Oct 29, 2010

Based on a True Story

We were recently contacted by Gary Bart, the great-nephew of Zishe the Strongman. (Zishe’s real name was Ziegmund Breitbart; Gary’s father shortened the last name to Bart.) Gary lives in Los Angeles and collects stories and memorabilia about his great-uncle. He was kind enough to share this true story about the legendary Strongman. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Gary! For more about Zishe, check out our new book Zishe the Strongman!

My great-uncle Zishe actually lifted an elephant! This sensational story was published in many newspapers in NY in 1923. Zishe had a lot of imitators who tried to copy his great acts of strength. The most famous of these imitators was Eric Hanussen who had quite a unique idea. On a great stage, he would hypnotize a young woman and tell the audience that his hypnotism was so powerful that he could give this girl magical powers of strength to be even stronger than Zishe!

Here's what happened. There was a large cage with a baby elephant inside. Hanussen would hypnotize the girl and then she would climb a ladder to get on top of the cage and would strap herself to heavy ropes that went thru a large set of pulleys. With the starps on her shoulders she kneeled down and then slowly lifted herself up. As she did this the elephant would be lifted slighty off the ground. The crowd applauded with amazement.

Zishe was very suspicious, how can such a young girl lift an elephant? At her performance the following night, Zishe was in the front row with an engineer friend. Just as she was about to climb the elephant cage, the engineer ran up on stage and climbed the ladder and took the rope off of all the pulleys and shouted, “Let’s see if you can lift this elephant without the help of all these pulleys!” The girl became very nervous and tried and tried but of course she couldn’t even budge the elephant. The crowd became very angry and shouted “Fake, fake, fake.”

When Zishe walked onto the stage the audience grew silent to see the real strongman. Zishe spoke to the crowd, “If I honestly lift the elephant, will you be satisfied?” “YES” roared the crowd. Zishe opened the cage, and brought the elephant onto the stage. He took the heavy rope and asked for a ladder from backstage. Zishe tied the rope several times around the elephant and slowly climbed the ladder. Could Zishe really lift such a heavy animal all by himself? Standing on the ladder he pulled and pulled until his face turned blue and with every ounce of strength in him the elephant was lifted off the floor. The crowd went wild with enthusiasm, and many people ran onto the stage and carried Zishe off on their shoulders.

Oct 14, 2010

The Purpose of Picture Books

Despite last week’s prediction by the New York Times, the demise of the picture book is not yet upon us. At least not children’s picture books with Jewish themes! So many Jewish families continue to turn to picture books to learn about our religion, heritage and place in the world. A story like Engineer Ari and the Sukkah Express will likely have pictures of a lulav and etrog; Rosh Hashanah stories like The Secret Shofar of Barcelona may feature a shofar. A Hanukkah story may feature a menorah or dreidel and show how families and groups use them in their celebrations. Without pictures, these stories would be accessible only to children and families who know what these items are and are already familiar with them. Picture books continue to open new worlds to both children and parents, especially those dealing with the rich diversity of the Jewish experience.

Illustrations can add subtlety to the story experience and can teach important lessons beyond the words of the tale. An illustration of a seder that just happens to includes two men with a child in a highchair between them, a main character who is portrayed wearing glasses and is still the most popular in the class (no mention of the glasses in the narrative), a synagogue scene with multi-cultural faces, or an illustration of a classroom that happens to include a child in a wheelchair are subtleties that might make an important statement or create a teachable moment. Without art, these subtleties would all be lost.

While chapter books are wonderful and have a purpose in a child's reading progress, sometimes it’s only through a picture book that a child can come to truly understand a story. Certainly some parents will continue to push their preschoolers to read chapter books in the race to succeed, but those parents are doing their children a disservice, depriving them of some rich cultural learning experiences.

Artwork from Abraham's Search for God, illustrated by Natascia Ugliano.

Sep 29, 2010

Celebrate Simchat Torah!

October 1st is Simchat Torah! This is the day when we celebrate the end and beginning in the cycle of our Torah readings. Why not make a new tradition in your home or classroom by reading your favorite book from start to finish? Try the new Sammy Spider's First Simchat Torah!

