Sep 16, 2014

Rosh Hashanah Activities for Home and Classroom!

Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner! It's one of our favorite holidays here at Kar-Ben - there's delicious apples and honey to be eaten, the first chilly feeling of fall in the air, a year to look back on and be thankful for, and a whole new year to look forward to! To help celebrate, we've found some fun and thoughtful Rosh Hashanah activities great for both the home and classroom.

L'shanah tovah!

Apple Blessings Placemat
These adorable and easy placemats are also a great way to remember the blessings for eating the traditional Rosh Hashanah apples and honey. Using halved apples and poster paint to decorate the placemates gives them a special fall feeling, and makes for an affordable classroom activity too! From Kveller.

Apples in short supply? You can use the ends of bottle corks instead! Cutting a small divot out of the cork with make the stamp more apple-shaped, and green marker can be used to add a leaf detail.

Hanging Apple Decorations
These sweet decorations are a great way to reuse plastic bottles. In fact, many part of this craft can be made from extra materials lying around the house, making this a great spur-of-the-moment craft! A great activity for older children, or for younger children with help from an adult. The end result is a beautiful apple decoration that you can even use again at Sukkot! From Joyful Jewish.

3-D Shanah Tovah Card
A great classroom activity for older kids, the end result is a pop-up book-style card to give to family or friends to wish them l'shanah tovah! All that's required is the card template, coloring supplies, glue or tape, and scissors. From

Stained Glass Fish
This neat craft lets kids create a beautiful stained-glass effects just using materials found at home. This symbol of abundance is a wonderful decoration for the holiday, whether you partake in eating a fish's head or not!

Paper Shofar
These colorful and kid-friendly shofars will make sure that everyone is able to help ring in the new year! The materials are simple and classroom friendly too, making this a great craft for school. From Joyful Jewish.

Edible Honey Bowl
A new and creative touch to add to the traditional apples and honey, this is a craft for a kid to do with a little help and a lot of supervision. From Kveller.

Shofar Word Search
A great way to engage kids in a discussion of the many important and meaningful elements of Rosh Hashanah. From

Papier Mache Apple
This is a more time- and materials-intensive craft, but the payoff is wonderful - a papier mache apple to fill with each child's hopes or plans for the coming year. From How Stuff Works.

Cinnamon-Apple Honey Cake
A twist on the traditional Rosh Hashanah honey cake, this sweet treat is relatively simple and provides lots of places for kids to help out in the kitchen! From Taste of Home.

And, of course, read a good book!
Have you taken a look at Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story yet? It's a wonderful holiday story about Katy, whose favorite holiday is Rosh Hashanah, when she gets to pick apples and make applesauce with her mother. But what happens when the tradition is interrupted by the early arrival of her new baby cousin?

Check out this blog post from author Allison Sarnoff Soffer (you can also watch the book trailer), and use the Activity Guide for more Apple Days-inspired activities and reading questions!

Sep 2, 2014

Apple Days: Behind the Scenes

We're so excited to announce our September Book of the Month, Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story! Apple Days tells the story of Katy, whose favorite holiday is Rosh Hashanah, when she gets to pick apples and make applesauce with her mother. But what happens when the tradition is interrupted by the early arrival of her new baby cousin?

We love this book because it presents a situation to which every kid can relate - when family priorities must sometimes change - and Katy handles the change of plans both realistically and admirably. With a new twist on the traditional apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah, a community that comes together to lend a hand, and a sweet family tradition, there are an abundance of things to love about Apple Days!

Below, check out the book trailer and a guest post from the author, or head over to the Kar-Ben website for an Activity Guide or to get a copy of the book!

Watch the book trailer:

And read a guest post from author Allison Sarnoff Soffer!
"I want to share a bit about the story behind the story of Apple Days.

For years I’ve cherished a random collection of impressions about apples that have somehow felt connected.   As a child, I remember watching my father peel a Granny Smith apple with his Swiss army knife, removing one very long coil of light green skin. The gently spiced scent of my mother’s apple crisp baking for company also stays with me.  Later, when I became a parent, I savored my family’s experience of apple-picking at a local orchard and returning home to make applesauce for Rosh Hashanah.  Suggested by a friend, this outdoor respite from the busyness of September was to become an annual tradition.

