Apr 23, 2014

Author Jennifer Elvgren Finds Inspiration in Stories of Bravery

In this week's guest blog post, author Jennifer Elvgren talks about what inspired her to write The Whispering Town.

In The Whispering Town, it is 1943 in Nazi-occupied Denmark. Anett and her parents 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.

See the book trailer, with illustrations by Fabio Santomauro, here.

"I have always been drawn to Holocaust literature. As a child, my grandmother shared her copy of Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place with me: my mother, her copy of Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl.

Reading them from cover to cover, I lingered especially on the photos and sketches provided in the front of both editions. I practiced pronouncing the names and places foreign to my tongue such as The Beje (pronounced bay-yay), the name of the ten Booms' house.

Studying the floor plans of The Beje and 263 Prinsengracht (the office building where the Franks and the Van Daans hid for just over two years), I tried to understand where the hiding places were; how they were entered; how little room they provided; and how many people shared those small, secret spaces.

The photos of Corrie ten Boom and Anne Frank captured me. How could they be so brave? How could Corrie keep calm and collected when a German soldier burst into her father's clock shop at night and demanded to go upstairs to their living quarters that currently housed their family and seven permanent Jewish guests? How could Anne, who needed to run outside and feel the sun on her face as every child should, turn her attention to indoor, silent pursuits day after day, month after month, when she felt her limbs stiffening?

Over the years I continued to ponder these books as I finished college, then graduate school. I worked as a print journalist for a number of years before I began writing exclusively for children. Around that time another nonfiction Holocaust book was published, Ellen Levine's Darkness Over Denmark. This book told the story of the Danish resistance and how the Danes worked together to smuggle nearly all of the 8,000 Danish Jews out of the country.

About 1,700 Jews escaped from the small fishing village of Gilleleje. One moonless night, the town's citizens whispered directions to a man making his way to the harbor. That image moved me deeply. A story seed was planted in my mind, and I knew I wanted to write about the Holocaust for younger readers.

The Whispering Town's title came first, followed by the characters. Anett appeared, then Carl. As they started to move through the story set in Gilleleje (pronounced GeeLAYleh), I imagined a hiding place, bravery, friendship, and hope.

It became imperative for Anett to bring comfort to Carl and his mama in their cellar hiding place int he form of visits, good food, and books. When she came face to face with Nazi soldiers at her own door, I knew Anett had to be calm and collected so that she did not give away her friends in the cellar.

Facing a moonless night, I wanted Anett to be part of the solution, arranging for a chain of whispering voices to guide Carl and his mama to the harbor. The hope of escape and reuniting Carl with his papa in Sweden sealed Anett's and Carl's friendship forever."

In honor of Remembrance Day, Jennifer is giving away a signed hardcover copy of The Whispering Town. Visit her Facebook author page here and either like or leave a comment on the book give-away post. The winner will be drawn on May 1.

Praise for The Whispering Town

"Santomauro's thoughtful illustrations, with their restrained colors, subtly remind the reader of the village’s determined solidarity." -- The New York Times Book Review

"The direct simplicity of the story’s telling serves well as an introduction for younger children to the Holocaust. Dark cartoon sketches reminiscent of Tomi Ungerer in opaque black, blues, grays and khaki green markers and word bubbles with the key words of direction paint the ominous atmosphere. This uncomplicated narrative of Danish resistance will facilitate teaching and discussion of a difficult yet necessary subject." -- Kirkus Reviews

Mar 28, 2014

9 Kid-Friendly Crafts and Activities for Passover

Engage children in the story and traditions of Passover with these fun crafts and activities! From helping to decorate the seder table to learning about the ten plagues with hand-made puppets, these activities will help children feel like a part of the holiday.

Create a Beautiful Elijah's Cup
Elijah's cup is an important part of the Passover seder. This craft from The Shiksa in the Kitchen is great for older children, or young children with some adult assistance. Instructions here.

