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

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.

Jan 6, 2017

Bagels in Costa Rica! Inspiration from Author Ilana Long

  Kar-Ben author Ilana Long shares her love of bagels and inspiration for her book about bagels, Ziggy's Big Idea .
  I got the big idea for my book Ziggy’s Big Idea when my mother-in-law returned from a talk on the history of the bagel, and I knew I had my topic for a children’s book! I’ve always been a bit of a bagel fanatic. I grew up in Cleveland as the granddaughter of a rabbi, and it was our Sunday morning ritual to head to the local deli and order a bagel slathered with cream cheese, topped off with a decadent slice of lox. Capers and red onions were optional! But no matter how they were decorated, bagels always reminded of family, comfort, nostalgia and home.

            So when I moved to Costa Rica with my husband and twin teenagers three years ago to teach at an international school, I missed my Sunday treat. Sure, I tried to make do with tortillas sprinkled with sesame seeds, but let me tell you, they didn’t even come close! I craved the rich, dense bread and the toasted perfection of my youth!

            On Friday nights, I attended services at our Costa Rican synagogue. After the service, the congregation snacked on cakes and cookies and carrot sticks as we chatted and I tried desperately to pick up on the Spanish conversations. 

            One evening, famished, I headed for the snack table and nearly fell over with excitement. There on the table was a basket of bagels. In Costa Rica! There was cream cheese, lox and red onion, too.  If it hadn’t been for the urgings of my children: “Mom! They’re just bagels. Save some for the rest of us!” I might have devoured the entire basket! 

            “Where did they come from?” I asked, my mouth full, still in blissful awe.

            “I make ‘em. I’m the Costa Rican bagel guy!” It was David Feingold, originally from Boston. His baking business, “Boston Bagels” (in Costa Rica) provides bagels, pizza dough and challahs not only for Costa Rica, but also for other lucky Central American countries. Everything bagels, sesame, poppy seed, and all manner of Boston Bagel flavors can be found in restaurants, store fronts and major stores in Central America.

                “Before founding the company, my wife Olga and I met as students in the United States where we often frequented east coast bagel shops.  Upon moving to Costa Rica, in 1997 we were pioneers in promoting bagels and opened Boston Bagel, the first bagel bakery in Costa Rica.  In 2012 we began to export our products to the rest of Central America.”
Boston Bagels took part recently in helping out the Costa Rican community after the terrible devastation here from Hurricane Otto. The employees recycled used flour bags to fill with care packages for the daily needs of the victims. Also, Feingold’s company provided bagels and cream cheese for the many volunteers at the Red Cross of Costa Rica.

            Happily, I now bring bagels to school with my lunch, eat them on the beach and take them with me on jungle hikes. I have to be careful munching on a deli bagel if I spot white-faced monkeys in the trees.  I’m not the only one who craves these delicious treats, no matter where in the world I find myself!

Dec 14, 2016

Interview: A Hanukkah with Mazel Author Joel Stein

Get to know Joel Stein, author of A Hanukkah with Mazel. Learn what inspired his sweet Hanukkah story about a stray cat and friendship.
What was your favorite book when you were a child? 
 Alice in Wonderland
What’s your favorite line from a book?                            
“I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.” Lewis Carroll -  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
Robert Cormier, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Patricia Palacco are among my favorite  authors.

Why did you want to become an author?
The works of authors and illustrators have fascinated me since I was a child. I wanted to be a part of that world.

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators? 
Write. Write. Write. And write some more. if you believe in what you're doing, never give up your dream.

 Where did you get the inspiration for your latest or upcoming Kar-Ben book, A Hanukkah with Mazel?
Once upon a time I had aspirations of becoming an artist.  The thought came to me -- what would an artist do if he was so poor that he couldn't even afford candles to celebrate Chanukah with? And what if he lived in Grodno; the shtetl my mother grew up in?
What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
The Chanukah story, at its core, is a story of hope and of miracles that sometimes occur unexpectedly. I'm excited to tell the story from a different perspective.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing or illustrating your book?
Sometimes strong characters begin to have a mind of their own and can lead the story in a different direction from the one first intended.

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child? 
I'm hoping that children can see the true meaning of Chanukah and the richness that its tradition brings. Along with that, I hope they see the kindness a poor artist shows for a small cat who wanders unexpectedly to his home one night. 

What are you working on now?
I'm currently working on Itzchak the Fiddler. It's about the extraordinary violin virtuoso, Itzchak Perlman. 

What are some fun facts about you?
At one time, I thought about becoming a veterinarian. When I'm not writing or reading, I practice Tai Chi and I also enjoy playing the viola. 

Get your copy of A Hanukkah with Mazel now. 

Oct 5, 2016

Praying for Rain with Author Susan Tarcov

Susan Tarcov, author of Maya Prays for Rain, is our guest blogger. She grew up next to the Bronx Zoo, a great inspiration for writing children's books. She is married, has three children, and lives in Chicago. Maya Prays for Rain is the first (and only!) picture book about the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, which falls at the end of the fall harvest festival of Sukkot. 

The holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah fall at the end of Sukkot. In Israel they are celebrated on a single day; outside of Israel they are celebrated as two separate holidays. While these holidays are often thought of as part of Sukkot, they are actually holidays in their own right. Shemini Atzeret literally means "the assembly of the eighth (day)" as it falls after the seven days of Sukkot. Rabbinic literature explains that Sukkot is a holiday intended for all people, but when Sukkot is over, God invites the Jewish people to stay for an extra day and continue the celebration. Part of the Shemini Atzeret service is a prayer for rain, which officially begins Israel’s rainy season. Since the land of Israel relies so heavily on rain for its crops, this prayer is our request for the seas of Israel to fill and the crops to grow, providing both food and water for the people of Israel.

"I can’t say that Shemini Atzeret is my absolute favorite holiday, even though I just wrote a book about it. But I have always been moved by the little instruction in the Amidah that says that from Shemini Atzeret to Pesach we are to insert the words “You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall.” Our rabbi explained that it was because that’s the rainy season in Israel. I like that Jews in the Diaspora pray for rain in Israel.

An interesting sidelight that turned up in my researches: The first halachic query from the New World was about the prayer for rain on Shemini Atzeret. In the seventeenth century, Jews newly settled in Brazil wrote to Rabbi Chaim Shabsi in Salonika complaining that they needed rain not between Shemini Atzeret and Pesach, but between Pesach and Shemini Atzeret. The rabbi replied that they could omit the prayer for rain on Shemini Atzeret, for “no congregation need pray against its want and need.” But for the sake of the unity of the Jewish world, their congregation couldn’t pray for rain at another time. They would each as individuals have to include a prayer for rain in their private prayers.

A further curiosity: the Brazilian Jews complained that “excessive rain in winter causes diseases and epidemics.” They must have meant the mosquito-borne illnesses that are a feature of summer. It seems that the first colonists of the southern hemisphere didn’t automatically call their hot season summer and their cold season winter. Instead they thought of their winters as being hot and their summers as being cold.

About Susan's book: It's a sunny fall day in Maya's neighborhood, and all her neighbors are busy with outdoor activities, from releasing some young butterflies to organizing a birthday scavenger hunt. But Maya learns that today is Shemini Atzeret, when the Jewish community prays for rain. Rain will ruin her neighbors' day! Maya rushes to warn them. Luckily, as her rabbi explains to her, it turns out that she doesn't need to worry. 

Oct 4, 2016

Have a Bowl of Chicken Soup with Author Pamela Mayer

Kar-Ben is delighted to interview Pamela Mayer, author of warm, thoughtful and sweet stories for children. 

Pamela's Kar-Ben book debut was the charming Don't Sneeze at the Wedding, a story about Anna who is scared she'll sneeze during her flower girl duties at her aunt's wedding. Along the way, she gets advice on how to stifle a big "achoo" while she participates in all the excitement of the day--everything from getting her hair done to signing the ketubah. (Yes, this is a must-buy if you have a little flower girl in your life.)

Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup is new this fall, and it is a terrific book about a young girl and her grandmothers' different-but-the-same soup. Praised by Kirkus as a "good-hearted tale," we think you'll like it. We caught up with Pamela to ask her about the book, and, of course, chicken soup.

KAR-BEN: What inspired you to write Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup?
PM: I have long been fascinated by food culture, especially how there are similar dishes prepared in different traditions, food like blintzes and crepes, for example. Kreplach and wonton are both dumplings, and nearly every world cuisine features some sort of dumpling. Food and family are both important in Chinese and Jewish culture. I knew I wanted to write about a family who was both Chinese and Jewish, so food was one of the first things I thought about. Growing up in San Francisco, I knew many Chinese families. In fact, we used to joke at my high school that if Rosh Hashanah and Chinese New Year were on the same day, the school would be empty!

KAR-BEN: What is your favorite chicken soup?
PM: My favorite chicken soup will always be the soup made by my grandmother, Manya Pavlovsky, my father's mother. She was a fabulous cook who made many wonderful dishes. Everything was homemade, from scratch, including the noodles and kreplach in her chicken soup. She cooked the way her mother had taught her in Russia, and her recipes were in her head, not written down. When she hosted a large family dinner, which she did often, she prepared many different dishes so that everyone could have one of their favorites. In addition, everyone left her house with a care package, enough food for dinner the next day. And don't even get me started on her desserts! Her cakes, cookies, and apple strudel were divine. Although she died in 1993, I still remember her good cooking. It was one of the ways my grandmother expressed her love for her family.
KAR-BEN: Why do you think chicken soup tastes so good, especially when made my Bubbes and Nai Nais?PM: Chicken soup has long been called the Jewish penicillin, and there is something to that. What tastes better than hot delicious soup when one is feeling ill or blue? Homemade food really does have that certain special ingredient. Of course, Jewish and Chinese grandmas like to see their grandchildren eat well, to grow up strong and healthy. I have a little granddaughter named Molly. I hope she will associate certain good foods, including homemade soup, with me, and with my love for her.

Get your copy of Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup today.