remain cautious and vigilant in the context of the predominately carefree and unencumbered world of childhood. With its upbeat, colorful illustrations and rhyming narration that naturally appeals to children, the book resembles other children’s books that are strictly recreational. At the same time, Let’s Stay Safe covers just about every known danger that our children may face.
The safety lessons addressed include wearing helmets, taking precautions to avoid fires, reacting when lost, et cetera. Several pages are dedicated to the very disheartening and complicated issue of sexual molestation. The author effectively imparts the numerous and often confusing aspects involved in molestation, such as the privacy of one’s body, and not keeping secrets or taking bribes. Regrettably, the author does not mention threats that such predators often make.
The artistic portrayal of the “predator” is rather interesting and probably reflects the author’s—in fact, the nearly universal—discomfort with the reality. The predator is depicted as a tall adolescent with a thick head of blond hair. Were it not for the large black yarmulke on his head, he would look like a secular or gentile youth. My hunch is that while the author wants children to know that such insidious characters can be found within the community, outwardly appearing like any other frum Jew, she wants to avoid impugning every clearly distinguishable Orthodox Jew, the vast of whom are law-abiding, decent individuals.
I wonder, however, if the predator’s “mixed” appearance fails to adequately convey a very critical message: predators can be indistinguishable from a rebbi, camp counselor, neighbor and the like. Perhaps it would have been more effective had the predator been made to resemble a more typical-looking Orthodox adult. So as not to incriminate every religious Jew, the book could have been interspersed with many similar-looking “good” Orthodox characters. It would seem that Goetz struggles, as we all do, with the daunting task of conveying the complicated message of how to stay safe in a world that is largely, but not entirely, devoid of danger.
Unfortunately, the number of potentially hazardous and life-threatening situations covered in the book is probably more than a child could absorb in one or two readings. It may be necessary to reread this book in intervals so that one’s child can ingest the information and not get overly frightened.
Regrettably, there are no open-ended questions in the book affording a child the opportunity to repeat the lessons he has just learned in his own words. Such questions could help a child process the book’s vital messages. Additionally, an accompanying guide for parents would be useful in helping to ensure that the book’s lessons are conveyed effectively. Perhaps a future edition could include a manual for parents along with a coloring book with open-ended questions for children.
I commend the author and the Karasick Child Safety Initiative of Project YES for this vital response to the sad reality that our children, even while living in very blessed times of opulence and cultural acceptance, face unprecedented danger. Hopefully, the sensitivity and skills embedded in this book will help us achieve our collective goal of raising secure and successful bnei and bnot Torah.
Dr. Norman Blumenthal is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Cedarhurst, New York. He is the director of bereavement and crisis intervention services for Chai Lifeline, educational director of the Bella and Harry Wexner Kollel Elyon and Semikhah Honors Program at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University and the coordinator of group psychotherapy training for interns and residents at the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System.
Listen to interview with author Bracha Goetz at http://www.ou.org/life/parenting/big-brother-big-sister-an-exceptional-mentoring-program-stephen-savitsk/