A Handmade Matzah Cover
Matzah is a ubiquitous part of every seder - and now it can have its very own unique cover! We like this matzah cover because it holds three pieces of matzah, each one in its own pocket. This craft is perfect for classrooms or at home. Instructions here.

From Highlights Kids.

Passover Word Search
Whether you're at school or at home, reinforce all those important Passover lessons with this word search, with over 20 important Passover vocabulary words! Get the word search here.

From apples4theteacher.com.

Passover Puppets
Tell the story of Passover in a fun and interactive way using these Passover finger puppets! Kids can color and cut out these finger puppets to put their own unique touch on the Passover tale. Template here.

From Ann D. Koffsky.

A Plague of Frogs
It has been decided - the plague of frogs is certainly the one to illustrate through crafts. Over at Creative Jewish Mom you can fold origami frogs (great for classrooms of older students) or make these little critters from pom-poms and pipe cleaners.

Make Your Own Seder Placemat
These seder placemats are a sweet handmade touch to a seder table, and reinforce the significance of each item on the seder plate. Instructions here.

From InCultureParent.

Four Cups Paper Chain
Decorate your home or classroom with this paper chain that reflects the four cups of wine at the seder. A simple craft that only needs scissors, paper, and markers!

From Creative Jewish Mom.

A Simple and Kid-Friendly Passover Snack
This matzah-based pizza is a fun and simple snack that kids can help make themselves! Go with basic cheese, or let kids decorate with toppings. Recipe here.

From Spoonful.

Create a 3-D Moses
With a template and a toilet paper roll, make a 3-D figure of Moses for storytelling or as a decoration for the classroom or seder table.

From DLTK.

And of course, read a good book!
Grab an old favorite, or read one of these new books from Kar-Ben! Available at the Kar-Ben website or your local Judaica store.

The Littlest Levine
Hannah doesn't like being the littlest Levine. She's too short to hang fruit from the sukkah and too young to light the Hanukkah candles by herself. But when Passover comes, the littlest Levine gets a chance to shine in a big way.

Seder in the Desert
Join a group of families as they follow Rabbi Jamie into Moab, Utah to celebrate a most unusual Passover seder in the desert. As they hike through the sandstone and red rock desert, they learn important lessons about the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, such as the importance of helping one another. Together, the community hikes, learns, laughs, sings, debates, and enjoys the delicious Passover seder meal. The story is accompanied by photos of the celebration as well as stunning desert scenery by award-winning photographer Jeff Finkelstein.

Mar 10, 2014

Get to Know Hannah and Sandy!

Hannah is the star of Kar-Ben's newest Passover title The Littlest Levine. She's frustrated because, as the youngest member of the family, there aren't many things she can do on her own. But as Passover approaches, her grandfather helps her prepare for a very special task that only she can perform!

For a special preview, check out the book trailer!

Sandy Lanton is the author of The Littlest Levine, as well as today's guest blogger! Read below to hear more about her inspiration and her journey of becoming a children's book author:

"Like many writers, I get my inspiration from life experiences. When I was teaching nursery school at the local JCC, part of the Passover curriculum was teaching the four questions to my class of four year olds.  I was amazed at how easily these young children, who couldn’t tie their own shoes, could memorize the four questions and how beautifully they recited them. 

This idea took hold and germinated through the years. With each seder I attended, the impressions grew. As I worked on other stories, this one was always in the back of my mind. With the aid of my critique group and the Long Island Children’s Writers and Illustrators, (LICWI), the story underwent numerous revisions.  After it was accepted by KarBen, the editors made still more changes until the final version was achieved."

Q and A with author Sandy Lanton

When did you decide to become a writer?
When I was in the fifth grade, I wrote an essay about Theodore Roosevelt.  It was entered in a contest and I won first prize for my school.  I attended a party at Theodore Roosevelt’s townhouse in New York City where I met winners from other schools in the city.  I then wrote an article about the party for the school newspaper.  It was such a thrill to see my words and my name in print.  I was hooked.  I decided that someday I would be a writer.  My father thought that ambition wasn’t practical.  He suggested that I become a teacher and write during the summers.