In Sammy's latest adventure, he crawls down his web to inspect the candy apple Josh has attached to his Simchat Torah flag. When Josh leaves for synagogue, he doesn’t notice the spider stuck to his apple! Atop Josh’s flag, Sammy joins the Simchat Torah parade, dances with the Torah, and learns about this very special holiday in the Jewish year.

Here's how to make candy apples for Simchat Torah!
10 small red apples
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup water
8 drops red food coloring
10 small wooden dowls or popsicle sticks
1 sheet wax paper

Make sure an adult helps with the recipe! Boiling sugar is very hot.

Wash and dry apples. Insert sticks or dowels at stem or base. Mix sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and add food coloring. Boil for 20 mins. Do not stir. Remove pan from stove and dip apples into mixture one at a time. Place on wax paper to cool. Enjoy at your Simchat Torah parade!

Aug 31, 2010

A Family's Tashlich Ritual as Told in a Picture Book

Shanah Tovah from Kar-Ben! We sat down with Susan Schnur, the co-author of Tashlich at Turtle Rock, a new book for Rosh Hashanah. She wrote the book with her daughter, Anna Schnur-Fishman, based on their own family's Tashlich ritual. We hope you enjoy the book and are inspired to add a nature walk to your Rosh Hashanah celebration!

Where did you get the inspiration for Tashlich at Turtle Rock?
It comes straight from the spiritual Jewish stuff that my husband and I and our two kids do at home. In fact, the names of the two kids in the book are just the real names of my kids -- Lincoln and Anna.

What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
The idea that you can do cool Jewish stuff outdoors with your own family!

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing your book?
That it's really fun to write with another human being. I liked writing with my daughter when she was in a good mood, but, for some reason, I also really enjoyed writing with her when she was cranky. I think because I understood that her crankiness had something to do with those moments in the creative process when you're sure that everything you're putting on paper is wrong. It was also cool to write with someone whose literary voice you often trust more than your own.

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
If a family starts having the confidence to create Jewish rituals of their own at home, out-of-doors, that's very hopeful for Judaism.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?
The Harold and the Purple Crayon series.

What’s your favorite line from a book?
The last lines from Charlotte's Web: "Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
For children's book authors, I love Daniel Pinkwater. For grownup book authors, I love Rilke. My fave children's book illustrator is N.C. Wyeth.

Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
I've written since I was 6 years old. Though I went to seminary and then got a doctorate in psychology, in the heartiest part of my hearty-heart-heart, I have always been, and remain, a writer.

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
To write children's literature, you should start by being a child.

Aug 10, 2010

Beautiful Blogger Award

Thank you, People of the Books, for nominating us for the Beautiful Blogger Award! We're honored to be recognized!

With the award come these responsibilities: we must share seven interesting facts about our company and nominate seven other blogs for the award. Here goes...

1. Kar-Ben Publishing is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2010! We were founded in 1975.

2. Kar-Ben's first book, My Very Own Haggadah, is still in print, with over 2,000,000 copies sold!

3. Kar-Ben has received more Sydney Taylor Book Awards than any other publishing company. Our 2009 Honor Award winners are Benjamin and the Silver Goblet and Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim.

3. Many Kar-Ben authors have hands-on experience in working with young readers. If you enjoy a book and want to enrich your children's or students' experience, you can invite the author to your next book event.

4. Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, is – surprise! -- not headquartered on the East Coast. We’re located in the Warehouse District in downtown Minneapolis. Yes, we have 40,000+ Jews in Minnesota!

5. In addition to children's books, we also publish Jewish calendars. They come in six formats and are used in offices, schools, and organizations all over North America. Schools and organizations can also customize the calendars for use as fundraisers and promotions.

6. The first Sammy Spider title, Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah, by Sylvia A. Rouss, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn, was published in 1993. That makes Sammy 17 years old! Post Bar Mitzvah, but still learning about Jewish life!

