Apr 21, 2017

Authors Allison & Wayne Marks on Art Across Generations

Art Imitating Life: The Inspiration Behind The Art Lesson: A Shavuot Story

By Allison & Wayne Marks

Ideas for our stories can pop up at any time. Sometimes the kernel of a manuscript springs from a single line in a library book or when doing chores around the house. Reminiscing with relatives can trigger memories that beg to be shared. All of these circumstances converged into one glorious by-George-I-think-we’ve-got-it moment. The result was our latest book, The Art Lesson: A Shavuot Story.

Allison: One day when spring cleaning, I came across a basket in the attic containing the earliest examples of our twins’ artwork. As four-year-olds, Claire and Elliott would sit for hours at the kitchen table using poetically named crayons (e.g., mango tango, purple mountain majesty, robin’s egg blue) to illustrate their own retellings of their favorite Shel Silverstein book, The Missing Piece. The titles of their books reflected their own life experiences: The Missing Piece Goes Fishing -- The Missing Piece’s First Day of School -- The Missing Piece Loses a Tooth. After this discovery in the attic, I knew our next book would be about a child’s early adventures in art.

Wayne: My father, Burton Marks, is an alumnus of the Cleveland Institute of Art. For years, he worked at Saalfield Publishing in Akron, Ohio, as a designer of board games and coloring books for different lines, including Peanuts and Star Trek. Later, Dad had a successful career as a children’s book author, writing about putting on magic shows, making kites, and planning Halloween parties. Growing up, I remember his art studio in the basement being filled with canvasses, squished tubes of oil paints, mosaic tiles, and multi-drawer cabinets crammed with a little bits of this and that used for his projects – much like Grandma Jacobs’ studio in our book.

After the Passover seder a few years ago, we recalled how Claire and Elliott took art lessons from my father. They would return home with still life paintings done in watercolors and floppy-headed sock puppets that starred in improvised plays which also featured GI Joe, Barbie, and an array of Beanie Babies. Like Shoshana, the granddaughter in The Art Lesson, our twins cherished this time with their grandparent, which became signature moments in their childhoods.

Allison: Reading and researching are important components in any writer’s life. One day in the Temple Israel Library, I was reading about the history of Shavuot and came across a reference to papercuts being displayed in the windows of Jewish homes during this holiday. I examined a pair of framed papercuts hanging on the synagogue walls and then pored over the examples in Amy Goldenberg’s book, Papercutting: Revising a Jewish Folk Art. An internet search uncovered even more beautiful examples of this delicate form of art. I thought a picture book would be a good way to introduce children to this Jewish tradition.

Wayne: It was by combining all these elements that we came up with the characters and storyline for The Art Lesson. Annie Wilkinson’s illustrations perfectly capture Shoshana’s creative process and the beautiful artwork that often results from simply working by trial and error with an unfamiliar medium.  

Allison: In the book Shoshana grows up to be an artist just like her grandmother. Similarly, eighteen years after taking their first art lesson in their grandfather’s studio, our twins graduated with BFA degrees -- Elliott in graphic design (Kent State University) and Claire in printmaking (Cleveland Institute of Art). They, too, have their own wonderfully messy art studios.

Wayne: We hope The Art Lesson: A Shavuot Story will encourage budding artists to try making their own papercuts, embrace the power of imagination, and, as Grandma Jacobs says, “make something beautiful.”

Illustrator's Pictures Offer Children A Way to Think About the Holocaust

Picture books can be tools with extraordinary impact, and not just for the youngest readers. Something about the interplay of words and pictures invites readers to look and understand ideas more deeply. This is particularly true of picture books about challenging themes, books like The Whispering Town.

Based on a true story, the book tells the story of young Anett and her parents in 1943 in Nazi-occupied Denmark. They are hiding a Jewish woman and her son, Carl, in their cellar until a fishing boat can take them across the sound to safety in neutral Sweden. With the help of the baker, the librarian, the farmer, and her neighbors, Anett keeps Carl and his mother safe even as Nazi soldiers search her street for hidden Jews. With the Nazis closing in, and worried about Carl’s safety, Anett thinks of a clever and unusual plan to get Carl and his mother safely to the harbor on a cloudy night without the moon to guide them.

A picture books depends on both its words and its images to be compelling. If you notice in the image below, the illustrator of The Whispering Town, Fabio Santomauro, drew the characters in a deliberate way—in shadow, so much so that the outlines of the characters are all that can be seen.