Where did you study writing?
I enrolled in a children’s writing class with Connie Epstein, a retired editor, at Hofstra University and a two week summer workshop with children’s writer Johanna Hurwitz, along with a screen writing class.  I also attended the Highlights Foundation Summer Workshop at Chautauqua several times, the Vasssar College program in Children’s  Publishing and a private class with Pam Conrad, a great children’s writer.  I attended writing conferences given by the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and  I took author Brian Heinz’s summer writing workshop at Hofstra University.  I’m also a member of a critique group that grew out of Connie Epstein’s class and I’m an active member of the Long Island Children’s Writers and Illustrators, constantly trying to improve my writing skills.

What other jobs have you had?
I started babysitting when I was 12. My first after school job,  when  I was in high school, was selling school supplies at a local hardware store.  After that, I hung up clothes  at Alexander’s Department Store.  To this day, I won’t leave a mess behind in a fitting room.  I worked as a secretary in high school and college.  After graduation from Queens College, I taught kindergarten and then nursery school, toddler playgroup, Mommy and Me and Mom and Tot Playland.  I always joke that I started in kindergarten and worked my way down.  After I left teaching to become a stage mom and help my husband with his computer business, I started taking writing classes.  Later, I covered school board meetings for the local newspaper, sold books to libraries, and did data entry.

How long have you been writing?
Not counting the fifth grade, I’ve been writing for over thirty years.

How many children’s stories have you written? 
I’ve written over a hundred.  Five of them have been published as books, several others have appeared in magazines and anthologies.

Do you illustrate your own books?
No, I’m not an illustrator.  I’ve taken drawing and painting classes just for fun, but I’m not good enough to illustrate books.  I’d rather concentrate on my writing.

Where do you get your ideas?
As I mentioned earlier, I get most of my ideas from my life and my family.  Sometimes, I get an idea from a newspaper article.

I wrote DADDY’S CHAIR when my cousin died of cancer at the age of 46, leaving three children, ages 15, 12 and 6. Their mother asked me to locate books for them.  I was able to find plenty for the two older children but could get very little for six year old Jonathan.  I was taking a writing class with Pam Conrad, and she helped me with the manuscript. The stories that Aunt Rachel tells are true.  My grandfather owned a grocery store and my cousin Barbara and I played in the back while our mothers worked behind the counter.

LOTS OF LATKES is based on my extended family and LICWI.  Every year at Hanukkah, the family would gather at my Aunt Irene and Uncle George’s house.  We would bring our menorahs and line them up on the dining room table.  My Aunt would make the latkes, and we’d all contribute something to the meal. I always brought the salad.  Every summer, LICWI would have a pot-luck picnic in someone’s back yard, and we’d sign up at the May meeting for what we’d bring in July.  Very often, people would forget what they signed up for or they couldn’t get what they promised, and they’d bring something else.  I thought, WHAT IF everyone brought the same thing?  I set it a long time ago so they couldn’t just go to the local supermarket to get what they needed.

What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished a story about bullying that came out of my own experience.  Actually, I shouldn’t say it’s finished, because it isn’t in print yet and an editor may have some useful suggestions.

To purchase The Littlest Levine, visit the Kar-Ben website!

To learn more about Sandy Lanton and her books, visit her website!

Feb 25, 2014

Perfect Purim Crafts and Activities!

Purim is a wonderful holiday to celebrate with children. Costumes, groggers, and hamantaschen afford many opportunities for creativity, imagination, and fun. Below we have some fun takes on these traditional activities, as well as some new crafts to celebrate at home or in the classroom!