7. There is only well known Jewish holiday for which Kar-Ben has not (yet?) published a children’s book – Tisha B’Av. (If you've got a story idea or manuscript, here are our submission guidelines.)

Seven blogs we're nominating:
The Whole Megillah : A new blog about Jewish books for young readers
Ima on the Bima : An effervescent mom blogging about raising a family and being a rabbi
Homeshuling : A unique perspective about Jewish parenting, always entertaining and thought-provoking
Interfaith Family : Great resource for families, couples, and educators exploring Jewish life
Tami Lehman-Wilzig : About diverse customs and traditions in Jewish culture
The Book of Life : A podcast all about Jewish books!
Lerner Publishing Group : An inside look at the children's publishing world

Thanks again, People of the Books! It's wonderful to be recognized and tip our hat to fellow bloggers!

Jun 1, 2010

Israel's National Dog

Can you figure out what kind of dog this is? Why is it important in Israel?

Check out Zvuvi's blog to find out more!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

May 17, 2010

Books Bring Shavuot into Your Home

This year, the holiday of Shavuot is May 19 and 20. Also known as the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot falls seven weeks after Passover and marks the day when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses and the Israelites.

Erev Shavuot (the night of May 18) is traditionally a night of study, when observant groups gather to read and discuss Torah. Since this isn't a realistic practice for families with young children (and early bedtimes!), why not add a Shavuot book to your regular bedtime story rotation? It's a wonderful way to share this special holiday with young readers.

For many children, preschool is a time for learning rules and understanding why they exist. In No Rules for Michael, a little boy wishes there were no rules, and the results aren't exactly what he wanted.

With 50 carefully chosen words and photographs of preschoolers acting out the Ten Commandments, Ten Good Rules introduces young children to the fundamental rules while teaching them to count from one to ten. The commandments have been recast in positive child-friendly language to make them easier for children to understand.

It is said that the words of the Torah are as sweet as milk and honey, so it is traditional to eat dairy foods, such as blintzes or cheesecake, to celebrate Shavuot. In Sammy Spider's First Shavuot, preschoolers learn along with Sammy about following steps in recipes. Here's a recipe for blintzes using ingredients that are probably already in your kitchen!

Mrs. Shapiro's Blintz Recipe
Adapted from Sammy Spider's First Shavuot

1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup milk
2 tsp neutral flavored oil such as canola

Mix flour, eggs, and milk together. Heat oil in frying pan over medium-high heat. When heated, drop spoonful of batter and tilt the pan to coat. When lightly browned, flip over to cook briefly. Remove from pan and stack pancakes between paper towels.

1lb small curd cottage cheese, drained
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar

Mix filling ingredients. Place a spoonful in the center of each blintz. Tuck in sides and roll. Place blintzes in buttered baking dish and bake at 375 degrees for 30 mins.

May 10, 2010

A Seder for the Troops, Part II

To follow up with a previous post, Rabbi Josh Sherwin sent us photos of his seders in Afghanistan. Twenty-five soldiers, Marines, and sailors participated in the first seder, and twelve participated in his second seder at a different base. Thank you, Rabbi Sherwin, for sharing the photos with us!

Rabbi Sherwin writes, "Kar-Ben Haggadot helped to greatly enhance our experience and celebration, providing us with many good English readings, songs, and transliterations to make our Seder meaningful."

All photos appear courtesy of Rabbi Josh Sherwin.

May 3, 2010

Enrich Your Reading Experience with an Author Event

Kar-Ben authors visits schools and book fairs across the country. Students get the opportunity to meet the author and ask them about their books and writing careers. Authors meet their audience and are able to add value to the students' experience of reading their books. It's a rewarding experience for all!

Here's a clip of a school visit by Stacia Deutsch, author of Hot Pursuit. If you're interested in having Stacia or any Kar-Ben author visit your school or book fair, email publicity@karben.com for more information.

Apr 14, 2010

Yale Strom's Musical Visit to Asia

Author and klezmer musician Yale Strom recently traveled to Japan and Hong Kong to play music and read his book The Wedding that Saved a Town! Photos can be found at the JCC Japan's flickr page.