Santomauro shares the book with local students, explaining how an illustrator tells a story with images. In demonstrating his art—with 180 students in Bitonto in Torrione Angioino (Italy)—he helps students understand something else too, that the stories of the Holocaust are important to tell and hear with great care.

Add a copy of The Whispering Town to your library.

Apr 5, 2017

Sammy Spider Craft Celebrates Shapes This Passover!

Learning shapes is an important part of a child’s basic skill set, and we’ve got a new title out that helps the youngest readers acquire those skills while celebrating Passover at the same time!

Sammy Spider’sPassover Shapes, for age 1-4, includes colorful art of Sammy Spider observing a family getting ready for Passover. Curious Sammy sees lots of shapes, like the square of the matzah, as the Shapiro family prepares for Passover.

References like the matzah help children visualize shapes, and Sammy’s fun journey encourages them to also be curious! 

Adding on to that learning, we’ve created a fun craft project that will help develop a child’s fine motor and shape skills without them even realizing it--the best kind of learning!

Make Your Own Sammy Spider:

1. Grab a piece of paper to glue Sammy on. Draw lots of shapes to make it an interesting background! Can you draw the Star of David?

2. Find some colorful construction paper. Mix and match the colors if you want!

3. Cut out two circles from the construction paper: a small one for Sammy’s head, and a big one for his body.

4. Cut out eight thin rectangles. Make them long like a spider’s legs!

5. Cut out two very small circles for his eyes.

6. Glue it all on the paper! Legs first, then body, head and eyes last. Draw a smile on his face.

7. Enjoy having your own Sammy Spider!

Mar 31, 2017

Cherishing Family Traditions at Passover

Passover begins in just a couple weeks, and what better way to spend the holiday than with a new book and a tasty recipe?

Kar-Ben has three new books about Passover this season—Sammy Spider’s Passover Shapes, Passover Scavenger Hunt, and A Different Kind of Passover. This post features A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Leopold Strauss.

In A Different Kind of Passover, Jessica’s family has to deal with Grandpa being too weak to join them for seder due to illness. Jessica’s been practicing her Four Questions, and it won’t be the same if Grandpa isn’t able to tell the family the story of Passover like he always does. With a little problem solving, Jessica discovers a way to include Grandpa and make this year’s seder one to remember.

Jessica’s story, especially her desire to celebrate familiar traditions, is a reminder of how the holidays bring family together, and the joy that results. What family traditions do you look forward to each year? Is it where you gather? Who leads the seder? Maybe special foods that you look forward to all year?

Start a new family tradition and make your own seder memorable with this delicious, colorful dish for Passover:

Gefilte Fish Loaf
2 packages frozen gefilte fish
1 10 oz. package frozen spinach
1 1lb. can sliced carrots
Defrost gefilte fish and divide evenly into three bowls.  Defrost spinach, squeeze out water, and mix into one bowl of fish.  Mash carrots and mix into a second bowl.  Spray a large loaf pan with non-stick spray.  Layer the spinach-fish mixture on the bottom and pat down.  Cover with the plain fish.  Top with the carrot-fish mixture.  Cover with waxed paper or foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Enjoy!

Mar 13, 2017

Meeting A Hero: The Six-Day War's Most Iconic Photo

by Joni Sussman, Kar-Ben Publisher

June 7, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War. Kar-Ben has just released a new book that explores the Six-Day War and the concept of heroism through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy. In The Six-Day Hero by award-winning YA author Tammar Stein, the main character, Motti, knows that war is coming. Israel is only nineteen years old—the same age as his brave older brother, Gideon—
and the tiny country is surrounded by enemies. Motti knows his older brother is a hero—but through the six days of the war that will decide Israel's fate, he discovers other heroes in surprising places. He may even be a hero himself. The book introduces young readers to a pivotal chapter in Israel's history, while opening a provocative discussion about what makes a hero.

I remember the Six-Day-War. It’s hard to believe it was 50 years ago. Glued to our television, we watched the war unfold. The photo below, one of the most famous photos of that war, shows the young paratroopers of Israel’s 55th Paratroop Brigade liberating the Kotel on June 7, 1967. (The 92-year-old photographer, David Rubinger, died March 3.) A few years ago, when I attended the Jerusalem Book Fair in 2013, I had the opportunity to meet Yitzhak Yifat, the young man in the middle of this iconic photo. 

I was attending a Shabbat service at the Kotel with Women of the Wall, (Neshot Hakotel  הכותל נשות in Hebrew) a group of Jewish women from Israel and around the world working to achieve the right for women to wear tallitot, pray aloud and read from the Torah at the Kotel. The day I was there, there were many reporters in attendance. They were gathered around a gentleman in the crowd  -- it was the young soldier from the photograph, Yitzhak Yifat! 