I found myself jotting down apple ideas that I read or heard about.  A short essay about a child watching grown-up hands slicing apples evoked strong identification.  The image of a wedding tradition where guests presented apples to the bride’s parents also impressed me.   Then to my delight, I received an assignment to bring our favorite fruit to a family retreat to contribute to a community fruit salad. Of course, we brought apples!

When we broke into groups at the retreat, I had the chance to describe our family’s apple-picking tradition. I realized that I had never before articulated it.  There was more to understanding the meaning of our trips to the orchard, which grew out of a poignant need, I explained.  Because I lost my mother as a young woman, I had to find a way to be able to celebrate with my young children, to protect them from my sense of loss as the High Holy Days approached.  Getting outside, instead of preparing entirely in the kitchen, became my unexpected answer.  One group member was listening carefully: children’s author and rabbi Mindy Portnoy.   

At this point in my life, I was a new teacher at Temple Sinai Nursery School where I would eventually set the story. A significant development at school inspired the story’s turning point. A beloved teacher was ill and the community galvanized to help.  Children, watching their parents and teachers acting on their kindest instincts, wanted to join the effort. They initiated their own baking efforts culminating in a series of sales that raised almost $5,000 over several months.

I let my mind work on these varied impressions as I always do when I am deep in a writing process.  As Rabbi Portnoy and I met to discuss ideas, the arc of the story slowly came together. Of course, it was going to be a book about apples. Its premise would be the anticipation of our family’s beloved apple-picking ritual by a mother and a daughter. It would focus on disappointment overcome in an unexpected way, the power of community, and the competence of children. 

Apple Days took about a year to write, through two Rosh Hashanahs, and many revisions. When it was done, it felt more complete than anything that I had ever written.  To me, this story was crying out to be told, to get off of my computer screen and into the world. 

I hope that children will listen to Apple Days during a teachable moment with their parents or teachers, when they can pause and really hear it.  Perhaps it will inspire them to welcome the Jewish New Year at a local orchard or to try a new apple recipe.  Maybe Apple Days will spark an idea for a completely novel holiday tradition, or encourage a child to help a struggling friend.  You just never know what can happen.  This is my hope for Apple Days."

Aug 4, 2014

August Book of the Month: Goldie Takes a Stand

This month, Kar-Ben is thrilled to introduce a new feature on our website and Facebook: the Kar-Ben Book of the Month! Each month, we're going to feature a book from our current season that we think is particularly relevant, interesting, or exciting. Each book of the month will come with a guest blog post from the author and a book trailer, as well as additional information on why we love the book!

Our first featured Book of the Month is Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir's First Crusade by Barbara Krasner. Even at the age of nine, little Golda Meir was known for her leadership skills. As president of the American Young Sisters Society, she organized friends to raise money to buy textbooks for immigrant classmates. This story is a glimpse at the early life of Israel's first female Prime Minister.

We love this book because it has an empowering and compassionate message for children. Goldie notices the needs of her classmates, and isn't daunted by the setbacks she faces when trying to solve that problem. It's also a great story, based on true events, about Israel's first female Prime Minister! Pick up a copy here.

Writing about Golda Meir’s early days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

a guest post from Barbara Krasner

In August 2010, I was spending two weeks at a writers retreat at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania. There was a slight break between the two weeks over a weekend. On that Sunday, I was invited as press to attend the annual reading of the Moses Seixas and George Washington letters of religious tolerance at the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

I wanted to take a break from writing intensely during the first week. I perused the titles on the Highlights shelves and found Golda Meir’s autobiography. That Saturday night, ensconced in a flea-bitten motel across the bay from Newport, I began to read Golda’s autobiography. Her voice was unmistakable, full of self and authority.

At first she wrote of her beginnings in Ukraine and her immigration to the United States, specifically Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Then within two pages, she described the formation of the American Young Sisters Society and how she, as president, marshalled their resources to buy school books for their classmates who could not afford to buy their own. I knew this was the story I wanted to share.

Researching Goldie’s early life

Many resources could tell me about Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, but few allowed me to delve deeply into young Goldie’s life. I contacted the Milwaukee Jewish Historical Society and spoke with archivist Jay Hyland. He was able to locate the September 2, 1909 Milwaukee Journal article about the American Young Sisters Society and their fundraiser. It even had their picture. Jay sent me the article.