Mar 5, 2010

A Seder for the Troops

Today's guest blog post is very special. It's from Rabbi Josh Sherwin, who is a chaplain in the Navy. He asked Kar-Ben to donate Haggadahs for him to take to Afghanistan. Of course, we were happy to oblige! (It's like a modern-day Private Joel and the Sewell Mountain Seder!) Thanks, Rabbi Sherwin!

I am currently stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and am one of only 8 Rabbis serving on active duty with the Navy. In case you did not know, Navy chaplains serve not only the Navy, but also the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps, so of the 8 of us, I believe 4 are with the Navy, 1 with the Coast Guard, and I am one of 3 serving with the Marine Corps. Being that there are only 3 of us with the Marines, I am assigned to the Second Marine Division, but doing double duty as the Rabbi in charge of the Jewish Chapel at the base.

I recently received word that I am being sent to Afghanistan this Passover in support of our deployed Marines in Sailors. While I do not know exactly how many Jews we have currently in Afghanistan, I have been told that I can expect as many as 50 to attend the Seder we will be holding there, and we will have approximately 75 attendees at the Seder taking place at Camp Lejeune. Kar-Ben's assistance will be a great asset to us in ensuring that these men and women get the Seder experience that they deserve.

As you know, I grew up in a Rabbinical family, (my grandfather is Rabbi Kassel Abelson, Rabbi Emeritus of Beth El Synagogue in Minneapolis) but when I decided to follow in the family footsteps I was not sure that I wanted to become a pulpit Rabbi. As I was preparing to enter Rabbinical School at Jewish Theological Seminary, I heard a Rabbi serving as a Navy Chaplain give a Scholar in Residence weekend, and the thing he had to say really intrigued me. I spent two years participating in the Chaplain Candidate Program, a program that allows seminary students to accept a commission as an officer in the military and to intern with Chaplains serving on active duty. I graduated from JTS last May, and entered the Navy in the fall.

I am very thankful for Kar-Ben's support, and I look forward to sending you pictures of our service men and women using your Haggadot.

Josh Sherwin

Check out our follow-up post to see photos of the troops at their seder!

Mar 2, 2010

Inside The Shabbat Box

Today's guest post is from Lesley Simpson, author of The Shabbat Box and The Purim Surprise. Her stories have delighted readers in Jewish homes and classrooms. Lesley was kind enough to sit down with us and share how The Shabbat Box came to be such a classic and loveable story. Thanks, Lesley!

Where did you get the idea to write The Shabbat Box?
When my son was in kindergarten, one Friday he brought home a shoebox covered in blue velvet. The box had the word Shabbat in Hebrew letters. Inside the box there was a kiddush cup, some candles, homemade challah rolls from the teacher, and a little book where parents shared their stories about how their kids had used the Shabbat box. I had never seen a Shabbat box before. And I remember being amazed that this box, wrapped in a plastic bag to protect the elegant velvet during the winter snow, was still in one piece, and that the contents were intact. I was amazed because in this particular class there was a rotation system set up, and each kid got a turn to take the box home Friday and return it Monday. I remember lifting the lid. Kiddush cup? Check. Little candlesticks? Check. Shabbat Candles? Check. It seemed like a miracle, especially for five year olds who might be considered particularly skilled when it comes to losing snow pants, mittens and lunchboxes. I think they were, in their own way, each honored to have a turn, and they treated the box with respect. It was seeing this box that inspired me to write the story.

What happened after the book was published?
When you write a book it sometimes takes on a life of its own. You don’t know how people are going to react to the story, what kind of impact it might make, and what kind of independent life it will have without you. With this book, I was tickled when I learned that the book had inspired kids to make their own Shabbat boxes.

Recently, writer Amy Meltzer told a story on her blog (Homeshuling) that was like the story in my book, only it was REAL LIFE. She was concerned her daughter Ella, then five, might not get a turn to take home the Shabbat box from her classroom and that they might need to take matters into their own hands and make one. On the blog you can see a picture of Ella with her gorgeous challah cover. I was not kidding when I said I wanted one!

