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.
LemonadeDay.org 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!"

May 28, 2014

Let's Celebrate Shavuot!

Shavuot celebrated the day God gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. In Israel, it is also connected to the season of the grain harvest. Today, the Shavuot celebration is made unique by the traditional consumption of dairy products like milk, cheese, and, of course, lots of cheesecake! Below we've collected some activities to teach children about Shavuot:

Mount Sinai Muffins
Teach children about Mount Sinai with this fun and edible craft! Make this easy by purchasing muffins and decorating them together, or go all out and bake them from scratch. Either way, this activity is sure to delight kids. This can also be made as a cake for a table centerpiece and family dessert! From Kveller.

Build Mount Sinai
If muffins won't work for your home or classroom, children can still build their own Mount Sinai using a paper or Styrofoam bowl, some paint, and colorful paper! You can also recreate the scene of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with just paper, crayons, and glue! From Bright Hub Education and Joyful Jewish.

Shavuot Flower Crowns
These beautiful flower crowns made from construction paper are great for the classroom or at home. Engage children in describing Mount Sinai, which was covered in beautiful flowers, while they make a colorful way to celebrate! From Hebrew Podcasts.

Tablets of Stone
Teach children about the Ten Commandments by making their own tablets of stone! Great for at home or in the classroom, this also reinforces counting and the Hebrew alphabet. From Joyful Jewish.

Shavuot Word Pomegranate
An activity to engage the entire classroom or family at once, this simple activity asks participants to come up with words and phrases associated with Shavuot to fill out an illustration of a pomegranate. A great way to create a visual reminder for all year 'round. From Hebrew Podcasts.

Printable Activity Book
This activity packet is great for younger children. In addition to teaching them about Shavuot and the Ten Commandments, it reinforces important skills like counting. Particularly useful for the classroom! From Jewish Homeschool.

Teach Shavuot Values
Kveller has some excellent ideas for teaching young children the important values of charity, loyalty, and kindness. Tell the story of the Book of Ruth to introduce these values, and reinforce them with these simple everyday reminders.

Test Your Knowledge!
If children have access to a computer at home or at school, they can test their knowledge of the Book of Ruth and the Shavuot story with a variety of quizzes and word matches online! Create a family or class challenge to see who can score the highest, or encourage children to improve on their own scores. From A Kid's Heart.

And, of course, read a good book! Kar-Ben has many unique and engaging books about Shavuot, from ones featuring Sammy Spider, to a photo story of children in Israel growing and harvesting their own wheat and making a cheesecake, to the story of little Mount Sinai. Find these Shavuot books and more on the Kar-Ben website!

May 14, 2014

Learn About Lag Ba'Omer with Books and Activities!

Lag Ba'Omer is an interesting and unique Jewish holiday that gives us an opportunity to step outside (literally!) and celebrate with bonfires, singing, picnics, and more. Lag Ba'Omer celebrates Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi, a sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva, and the great wisdom he brought into the world.

Interested in learning more about Lag Ba'Omer? Check out Sadie's Lag Ba'Omer Mystery, the fifth book in the Sadie and Ori series by Adventure Rabbi Jamie Korngold. View the book trailer here, or get the book on the Kar-Ben website!

Below we've included activities for teaching children about Lag Ba'Omer and celebrating at home with family or at school.

Build a Bonfire!
One of the most well-known traditions on Lag Ba'Omer is the building of a bonfire. These bonfires symbolize spiritual light and the impact of Rabbi Shimon's teachings.Whatever the size, a campfire or bonfire is a great way to bring family together for the holiday, and provides a great place for singing songs and making s'mores.

Bake a Bonfire Cake (or Cupcakes)
These cute cupcakes use red and orange icing and pretzel sticks to create the illusion of a bonfire. This is a fun craft for kids with some help from parents - they'll need help with the baking, but they can ice the cupcakes themselves. If you're looking to go bigger, you can create a bonfire cake instead!

Build a Diorama
Teach the story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi with an interactive diorama. Collecting materials for the diorama will get children outside, and after you put the diorama together you can use it to tell the story of Lag Ba'Omer together. Here's an example from Jewish Homeschool.

Paint a Watercolor
Many holidays have beautiful images or items associated with them, such as the shofar for Rosh Hashanah and the menorah for Hanukkah. These symbols help make holidays more meaningful by reminding us of past celebrations. Create a reminder of your Lag Ba'Omer celebration by painting a watercolor like these at Creative Jewish Mom.