Historical accuracy is important to me as a historian, so I consulted histories of the Jewish community in Milwaukee and, through the help of a friend in the Milwaukee school district, a history of the Milwaukee public school system. I also worked with Norman Provizer, director of the Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership at Metropolitan State College of Denver, to ensure accuracy. Dr. Provizer and I had some discussion about the spelling of Goldie’s maiden name, because it appeared in historical records in a variety of ways. We finally presented it in the back matter as Mabowehz and Mabovitch. Spelling back then wasn’t as important as it is now.

Accommodating Goldie’s strong voice

It’s unusual to have the main character of a picture book speak for herself. Goldie’s voice was so strong that using the first person “I” was the only way to get her bravado across. She was a force to be reckoned with and her attitude had to come out through the story.

What would Goldie do?

I’ll be promoting Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade, naturally (as Goldie would say) in a program called, “What Would Goldie Do?” She set high standards for herself, and I suspect for everyone around her. In this program, I’ll pose some scenarios and ask kids what they would do. Then I’ll ask what Goldie would do. I bet there’ll be some differences! We’ll talk about some ideas how they can practice tikkun olam, repairing the world, just like Goldie—how they can help someone they know to make his or her life just a little better.

Contact Barbara about her programs.

Jul 17, 2014

On Storks, Sirens, and Missles

This week's blog post is a guest piece from Tami Lehman-Wilzig, the author of many Kar-Ben favorites, such as Passover Around the World and Zvuvi's Israel, as well as the new Fall 2014 book Stork's Landing.
"As I sit in my office, which also happens to be our safe room in our Kfar Saba apartment, I wonder how am I ever going to focus on the fact that my new book – Stork's Landing – will be hitting bookstore shelves in less than two weeks' time. I should be excited, but the existential question of the hour is far more pressing for me as an Israeli citizen.

Just this morning, as my husband and I sat down to breakfast, we were treated to two siren alerts. Nine hours later we 'enjoyed' a bookend effect as we sat down to dinner. Lodged behind a heavy metal door, checking the minute-by-minute news on the internet, my mind wandered to the video that went viral two days ago, in which one Israeli pilot signaled another to pass over a target because children were clearly visible. I was struck by our humanity, a compassion clearly missing on the other side. Then it hit me. This is the connection with Stork's Landing. A touching nature tale set in Israel, it highlights the Jewish bent to reach out and care for the wounded through a focus on the Jewish value of kindness to animals.

It's a gentle story, beginning with the fact that Kibbutz fish farmers must place nets over their  fishponds in order to shield their fish from ravenous birds flying above. To an extent, these nets are to the fish as what the Iron Dome is to our population. They are there to protect and preserve.  Sure enough when a hungry stork comes in for a landing it gets caught in the net, breaks its wing to the serious extent that it cannot be operated on, yet the kibbutz members don't put it to sleep. They nurture and shelter it, providing a secure surrounding. A true parallel to the Palestinians being treated in Israeli hospitals, even during these worn, torn times. A fact rarely covered in the world press.

So while we hover in what I smilingly call our 'War Room,' I am now focusing on the fact that Stork's Landing is a Jewish everyman's tale and how lucky all Jews are to have the State of Israel. We live by the same book, we perpetuate the same values, and we will make sure we remain a safe haven  for all Jews.  In the meantime, come early autumn may only storks, not missiles, land on our shores."

Stork's Landing
by Tami Lehman-Wilzig
illustrated by Anna Shuttlewood

When a migrating stork gets tangled in a net in the fish ponds on Maya’s kibbutz, Maya wonders what to do. She and her father build a makeshift nest for the wounded stork, who Maya names Yaffa. The problem becomes more complicated, however, when two storks settle in a tree nearby.
Can Maya and her father find a way to nurse it back to health and send it back into the wild? Set in Israel, this story brings the beauty of nature in Israel to life and highlights an unusual part of Israeli life – the kibbutz.

This sensitively told nature tale focuses on the Jewish value of caring for animals, while at the same time subtly incorporates issues of adoption and acceptance of those with differences.
Available on the Kar-Ben website.

Jun 26, 2014

Summer Activities to Promote Jewish Values

Summer Camp
Camp is a great place for children to learn Jewish values, try new activities, learn new skills, and hopefully make lasting friendships. This piece in Tablet Magazine explores exactly why the friendships children make at summer camp are more likely to last.