You will see at the back of the book there are ideas of how to make your own Shabbat box and what you can use to put inside. So you know those shoeboxes you toss into the recycling? Hold onto them. Ribbons from gift-wrap? Buttons that have fallen off coats and dresses? Pop them in the shoebox. Clothing that’s torn, stained, or too small? Save this material—everyone has stuff around their house and you can use anything from old mop strings to a broken hair ribbon or seashells for decoration.

Create a new use for an old thing. (This is something I love to do—finding a new use for an old thing. For example, I am now saving my old sweaty stinky running shoes to plant flowers in them this spring. They will be transformed with flowers spilling out where feet used to be!) It is also something that is a fundamental Jewish value—not to waste.

When I had a book launch for The Shabbat Box we created a series of art stations where kids could paint challah covers, make a spice pouch of besamim, and staple wallpaper samples and fabric to shoeboxes. The range of design was staggering to see, with boxes decorated with everything from sparkly beads, old buttons, ribbons, glitter, fake flowers, stickers, fabric scraps, felt pieces —you name it. You can collect beautiful junk, share your junk with a friend, and make some boxes on a rainy day. Walk around your house and ask people you live with to give you stuff that is broken or torn. Learn to look at it not , for example, as a ripped washcloth, or broken necklace, or uncooked macaroni, but as raw material you can transform.

What do you do when you visit schools or synagogues?
If I am reading The Shabbat Box, I have designed a hands-on art program that will enrich the reading experience. I bring my own box to show the students. I actually have two boxes: one my son made when he was about five, and another one we made during my book launch. The variety shows the kids the possibilities in terms of designing their own creations. I like the idea of making something that is functional, not a cut and paste picture that’s destined for the blue box . You can make something you can use, week after week, whether it’s the challah cover or the candlesticks.

During one of the Jewish Book Fairs in Toronto, the staff created a program where kids could make a placemat and then laminate it. This craft was a great fit because everyone knows someone will manage to spill the grape juice Friday night (or something else) and with lamination, you just wipe clean and bring it out again. In my box, I have some plastic Kiddush cups decorated with beads, a fabric pouch of besamim filled with cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon (it smells so aromatic it’s addictive), as well as a hand painted challah cover on white canvas. And my confession? Sometimes my box includes candy (as long as I don’t eat it first!)

How can schools get in touch with you?
I am delighted to do readings. Contact me at lesley@lesleysimpson.ca. Label your e-mail "Reading Request for The Shabbat Box."

Check out Jonah's Shabbat box, inspired by the book! (video appears courtesy of Reading Kids are Dreaming Kids)

Feb 15, 2010

How to Get Moving

First Lady Michelle Obama recently made an announcement about a new campaign we can all get excited about. It's called Let's Move, and it's based on four principles: encouraging children and families to make healthier food choices, improving the quality of foods in our schools, make healthier, more affordable food available to across the nation, and educate children about the importance of physical activity.

Adults can learn a thing or two from this program as well! For me, the easiest way to eat healthier was to shop at local farmers markets during the summer and fall. I can get affordable, fresh, locally-grown produce. I'm inspired to cook new dishes and look forward to the return of my favorite fruits and vegetables that are in abundance at various times of the season.

A simple way to get kids excited about new foods is to invite them into the kitchen to cook with you! Little hands can help out with basic tasks like as kneading your challah dough for Shabbat, mixing the charoset at Passover, or picking out apples to serve at Rosh Hashanah. Kids learn how to make traditional foods and even the pickiest kids will be curious to try new dishes if they see how they're made.

Check out Matzah Meals and Tasty Bible Stories for easy, kids-friendly recipes with a Jewish twist!

That takes care of the food portion of Let's Move. The physical activity part isn't so easy!

Alef-Bet Yoga for Kids combines yoga poses with the letters of the Hebrew Alef-Bet. Kids use their imaginations and their bodies to form Hebrew letters. Alef-Bet yoga can be done indoors as well as outdoors and it doesn't require more than a book and some floor space.

