Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life

Lee & Low Books is visionary in its choice of educational books for children. They've published the Vanishing Cultures series by Jan Reynolds as well as her 2007 Children's Book of the Year, Celebrate! Connections Among Cultures.

Reynolds' newly released title Cycle of Rice Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming is a primer for teaching ecology and sustainability to elementary school children. But it is also an engaging photo documentary of Bali, the land and the social and spiritual interdependency of rice and the Balinese people. My 5-year-old thoroughly enjoyed our exploration of this book together. Jan Reynolds thoughtfully connects science and social studies with visual imagery that explains a rather complex system in a way children as young as five can understand. An excellent interview with Jan Reynolds about the making of this book can be found on the Lee & Low site. Here are two excerpts from that interview:

When did you first become interested in Balinese rice farming?
"I wanted to teach sustainability, but it is a big word for small children. Molly Bang, a scientist and children’s author, suggested using rice to teach the concept. When I did some investigating, I found that rice farming in Bali was the best example to teach sustainable agriculture. That was about twelve years ago, and sustainability was not a commonly heard term."

Of the things you learned while researching Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life, what caught your interest the most?
"What caught my interest most was the fact that the farmers all had herds of ducks. This made explaining the cycle of sustainability easy. The ducks ate the pests (bugs) and fertilized the field (manure), so they were the natural pesticide and fertilizer for the rice fields. No chemicals were used. This way of farming had been followed without detriment to the environment for more than one thousand years. It was sustainable!"

Reynolds completed an environmental studies program at the University of Vermont back in the 1970's so naturally she was compelled to write about the topic of sustainability, but it actually took 10 years before a publisher would take on this project. The term, sustainability had been considered too unfamiliar for children. So I'm thinking, if we had been talking with our children about how the food we eat is grown and about our "ecological footprint" ten years ago, how would our shopping and eating habits be different now? Maybe it's time for some reform- starting with the groceries we buy. Sustainability starts in the fields. It starts with knowledge and awareness of the interdependency we have with our environment. Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life seamlessly and beautifully explains this concept for children. You will find a three part video presentation of material in this important book on Jan Reynold's website. And if you are not yet familiar with her Vanishing Cultures series, it's well worth seeking out and sharing.


  1. I am so glad Jan chose rice farming in Bali to illustrate sustainability to children! :D

  2. Yes Tarie! Rice is such an important staple for much of the world, as you know living in the Philippines, the varieties of rice there are amazing! : ) Jan Reynolds did a great job weaving the social and scientific aspects of rice cultivation in Bali.


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