“We came today to identify with them [the women],” said Dr. Yifat, a gynecologist from Kiryat Malachi, in the interview with reporters. “The Kotel belongs to everyone and not just one segment of the population.”
My hero. I got to shake his hand. 

To learn more about The Six-Day Hero, and/or to purchase a copy, visit www.karben.com.

Feb 10, 2017

When Immigration Is Personal

An image from Feivel's Flying Horses...Feivel thinks of the family he left behind as he arrives in New York. 

I have never really thought of my mom as an immigrant. Well, not until recently when she was sweating the prep for the civics part of her naturalization test.  

My mom has lived in the United States for over four decades, and I think of her as my mom, not as the kindly resident alien who taught me how to tie my shoes, picked me up at the bus stop after school and, you know, loved me.

Until now, my mother has been a green card holding permanent resident alien. That means that she could live in the United States, she could work here, and its laws would protect her. But it didn’t make her a full citizen. And without this significant designation, there was something important that her three American daughters could do that she could not: vote.

My mom, who has never voted in the 41 years that I have been alive, decided that 2016 was her year to change that.

Despite mom’s test anxiety, my sisters and I were not at all surprised to learn that she aced the civics test.  Like many immigrants before her, my mother wanted to take part fully in what it means to be an American citizen. For so many Americans, someone in their family tree made that same decision. Having a sense that America is a home to immigrants, including your own relatives—matters, especially sharing that awareness with children.  

Read Feivel's Flying Horses to begin conversations in your home or classroom. 

Jan 31, 2017

Promoting a Message of Peace: Meet Kar-Ben Author Fawzia Gilani-Williams

Kar-Ben author Fawzia Gilani-Williams was born and raised in England. She was a teacher and is the author of many children's books, including A Treasury of Eid Tales, and is currently working on an Islamic fairy tale series. She serves as an international educational consultant and has a PhD in children's literature. A Global Representative for the International Positive Education Network, she works for the Abu Dhabi Education Council, dividing her time among the United Arab Emirates, Ohio, and England. She looks forward to the day when world conflict is no more.

We interviewed Fawzia about her newest picture book, Yaffa and Fatima, Shalom, Salaam, a story that celebrates the friendship between and Jewish and a Muslim girl.

KB: What was your favorite book when you were a child? 
FGW: I didn’t have a favorite. I particularly enjoyed the Favorite Fairy Tales Told in series by Virginia Haviland. I also loved reading stories about the prophets of God.

KB: What’s your favorite line from a book?  
FGW: "My Lord, build for me near You a house in Paradise."

KB: Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
FGW: It wasn’t a conscious goal.  As a teacher I was confronted with the realization that my students from minority groups were invisible in children’s books. So I tried to address that gap. When I first arrived in the USA, I was impressed with the number of books that were available in public libraries about Hanukkah, and I thought this was very encouraging. I grew up with books that were entirely Anglo-centric. It’s quite widely known that when children feel a sense of belonging and a sense of honor for their families and communities, they are emotionally resilient, confident and can negotiate difficulties and challenges.  These are all wellness elements in allowing positive self-development and learning. Children's books commonly discuss themes that are used to encourage children to undertake a grand role in society. When children don’t see themselves in books it sends a subliminal message of worth. As a teacher I understood the importance of children seeing themselves, their families and community in the literature. ‘Mirror books’ are commonly referred to as books that promote a child’s positive self-development and these are the types of books that I aspire to.

KB: Where did you get the inspiration for your latest Kar-Ben book?
FGW: My book was inspired by a tale which can be found in both the Jewish and Arab traditions. It’s a tale about two brothers who secretly help each other. The story revolves around love, sharing, kindness and compassion - the essential ingredients that make people and the world beautiful.

KB: What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
The message of peace and being a good neighbor. The message that we actually can all work together to make the world a better place. I’m delighted to be promoting the message of peace.

KB: How do you hope your book will impact a child’s life? 

FGW: I hope that my book impacts the life of a Jewish child and a Muslim child and other children by showing them that caring for another person is entirely necessary on the sole premise that every person belongs to God. As a result the inalienable right of every human being on the planet is to be safe and free and kindness is endemic to both of these rights. I hope the story underscores the importance of being a good neighbor on a micro level and a macro level.

Get your copy of Yaffa and Fatima, Shalom, Salaam today.