Sometimes, all it takes is some music to get you moving! Rabbi Joe Black's book Boker Tov! includes a CD with his catchy tune about waking up and getting ready for the day. Perfect for slow movers, sleepyheads, and grownups on the days when coffee isn't enough.

Does your class or family practice Alef-Bet yoga? Do you have any ideas of how to integrate Let's Move into your Jewish home or classroom? Send us your photos and we'll post them on our blog and Facebook page!

Feb 11, 2010

Jewish Ties to Black History Month

February is Black History Month and we would like to highlight two unique stories that have ties to African Americans and Jewish Americans.

Carolivia Herron (author of the acclaimed Nappy Hair) based her book Always an Olivia on her unique ancestry. In the story, an elderly black grandmother passes on the story of her family's Jewish origins to her young granddaughter, Carol Olivia. As family members flee the Spanish Inquisition, are kidnapped by pirates, and eventually sail to America, one daughter in each generation is given the name Olivia, from the Hebrew Shulamit, meaning "peace," to honor the Jewish part of their ancestry.

Always an Olivia reminds us that Jewish people have a variety of backgrounds. It's a great introduction to tracing your family's lineage, or doing a classroom project on family trees and ancestry. Many times, what makes us different can actually bring us closer together.

Dr. Herron is an acclaimed storyteller, professor, and tikkun olam activist based in Washington, D.C. To learn more about Dr. Herron, including her creative process and her thoughts on being an African American Jew, here is a fascinating interview from emPOWER Magazine.

In their new book Hot Pursuit, authors Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon re-imagine the fateful car ride of three Civil Rights workers in 1964 Mississippi. Mickey Schwermer and Andrew Goodman were young Jewish men who came from New York to Mississippi during the Freedom Summer, when many organizations worked to register black voters and establish better schools during a time of segregation and inequality. There they met James Cheney, another worker. While riding together on June 21, 1964, the three men were stopped for a false traffic violation and taken to jail. They were released later that night, only to go missing before they could make it back home. Their bodies were found weeks later; they had been brutally beaten and shot.

Hot Pursuit tells an important story and reminds us of the value of tikkun olam. James, Mickey, and Andrew devoted their lives to fighting segregation and improving the lives of others. We remember them during Black History Month as we look back at how far we've come, and think about what we can do in our own communities to educate others about tolerance.

Feb 3, 2010

Sydney Taylor Book Award on Tour!

The Sydney Taylor Book Award winners are hitting the road! So to speak.

The Awards Committee has organized a blog tour for this years award winners. Check out the Association of Jewish Libraries blog for full details, but here's a shortcut to our Sydney Taylor Honor Award winners...

Jacqueline Jules, author of Benjamin and the Silver Goblet, interviewed by ASHarmony

Joni Sussman, Publisher of Kar-Ben, interviewed at The Book of Life

Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim, interviewed at Ima on and off the Bima (plus a giveaway!)

Jago, illustrator of Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim, interviewed at Jewish Books for Children

Congratulations to all of this year's Sydney Taylor honorees! Happy reading!

Sydney Taylor Honor Award seal appears courtesy of the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Jan 27, 2010

Commemorating the Holocaust with Benno

Today is International Holocaust Commemoration Day, designated by the United Nations in 2005, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The United States and Jews everywhere commemorate the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah, the April anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

The Holocaust continues to be a difficult subject to grapple with, particularly when it comes to teaching children about this period of Jewish history. How young is too young to introduce this very serious subject, and what is the best way to introduce this topic -- books, films, story-telling? The days of having Holocaust survivors come to speak in classrooms are dwindling.

Kar-Ben has given a lot of serious thought to what sorts of books might be best for bringing the reality of the Holocaust to children. We've been publishing Holocaust-related books since our inception more than 30 years ago, with "The Yanov Torah" (now out of print) and the award-winning Keeping the Promise. These were followed by a couple of other unconventional Holocaust stories: Six Million Paper Clips and The Secret of Priest's Grotto.

