Jun 5, 2017

Q&A with Tammar Stein, author of “The Six-Day Hero”

Just in time for the  50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, author Tammar Stein has written a middle grade historical novel set in Israel in the days leading up to the war. Though much has been written about the Six-Day War for an adult audience, her novel, The Six-DayHero, is one of the only books geared for school age readers.

The Six-Day Hero tells the story of Motti, a 12 year-old boy living in West Jerusalem. His brother is a soldier in the IDF and Motti dreams of being a hero like him one day. But as tensions rise and the war draws near Motti realizes not all heroes wear uniforms.

Here’s an interview with the author about the unlikely spark for her novel, and why the Six-Day War just might be more important to the history of the Jewish people than Hanukkah.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?
TS: My mom called me after a rabbi from her synagogue told her he had nothing to assign his fifth grader to read about Israel. My mom followed this up with career advice for me: “You should write something.” I kept thinking about this. Nothing about Israel for fifth graders? Really? Someone should do something! Then I had one of those aha moments. Oh wait…me. I should do something.

Q: The Six-Day War took place before you were born. How did you become interested in writing about it?
TS: It was remarkably easy to set a children’s book in that time period. Even though the geo-political situation was precarious, children had an incredible amount of personal freedom. They were free to roam after school without adult supervision and had amazing scraps and adventures that their parents never knew about, daring each other to go right up to the barbed wire border between Israel and Jordan, racing each other in the streets, checking out protests and Arab markets. It made them scrappy and independent. It was fertile ground for a novelist. Anything could happen. 

Q: Did researching and writing about this war change any pre-conceived notions for you?
TS: Yes! I thought it was a simple story. The war lasted 6 days. Israel won. Not much left to say. But as I started interviewing friends and relatives who had lived through it, I realized there was so much more to say. The month leading up to the war was a bitter, frightening time. For many Israelis, it felt like a redux of WWII, which for a small country with a significant percentage of Holocaust survivors and refugees, was a terrifying reality. Was history going to repeat itself? Were millions of Jews going to be slaughtered again? Would the rest of the world sit back and watch it happen again? 

Q: You spent part of your childhood in Israel. Was your family touched personally by this war?
TS: My dad was an 18-year-old Israeli soldier in the Six-Day War. He helped me with the details, the mood, sharing the thoughts and fears that raced through his mind. I spoke with my aunt and uncle, family friends. Because of the national draft, everyone of a certain age was personally touched, either as an activated soldier or as a relative of one.  Leading up to the war they really thought they were going to be annihilated. Newspapers were using words like Holocaust and catastrophic and existential threat.  To win so completely, to unify Jerusalem for the first time in 2000 years…it felt like a bigger miracle than Hanukkah and Purim put together.

Order a copy now.

May 22, 2017

Travel Israel By Picture Book!

Planning a vacation (or wish you were)? Travel through Israel with some of our friends in these colorful Kar-Ben picture books!

Ella’s family is taking a trip to Israel and bringing along a good friend—Ella’s stuffed monkey, Koofi! Together the two have lots of adventures like visiting a kibbutz in Galil. Have a blast exploring with this fun duo!
Recommended for ages 1 – 4.

Everybody’s furry blue friend is heading to Israel and writing to you and his Sesame Street friends along the way! Follow Grover as he visits landmarks, tries some food, and makes some new friends. There’s never a dull moment in this happy muppet’s adventure. Recommended for ages 2 – 6.

What’s a trip without a dinosaur by your side? Join the fun dino – boy duo as they explore all that Israel has to offer. You’ll practically feel Dinosaur’s excitement flying off the pages!
Recommended for ages 3 – 7.

Enjoy the city of Tel Aviv with Uri and his grandma as they take a walk down by the shore and through the town. A musical surprise inspired by historical events awaits them at the end!
Recommended for ages 4 – 9.


Shavuot Book Round Up

Ages: 2-6
Price: $7.95

When her preschool plans a Shavuot hike just like Moses took up Mt. Sinai, Sadie is afraid she is too little to make it to the top, and tries to think of ways to be absent. But when the day comes, she learns that anyone can climb high enough to reach God.

Ages: 3-7
Price: $7.95

Children learn to count from one to ten while learning about the Ten Commandments.