Make Some Noise with Sammy Spider
This simple grogger is made using a paper plate, and is the same one in one of our favorite Purim books - Sammy Spider's First Purim! Get ready for the Megillah reading with this fun and easy craft for all ages. Instructions here.

Find a New Favorite Flavor of Hamantaschen
In addition to old favorites, give one of these unique recipes a try! Lemon? White chocolate and cherry? Sounds tasty! Check out these 10 new hamantaschen recipes and spice up the table with something new!

From Joy of Kosher.

Easy Purim Masks Complement Any Costume
With a little help, any kid can create their own costume using this simple DIY Purim mask! A perfect Purim craft for the classroom, or to accent an almost-complete costume, this masks allows kids to add their own artistic flair. Instructions here.

From Here We Are Together.

Beaded Crowns for Older Kids
If you kids are a little old for paper masks, or would enjoy more of a challenge, try these beaded crowns! They'll also last longer than paper masks, so could potentially be used in years to come. Different colors of beads can be used to complement different costumes, and instructions include both a "Queen's Crown" and a "King's Crown." Instructions here.

From Chadis Crafts Fun Pages.

Put on a Purim Puppet Show
Make your own puppets to put on a Purim play! These instructions and templates from JewishKids.org make it a fun and simple way to let everyone participate in telling the story of Purim. Instructions here

Test How Much You Really Know!
This fun and interactive Jeopardy-style quiz lets two people compete to answer Purim questions. Test your knowledge on your own, challenge a friend, or set up a family or classroom-sized competition to see who knows the most! Take the quiz here.

From Quia.com.

Make Your Own Megillah Scroll
Color the pictures on this page, then cut them out into two strips. Tape the strips together and tape the end to an empty paper towel roll cut to size. Roll up your Megillah and fasten with a ribbon or rubber band. Now you have your very own Megillah scroll that tells the story of Purim!

Make Your Own Haman Puzzle
Color this picture of the evil Haman, then cut along the lines to make a puzzle! Great for the classroom or at home.

Learn More About Purim with a Good Book!
Children's books about Purim are a great way to enrich the holiday celebration. From learning all about Purim traditions with Sammy Spider to animals putting on a Purim play, these stories offer fun and interesting additions to any Purim celebration. These and other Purim books available on the Kar-Ben website!

Barnyard Purim
Purim is a topsy-turvy time, even on the farm. The animals decide to stage a Purim play, and Chicken assigns the parts. Blushing Duck is Queen Esther, Silly Horse is Ahashuerus, and Bearded Goat is Mordechai. But when they try to transform Shy Little Sheep into mean-looking Haman, something unexpected happens.

Sammy Spider's First Purim
Sammy Spider wants to help Josh get ready for Purim. Instead, he gets stuck inside a grogger. How will he escape?

The Queen Who Saved Her People
The Purim story has never been more fun! This lavishly rhyming tale is a wonderful read-aloud book, and its color-coded dialogue is perfect for Reader's Theater performances.

The Purim Superhero
Nate loves aliens and he really wants to wear an alien costume for Purim, but his friends are all dressing as superheroes and he wants to fit in. What will he do? With the help of his two dads he makes a surprising decision.

Feb 17, 2014

Celebrating Shabbat with Author Tracy Newman

In this week's guest blog post, Tracy Newman, author of Shabbat is Coming! talks about preparing for Shabbat and developing traditions with her family.

Find Shabbat is Coming! on the Kar-Ben website.
Shabbat is Coming:
On Fridays, my family knows that something is special is coming.

“Is today Shabbat?” my little one asks, a smile on her face.

“Yes, Shabbat begins tonight,” I answer.

“Yay!” She cheers and does a happy dance.

And so we prepare. We buy flowers for the kitchen table. I cook their favorite dinner (chicken cutlets—just like my grandmother used to make). The kids add candles to the candle sticks, fill the Kiddush cup and lay a fresh, sweet challah on the challah board.