Are your kids going to camp for the first time this year? Ori, from the "Sadie and Ori" series by Jamie Korngold, is too! Sadie, Ori, and Nuggles Go to Camp is a great book for children anxious about their first time at sleep-away camp. See the book trailer below!

Camp isn't the only place for children to learn or practice Jewish values and have fun while they're at it. Below we've included a few ideas for an exciting summer whether your kids are at home, at day camp, or at sleep-away camp:

Learn responsibility by caring for animals.
The Jewish value of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim stresses kindness to animals. Encourage children to take on more responsibility in caring for their own pets at home, or volunteer at an animal shelter. Animals appreciate the attention and the chance to get outside, and make great friends for a summer afternoon. Taking care of animals also helps children practice responsibility.

Do a tzedakah.
If your child has animal allergies, or volunteering with animals isn't for them, there are plenty other acts of tzadakah they can do over the summer. Check with local food shelves to see if they are running any food drives, or contact your local JCC about any service projects they're currently engaged in. Help out by making posters to raise awareness, or brainstorm ideas for service projects if there aren't any currently running in your community.

Work in the garden.
Gardening is a great productive way to spend time outside, and watching the plants they care for grow is a great way for children to see the results of their hard work. Working in a community garden also teaches children the values of communal responsibility and caring for the environment.

Make recycling fun!
Keep some of those useful scraps out of the trash and use them for art projects instead of buying brand-new materials. Reusing what we can is as valuable to the environment as recycling and is an example of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Check out Kinderart for a list of neat recycled material art projects!

Start a lemonade stand. believes that starting a lemonade stand can empower kids and put them on the path to becoming the next generation of entrepreneurs. Learn more on their website.

Learn something new.
Ometz lev means courage, and while we may not realize it, learning a new game, sport, or skill can often be a daunting prospect for children. Teach them about ometz lev by taking a class or joining a new sport. They'll challenge themselves while hopefully meeting new friends and finding new interests.

Jun 11, 2014

Keeping Summer Reading Fun!

Keep Up the Reading!
School's out, and that means time for summer fun! During the first few weeks of summer vacation, books might just be the farthest thing from any child's mind, but reading over the summer is one of the most important things a kid can do.

Research shows that children can lose as much as two months of reading skill during summer vacation. Fortunately, the best way to combat this is simply by reading!

Reading alone can help children maintain their reading skills during summer vacation, but Kar-Ben also has a set of eSources created by teachers and authors to accompany a select number of our titles. They include questions and activities for before, during, and after reading, and are available to download for free on the Kar-Ben website. Check out our eSources, including the newest addition for The Whispering Town, here.

Fun Summer Reading!
These books are perfect for summer - from going to camp to celebrating Rosh Chodesh in the beautiful Negev Desert, they make great reads after a long day outside!

Sadie, Ori, and Nuggles Go to Camp
A wonderful book from children going to sleep-away camp for the first time! For the first time, Sadie’s little brother Ori will be joining her at sleep-away camp. He’s very excited, but he wants to bring Nuggles, his favorite “stuffy,” and is worried that his bunkmates will make fun of him. Is he ever in for a surprise! The fifth book in Kar-Ben’s popular “Sadie and Ori” series.

No Baths at Camp
Another fun book about camp! Great for first-time campers who are reluctant or unsure of what to expect. "There are no baths at camp!” says Max, when his mother starts filling the tub. But as he recounts his week’s activities, he realizes that there were many fun ways he got clean at summer camp.

Picnic at Camp Shalom
This book is great for children worried about making new friends at camp, whether they're going for the first time or have been before. When Carly unthinkingly makes fun of Sara's last name at mail call, her bunkmate refuses to be consoled. But their mutual love of music brings harmony to Shabbat dinner as well as to their friendship, and Carly finally gets the chance to reveal a secret of her own.

New Month, New Moon
This newest book in the "Nature in Israel" series is set in the beautiful Negev Desert. Beautiful photos of the landscape and the Rosh Chodesh celebration will make you want to plan a camping trip of your own! To celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of a new month in the Jewish calendar, a family camps out in the desert and learns about the phases of the moon and their relationship to the Jewish calendar. A photo essay.