Ages: 3-8
Price: $7.95

What's a recipe? Sammy Spider asks his mother as he watches Mrs. Shapiro make blintzes for Shavuot. As Sammy follows the holiday preparations, young readers will learn how the Torah, which was given on Shavuot, is also a "recipe for life."

Ages: 3-8
Price: $7.99

Yossi has no money to buy the food and flowers his family needs for Shavuot. He tries selling the kippahs his wife sewed, but he has no luck until a mischievous monkey shows up. The monkey's antics attract customers and win Yossi's heart…but did Yossi's new friend come to stay?

Ages: 3-8
Price: $7.99

Shoshana loves spending time at Grandma Jacobs' art studio and Grandma Jacobs has a very special art project in mind for Shavuot! But can Shoshana create works of art as beautiful as the ones Grandma makes?

Ages: 3-8
Price: $7.99

Shavuot is approaching, but Gitele and Yankl have no money to buy ingredients for blintzes. So they come up with a plan. Every day, they'll each put a coin into the empty trunk. By Shavuot, they'll have enough coins to buy the ingredients. But will they be able to stick to their plan and provide their family with delicious blintzes for Shavuot?

The Art of Cheesecake - A Fun Activity for Shavuot

It’s nearly time for Shavuot, and Kar-Ben has a colorful story--The Art Lesson-- to help you celebrate.

One day a week Shoshana puts on her art smock and spends time at her grandma’s studio where the two create lots of amazing art! They’ve made paintings, sculptures, drawings, and so much more over the years. One special day before Shavuot, her grandma introduces her to a new project—which turns out to be an old tradition. Order your own copy to find out more!

For now, we’re going to help you make cool art like Shoshana and her grandma—even better, we’re making it edible! Celebrate the spring harvest with some cheesecake decorated with bright glazes. Take Shoshana’s art smock as inspiration—see all the fun colors and different sized splotches? That’s like abstract artwork. Create your own unique masterpiece, and enjoy how good it tastes too! 


Pie crust (packaged
or make your own)
11 oz. unsalted goat cheese, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. minced lemon zest
1 tsp. minced lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla
6 large eggs separated
3 tbs. flour
Fresh berries for garnish (optional)

Combine cheese, sugar, juice, zest, and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Beat in egg yolks, then flour.  Beat egg whites until firm but not dry.  Fold a third of the whites into the cheese mixture, then gently fold in the rest.  Pour filling into crust and bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Optional: Cool and garnish with fresh berries.


1 cup powdered sugar
1-1/2 tablespoon milk
1/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
1-2 drops food coloring (recommended)

Whisk powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract in a bowl.  Adjust consistency to your liking by either putting in more milk or powdered sugar; sugar if too watery, milk if too thick.  Divide the glaze into different bowls for coloring.  The amount of colors or coloring drops is up to you.  Dip spoons in the glazes and wave them over the cheesecake to create cool, paint-splotch designs.

May 11, 2017

Celebrate Mother's Day with Picture Books

Happy Mother’s Day! Family bonds are an important theme in books, so of course we had to put together a special list to celebrate. Give the women role models in your life a hug, and enjoy these fun, colorful books with mothers and grandmothers in the spotlight!

Ages: 3-8
Price: $9.95
This vibrant picture book is a lyrical lullaby capturing the instant bond between children and parents at the moment of birth. Filled with evocative art, When I First Held You will become a "read to me" classic. 

Ages: 3-8
Price: $7.95
On Lily's first visit to Shalom House, she clings closely to her mom, overwhelmed by all the new faces. But slowly Lily joins the activities, makes new friends, and celebrates a birthday to remember.

Ages: 3-8
Price: $7.95
Every day Grandma Rose sews and every day she saves for a set of beautiful dishes with pink and red roses and blue trim. And whenever she sews, something magical happens. A sweet tale of generosity rewarded.

Ages: 3-8
Price: $7.99
"My name is Aviva, not Amoeba!" shouts Aviva at her teasing classmates. Aviva is determined to change her name until she discovers where her name comes from and why her parents chose that special name for her.

Ages: 3-8
Price: $7.99
Two grandmas. Two delicious recipes. And one granddaughter caught in the middle! Sophie loves Bubbe's Jewish chicken soup, made with kreplach. She also loves Nai Nai's Chinese chicken soup, with wonton. But don't tell Bubbe and Nai Nai that their soups are the same! Can Sophie bring her whole family together for a warm and tasty surprise?

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.