In my home, our celebrations aren’t fancy, and the kids are sometimes restless and tired by sunset, but we do make an effort to mark the start of Shabbat as a special occasion. We honor our heritage and feel proud to continue the traditions of the Jewish people.

As the sky grows dark, we:

Light candles and say blessings.

Drink the fruit of the vine (in our case, lots and lots of grape juice).

Say a blessing for the children and give them an extra kiss on the forehead, and

Break off pieces of sweet and delicious challah for each member of our family to eat.

But we also tailor our celebration to fit our unique family, namely a mother who can’t seem to bake a light and airy challah. My home-baked challah is braided with love and filled with a mother’s goodness, but it is also uncomfortably doorstop-like.

I have taken challah-baking class, twice, to learn the art of making fluffy challah. I have tested the temperature of the water on my wrist to see if it will activate the yeast. I have warmed the dough in an oven to help it rise. I have tried recipes in Jewish cookbooks, off the internet, handed out at my children’s camp.

And, still, no matter what, my challahs remain leaden.

So, to save their mother the disappointment that comes from taking a hockey puck out of the oven, and to save my family the chipped teeth that come from eating their mother’s challah, we have adopted a different tradition.

We enjoy the challah from our local bakery. Sweet, braided, light and fluffy. Like no challah I could ever bake.

For your family, I encourage you to explore your own traditions to create a meaningful Shabbat. It is this sense that I hope to convey in Shabbat Is Coming.

No matter how your family chooses to celebrate this joyous day, I hope that you savor the anticipation of preparing for Shabbat every week. May you and your children have fun reading about and celebrating this day.

Shabbat Shalom!
Learn more about Tracy and her books on her website, tracynewmanbooks.com


Feb 4, 2014

Mazel Tov to the Sydney Taylor Book Award Winners!

Kar-Ben Publishing is thrilled to announce that the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee has named three Kar-Ben titles as either 2014 Honor Books or Notable Books for Younger Readers! Mazel tov to our hardworking authors and illustrators!

Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries since 1968, the Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books that authentically portray the Jewish experience. In addition to gold medals awarded in each of three categories, two Honor Books are awarded silver medals and Notable Books are named in each category.

You can find these and other Sydney Taylor Award Winners on the Kar-Ben website! Through the end of February, receive 20% off these 2014 Sydney Taylor winners!

2014 Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Younger Readers

Stones for Grandpa
Renee Londner
illustrated by Martha Aviles

It’s not easy for a child to cope with the death of any family member, especially a beloved grandparent. In Stones for Grandpa, a little boy and his family gather at the cemetery for the unveiling of his grandpa’s gravestone, bringing stones to place on the grave, as is the Jewish custom. They tell stories that help the boy deal with his loss, reminding him of the wonderful memories he has of his grandpa.

Rifka Takes a Bow
Betty Rosenberg Perlov
illustrated by Cosei Kawa
Rifka’s parents are actors in the Yiddish Theater in New York, but one day Rifka finds herself center stage in a special role!  A slice of immigrant life on New York’s Second Avenue, Rifka Takes a Bow, new from Kar-Ben, is a unique book about a vanished time and a place – the Yiddish theater in the early 20th century -- made real through the telling of the true life story of the 96-year-old author as a little girl.

2014 Sydney Taylor Notable Books for Younger Readers

The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street
Ann Redisch Stempler
illustrated by Francesca Carabelli
In The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street, Tel-Aviv is full of cats of every color and size, and Mr. Modiano—a grumpy fishmonger—has no time for them! His neighbor, Mrs. Spiegel, loves cats, taking care of her little grey cat with a pink collar and feeding a fluffy white stray cat. Mrs. Spiegel wants to be friends with Mr. Modiano and invites him to tea but he always says “lo, lo, lo, no, no, no.”

But one night when Mrs. Spiegel’s cat goes missing, it is Mr. Modiano who heroically takes off in search of the furry feline. When he finds her cat, Mrs. Spiegel is overjoyed. But what about Mr. Modiano? Has he finally had a change of heart and learned the value of companionship?