Ziggy's Big Idea
A great book for curious and inventive kids looking to try something new with their summer. Make bagels and invent away! Ziggy’s inventions don’t always work out, but his idea for making the baker’s buns tastier and easier to carry lead to the creation of a favorite breakfast treat – the bagel! Bagel recipe included.

Looking for a New Read?
Kar-Ben's fall books are now available on the website. These new books won't be hitting stores until the fall, but we know that sometimes summer calls for a brand new read! Head over to the Kar-Ben website's new section to check them out.

Jun 2, 2014

Talking Inventions with the Author of Ziggy's Big Idea!

This week's guest blog post is from Ilana Long, author of Ziggy's Big Idea, about a young boy whose persistent inventing leads to the creation of a favorite breakfast treat - the bagel! Check out the book trailer before reading her post, all about inventing (and writing too)! You can get a copy of Ziggy's Big Idea on the Kar-Ben website.

"Have you ever wondered how soap was invented?  Was someone thinking, “Hey! I bet if I mix some cow fat with some ashes from the fire, I could rub it all over my body and feel clean!” 

How exciting it must have been when popcorn was first discovered! After some very cursory and inconclusive research, here’s one scenario I can imagine: A young Aztec woman sits by the fire when she realizes that she waited too long to roast the corn she had picked.  It is all dried out!  Now, how is she going to eat that desiccated, hard corn?! “Oh, well,” she figures, “I might as well chuck that dried up cob into the fire.”
Suddenly –Boom!   Pop! Pop! Pop!  That corn explodes right there on the cob! Her heart races, she falls over backwards and for a moment, she is really scared.  Wouldn’t you be? But when the popping stops, she notices that some fluffy, puffy balls have shot out of the fire.  Carefully, she picks one up, sniffs it, and pops it in her mouth.   Wow!   Crunchy and delicious; She has accidentally discovered popcorn!  “Now, I just need to invent butter and the IMAX 3-D experience.”

Most often, inventions are created because there is a need for something that doesn’t even exist yet.  For instance, maybe there was a student walking around with a whole bunch of books falling out of her arms. Until one day, she thought, “Hey, I should invent a backpack!”
So how did I invent the story of Ziggy’s Big Idea?  It all started one evening when Grandma Evey, came by our house on her way home from a lecture at the Sephardic Jewish Society.  She was eager to tell me all about the interesting speaker she had just heard:  The speaker focused on the history of the bagel.  My first reaction was, “What?!  Why didn’t you invite me?”  My second comment was “Wow!  That would make an awesome story for kids.  I think I’ll call it Ziggy’s Big Idea.”

Actually, the title and the complete story came to me in teeny bits and pieces.  I knew I wanted to write about a kid who was the same age as my own twins.  Like Ziggy, my children are curious and creative, and I thought, “If I were a kid, what would lead me to make a bagel?”
So I did some research to find out the real history behind that yummy bagel, and it turns out there are a smorgasbord of possible ways the bagel came about.  The lecturer had suggested that, compared to ordinary breads, bagels were quicker to bake before Shabbat because the insides didn’t have to cook for a long time.  That was a key piece of information for me, as it presented an idea for a problem within the story.  Every story’s got to have a problem to solve!  

My favorite reasons for the invention of that beloved, baked treat were the ones that came from specific needs.  I learned that the baskets the bread vendors carried were heavy when filled, so some bakers made the buns with holes, so that they could be easily stacked and transported on a walking stick.   I thought that would be a great detail to include in my book.  So I had Ziggy stack the bagels on a broomstick to show Papi how that would work.  My kids weren’t crazy about that part of the story.  They worried that the bagels would touch the tops of the broom straws and get dirty.  I assured them that the broom was brand new, and had never been used.
Are you curious to know the some of the other possible histories?  Check out the back pages of the book, where you can read some other details about the bagel’s origin.   I was interested, for example, in finding out where the word bagel came from.  Can you find the two possible origins of the word bagel?  If you can, then you are on your way to becoming an etymologist - a person who studies when and how words are born.   By the way, it’s a great hobby, but you can’t make a living off of it, so don’t quit your day job.  If you don’t want to be an etymologist, you could become an entomologist and study bugs.  But, again, don’t count on making the big bucks.

I sure had a lot of fun writing Ziggy’s Big Idea.  I hope you find yourself inspired to create, to build, to discover, to invent and to develop your own really BIG ideas!"