Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life

By Jan Reynolds
Illustrations by Jan Reynolds

Author Photo Jan Reynolds

For many years, author, photographer, and adventurer Jan Reynolds has traveled the world, living and working among indigenous peoples. In her latest book, Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming, she introduces Balinese rice farming, a traditional, sustainable method of growing and harvesting rice that works with nature, not against it. Here, she discusses her experiences in Bali and the importance of sustainability.

When did you first become interested in Balinese rice farming?

I was at a conference for children’s authors at one of the best oceanographic institutes in the world, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. We were talking about science and sustainability. 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.

I am always willing to go anywhere in the world to find my material, and I was delighted to go to Bali. I took my son, who was five years old at the time, with me. He really helped me connect with all the local Balinese—they loved seeing and playing with the fair skinned, blonde, curly haired boy, who looked so different from them with their beautiful thick, long, straight black hair and darker skin. It was a bonus and fun to be the less common people on the island. People welcomed us out of curiosity.

Of the things you learned while researching Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life, what caught your interest the most?
Balinese woman with offerings
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!

It seems that everyone is starting to think about sustainable living and renewable energy. How long have you been an environmentalist and what do you think we need to do to save our environment?

I was one of the first students to complete the environmental studies program at the University of Vermont, back in the 1970s. I studied environmental topics in high school before that and worked with the state of Vermont studying the propagation of trout.

The best each of us can do to help Earth sustain its varied environments is to tread as lightly as we can and decrease our environmental footprint. Reduce your personal consumption and waste, and diminish your energy use and pollution. To find out more ways to do this, just search online for “ecological footprint,” or visit a site such as The National Wildlife Federation. I also have tips on my Web site.

What can farmers in the United States learn from Balinese rice farms?

All farmers know how to work within the natural cycles of the earth, but because of economics, they are sometimes forced to try and produce more to survive as a business. Farmers are tremendously hard-working people, and have so much knowledge about the land and the animals they work with. In terms of learning, I think it’s more about people around the world learning how important it is to know where your food comes from, to try to buy it locally, and to support smaller, privately owned farms. One way to do this is by joining a CSA—a Community Supported Agriculture group. You actually buy a share in a farm’s crops and support the farmer and his or her work before the crop is grown, rather than purchasing the food after it has been harvested. Crops, meat, poultry, and other agricultural products are delivered when they are ready. This way you all share the risk in the production and reap the benefits as well. Your food causes less pollution because it has not been transported hundreds or thousands of miles to make it to your home—it was grown locally. And if the food is organically grown, that’s a bonus, because organic farming keeps chemical fertilizers and pesticides out of the land, the air we breathe, and water we drink.

What was the biggest challenge in creating Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life?

The biggest challenge was getting the book published! When I initially tried more than ten years ago, people found the word sustainable just too much of a stretch for children to want to read about. Publishers liked the idea and the quality of the material, but were afraid they couldn’t sell enough copies because the term sounded so unfamiliar. It took ten years, but sustainability is now all over the media, and people are ready to read about the topic. If people had been more interested ten years ago, maybe we would have fewer problems today. I am very thankful that LEE & LOW was ready to go ahead and take a risk other publishers weren’t willing to.

Tell us about something you experienced in Bali that you weren’t able to include in the book.

All the celebrations in Bali weren’t able to go into the book because there is a celebration almost every hour—sometimes it feels like every minute—in Bali. The rich culture of music, art, dancing, and just plain outrageous creation is astounding, and it all goes into a huge variety of celebrations. Weddings, funerals, town birthdays, thanks giving, water temple ceremonies, rice harvesting, daily communication with the gods and goddesses, and so much more surrounds you in Bali. It feels like life is often one big celebration there. Everyone should try to go to Bali once in their lives.

Of the many places you have traveled to, do you have a personal favorite?

My favorite place is always where I am at the moment. I try to be very present, and give and take what the moment has to offer. If I’m wishing I were somewhere else, I will miss what this moment is bringing me.

What is your favorite way to eat rice?

My favorite way to eat rice is in sushi, but I do love a good bowl of brown rice and vegetables too.

About This Title

Guided Reading:




Interest Level:

Grades 3 - 8

Reading Level:

Grades 4 - 5


Photographic Illustrations, Animal/Biodiversity/Plant Adaptations, Nature/Science, Nonfiction, Weather/Seasons/Clothing, Sharing & Giving, Responsibility, Religion/Spiritual, Occupations, Food, Farming, Families, Environment/Nature, Asian/Asian American Interest, Animals, Earth/Sun/Moon System, Exploring Ecosystems, How To, Human Impact On Environment/Environmental Sustainability , Informational Text, Respect/Citizenship, Self Control/Self Regulation, Water


Asian/Asian American English Collection Grades 3-5, Asian American English Collection Middle School, Nonfiction Collection Middle School, English Informational Text Middle School, Fluent Dual Language , Fluent English, Informational Nonfiction Grades 3-6, Appendix B Diverse Collection Middle School, Nonfiction Grades 3-6, Environmental Collection, High-Low Books for Preteens (Grades 4-6), Water Collection, Diverse Background English Collection Grades 3-6, Climate Justice, Appendix B Diverse Collection High School, Asian American Collection English 6PK, English Guided Reading Level V, STEM Booklist Collection, High-Low Books for Teens: Middle and High School

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