Build a Popsicle Stick Bow
These easy-to-make bows (don't worry, they're not functional!) are a great craft for engaging children in Lag Ba'Omer. Children playing outside with mock bows and arrows is a Lag Ba'Omer tradition, arising from the belief that no rainbows were seen during Rabbi Shimon's lifetime because his good made up for all the bad in the world. From Creative Jewish Mom.

Or Just the Arrows!
If you don't want to bother with bows, these decorative arrows made out of skewers are a fun and lovely craft as well. Find the directions at Creative Jewish Mom.

Learn and Craft with this Activity Booklet
This free activity book from Jewish Homeschool teaches the stories of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon, along with pictures for coloring and simple activities to reinforce the most important parts of the story.

Plan a School Field Day
If you want to get ambitious, you can plan a school or classroom field day. Lag Ba'Omer falls toward the end of the school year, so this is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate spring and the anticipation of summer while also teaching about a holiday. Check out the Pre-School at Temple Emanuel's outline for a simple and collaborative day.

Pack a Picnic
If you don't have a space for a campfire or bonfire, pack a picnic instead and enjoy the outdoors. It is said that Rabbi Shimon and his son lived in a cave for twelve years, hiding from the Romans, and during this time they were nourished by a carob tree that grew at the cave's entrance. Celebrate the gifts of nature by spending the day outside. You can pick up a nature guide to learn more about the local vegetation and the different roles that plants play in our environment.

May 5, 2014

Israel at Home and in the Classroom

Yom Ha'atzma'ut is Israel's Independence Day. On May 14, 1948, or, on the Jewish calendar, the 5th of Iyar in 5708, David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the state of Israel. From that day on, the 5th of Iyar became a national holiday. Today, Yom Ha'atzma'ut is celebrated by Jewish people around the world. Israel gives the Jewish people

Some activities are perfect for Yom Ha'atzma'ut. Others are ideal for homes or classrooms that want to deepen children's connection to and love of Israel all year round.

Create a Mizrach
In many Jewish homes, a mizrach hangs on the easternmost wall as a reminder of Israel and the direction in which it lies. This is a wonderful visual for children that encourages them to think about Israel year-round. In this fun and colorful craft, children can create their own mizrach for their home (or classroom) using glue and colorful sand. Click here for directions.

From the Jewish National Fund.

Make Israeli Flag T-Shirts
Using plain white shirts, fabric paint, and cut-out sponges, children can make their very own Israeli flag shirts to wear for Yom Ha'atzma'ut festivities or on any other day of the year! Click here for directions.

From InfoBarrel.com

Decorate with an Israeli Wind Sock
This is a fun twist on making an Israeli flag. This page also has a number of other interesting activities for Yom Ha'atzma'ut, including making an Israeli lantern. Click here for directions.

From Hebrew Podcasts.

Snacks in Blue and White!
Celebrate Israel with a selection of snacks that emulate the colors of the Israeli flag! Bake a vanilla cake and ice it with vanilla frosting and blueberries, keep it simple and healthy with vanilla yogurt and blueberries, or get creative and invent your own blue and white snacks!

Speaking of Snacks . . .
You can also prepare a selection of traditional Israeli snacks and foods, such as hummus, schnitzel, and falafel. Help children connect with Israel by engaging their sense of taste!

Blue and White Painted Planters
In the United States, Yom Ha'atzma'ut aligns with the beginning of spring. Celebrate these two events together, and create a lasting reminder of Israel, with these painted flowerpots. Click here for directions.

From ReformJudaism.org.

Israel, All Year Long
Some classrooms may prefer to incorporate Israel into their classroom all year long to really develop their students' understanding of and connection to the country. Some ideas include building your very own Western Wall using brown paper lunch sacks, teaching students the Israeli national anthem and other traditional Israeli songs as part of a song-a-week or song-a-month program, decorating your classroom with photos of Israel, and inviting special visitors to the classroom to share their experiences traveling or living in Israel.

And, of course, read a good book!
Explore the Holy Land with Kar-Ben! Travel around Israel while learning the importance of the land through these engaging books. The Kar-Ben website has an entire section dedicated to books about Israel - from books that show preschoolers celebrating Yom Ha'atzma'ut to Grover and his friends cleaning up a playground. Click here to see the full selection!

You can also see a special trailer for a new Fall 2014 book about a true event in the life of Golda Meir, Israel's first female Prime Minister! Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir's First Crusade is available beginning June 1!