Monday, April 27, 2009


Review copy provided by LEE AND LOW BOOKS

On her website, Jan Reynolds describes herself as "a writer and photographer who just can’t get far enough away from it all." She says her favorite thing is "to escape to an extreme environment, and hang with the locals to learn about their culture and their point of view. And if she gets a chance to ski and climb, she’s really happy." Reynolds' adventures have taken her, among other places, across the Sahara on a camel, to the top of Mount Everest, and cross country skiing in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa.

Like many of us (ok, many of us old folks), Jan cut her reading teeth on Dick, Jane, and Sally. As a children's author, however, she wants to write books that present children with rich content about a variety of cultures. She wants her readers to understand that although we come from very different places, we are more alike than different, e.g. though people may eat and drink different things, we all eat and drink. "The sooner we can capture a young mind and show them the breadth of culture in the world," says Reynolds, "the more acceptance they will have and better they will work with other  people." In her VANISHING CULTURE series, Reynolds has used the genre of photo essays to take her young readers to places like Mongolia, the Sahara, and Nepal. 

In addition to being a world traveler and adventurer, Reynolds is also an environmentalist. About ten years ago, she decided she wanted to write a book about sustainability in a way that children would understand. Another children's author, Molly Bang, suggested that rice farming might be an example that children would understand.  Jan Reynolds discusses the issue of sustainability in an interview here.

Reynolds did some research and found that one of the best examples of sustainability had occurred on the small Indonesian island of Bali, where farmers have been growing rice for more than ONE THOUSAND years. Reynolds spent approximately three months on the island, and her photo essay captures the intricacy of this system which begins with a deep gratitude to Dewi Demu, the goddess of water. The Balinese have built a complex irrigation system, which provides freshwater to every single part of the island. Balinese farmers use ducks for fertilization and natural pest control.  Children will especially enjoy footage of the ducks on these three videos about rice farming in Bali. In the back of the book, they will find additional resources, including a map , a glossary, and a list of interesting websites. The author's website has many helpful links, including the duck videos, and also study guides for use with different books. I learned today, via email, that Reynolds is currently at work on a book about how the Masai are changing the herding patterns of their goats and cows to preserve their land.

There is much to love about this book. CYCLE OF RICE, CYCLE OF LIFE approaches sustainability in a way that is easy for children as young as first or second grade to understand. Second, I love the theme of reverence for the Earth and of being grateful for water. Finally, and maybe most importantly, I love the theme of cooperation and caring for one another.  The Balinese farmers get together at the beginning of the growing season, and decide exactly how they will let the water out into the fields. The farmers who live higher on the mountain are responsible for allowing the water to run down stream to their neighbors. If they don't use the water responsibly, it impacts the farmers below them. Somehow that seems an apt metaphor for what goes on in America every day…

April 22- Paper Tigers
April 23- A Wrung Sponge
April 27- Carol's Corner
April 30- Lori Calabrese Writes
May 5- Write for a Reader
May 8- Into the Wardrobe
May 14- Bees Knees Reads


Franki said...

Another one I must have!

Lori Calabrese said...

Wonderful review. Reynolds certainly goes to extreme lengths to capture her stories and her photographs are absolutely breathtaking.

Visit this Thursday for an author interview with Jan Reynolds and to learn more about Cycle of Rice.

All the best,

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Nice that you have already read and reviewed this book. I have requested it at the library and I hope it comes in!