With its glimpse into a colorful and diverse Israeli neighborhood, this lovely story about friendship also nicely portrays Tel-Aviv’s beach, markets and other features of Israeli life.






Jan 10, 2014

Crafts and Activities for Celebrating Tu B'Shevat!

Tu B'Shevat, the New Year or birthday for trees, is a great day to celebrate nature and introduce children to different ways to help out the environment. For over 100 years, many Israeli institutions have planted trees on Tu B'Shevat, and today over a million people participate in the Jewish National Fund's Tu B'Shevat tree-planting activities. This has led to the day often being called "Israeli Arbor Day" internationally.

Below are crafts and activities for celebrating and teaching children the importance of Tu B'Shevat:

A Craft for Learning About Trees
This sweet craft from Joyful Jewish teaches kids about the many things that we get from trees. It's a great activity for showing the many reasons we have to appreciate trees. For younger children, you can make the tree yourself and then let them enjoy discovering the flaps, for older children, have them create the tree and perhaps share it with someone younger! Find the directions here.

An Edible Craft!
This tasty craft from The Jewish Woman lets children decorate edible trees with a variety of the fruits that grow on them! A fun and (kind-of) healthy snack that also teaches children about one of the many delicious reasons we're thankful for trees. Find the directions here.

Have a Tu B'Shevat Seder (or just bake something tasty!)
Tu B'Shevat seders have become a popular and delicious way to celebrate the holiday. Plan a seder meal, or just enjoy making a simple kid-friendly recipe with your child. In keeping with celebrating trees and the many things they provide, many Tu B'Shevat recipes include fruit. This Banana Bread recipe from Leah Cooks Kosher is full of tasty ingredients like figs and almonds.

Take a Trip to a Plant Nursery
Nurseries can be fascinating for children because there's a wide array of plants, including many that aren't seen everyday. It's a great place to introduce your child to the diversity of the plant kingdom and talk about the different uses of different kinds of plants.

Teach Your Child How to Care for a PlantWhile much of the US is too cold to plant outdoors, that doesn't mean you can't teach your child how to care for a plant. Start with a small, hearty, indoor potted plant. Teach your child how to care for the plant with daily water and sunlight, and gradually release responsibility until they are responsible for caring for the plant on their own. They'll learn an important lesson about responsibility, as well as about environmental stewardship.

Find Out How Other Nations and Cultures Honor Trees
Have you heard of Arbor Day and Earth Day? How about Shikmokil in Korea or Chih Shu Chieh in China? Many cultures understand and appreciate the importance of trees - what is similar or different about their celebrations?

Learn More About Tu B'Shevat with a Good Book
Children's books about Tu B'Shevat show the close relationship between people and trees. They celebrate the many reasons we have to be thankful for trees, and provide youngsters with a great introduction to the holiday. Some Kar-Ben Tu B'Shevat favorites include:

Netta and Her PlantOne Tu B'Shevat day in Israel, little Netta brings a plant home from preschool. Over time, Netta grows, and the plant grows too. Soon it is time for both of them to find new homes and new friends.

Thank You, Trees!
Rhyming story giving thanks for the gifts trees provide on the occasion of Tu B’Shevat, Jewish Arbor Day.

Sammy Spider's First Tu B'ShevatSpring is in the air and Sammy Spider watches as Josh Shapiro lowers the roots of a small tree into the ground. As spring turns to summer and summer to fall, Sammy watches Josh nurture the small tree as it sprouts tiny buds, then full blossoms, then colorful autumn leaves.
The Apple Tree's Discovery
A little apple tree in a forest of oaks begs God for stars like those glimmering on the branches of the great oak trees beside her. As the seasons pass, she learns to appreciate her own gifts and realizes that it’s possible to find a star in each of us.

Find these and other Tu B'Shevat books here!