Our newest picture book Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, by Meg Wiviott, is for ages 7-10 and takes a carefully considered step toward bringing the subject of the Holocaust to younger children. In this story, Benno the cat observes the appearance of the Nazis in Berlin, culminating in the shattering events of Kristallnacht. Benno, in the quiet way of a kitty, and as a young child might, sees his own life change as relationships in the neighborhood deteriorate, friendships break apart and the world as he knows it disappears. The art, by Canadian artist Josee Bisaillon, is very much a part of the story, conveying that topsy-turvy world from a cats-eye view. And, as in most real life Holocaust stories, there's no "happily ever after."

We'd be interested to know what you, our readers, think of this unusual and beautiful book, and what you think about teaching the Holocaust to children younger than 10 in a world where lessons of tolerance for and acceptance of differences is taught beginning in preschool. It's our hope that we can use the story of Benno and the lessons of the Holocaust to make this world a better place.

Jan 25, 2010

The Bible: A Book Loaded With Role Models

Today's guest blogger is Jacqueline Jules, author of many books, including the recent Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner Benjamin and the Silver Goblet. Thanks and congratulations, Jackie! You are an outstanding role model to authors and educators!

In elementary school, I returned to the library every week to ask for another blue paperback volume in the Childhood of Famous Americans series. As a child, I never tired of reading about people who overcame obstacles and grew up to do important things. Now, I am a big fan of famous rejection stories, which I tape above my computer monitor. My current favorite is the story of Madeleine L’Engle. Her Newbery Award winning A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 different publishers before going on to its current success of selling 15,000 copies a year since its publication in 1962.

Role models inspire us. They give us courage to pursue our dreams. And no book is more loaded with role models than the Bible. These stories have resonated for thousands of years because they give us examples of strong individuals who struggled to find meaning in their lives. The heroes in the Bible frequently had to choose their own conscience over the customs and moral attitudes of their surrounding society. In my picture book, Abraham’s Search for God, a young Abraham questions the traditions of his father. He says “Idols have mouths but cannot speak to me. They have ears but cannot hear me. How can an idol help me?” His father’s abrupt answer, “Don’t question our ways,” does not deter this thoughtful, inquisitive young man. He continues his spiritual quest to learn “Who made the clouds? Who made the flowers?” finally coming to the monotheistic conclusion that made him the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

But Abraham’s story doesn’t end with a declaration of belief. Together, with his wife, Sarah, Abraham teaches other families to worship one invisible God “too powerful to be made into a simple statue of wood or stone.” In my book, Sarah Laughs, I explore Abraham’s life from Sarah’s point of view. When she learns that her husband has heard God’s voice, she knows it means they must leave their comfortable home. Her response is simply, “We must go.” Through years of wandering, Sarah happily supports her husband and maintains a tent with a welcoming lamp and bread for all who visit. But she feels impatience and disappointment, too. Only in old age, after years of longing, does she finally receive what she wants most—a child. Her life embodies the hope that our dreams will come true, not matter how long they are delayed.

This kind of story and character speaks to the psyche of both children and adults. As a writer, I have enjoyed re-visiting my favorite Bible stories and being renewed by them. In Benjamin and the Silver Goblet, I had the opportunity to imagine what it was like for Benjamin, the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons. When he learns that his older brothers betrayed the family by selling their brother Joseph into slavery, he fears for his own safety. On a trip to Egypt, Benjamin is falsely accused of stealing the governor’s silver goblet. Will Jacob’s sons abandon a family member again? No, Judah defends Benjamin, offering his own life. The governor reveals his true identity as Joseph, and the family is reunited. It is the quintessential story of remorse and repentance. Remembering Benjamin’s plight, I can believe that people can change. They don’t have to make the same mistake twice. It helps me if I have trouble in my own life, forgiving a loved one who has wronged me.

The fourth story in this series, Miriam in the Desert, will be released in the fall of 2010. In this picture book, I follow Miriam and her grandson, Bezalel, as they witness the miracles in the desert. Once again, I was fascinated by a Biblical heroine, facing one hardship after another with fortitude and faith. I only hope that if I am ever in a difficult situation, I can be as comforting and courageous as Miriam. And I hope that when parents read my Bible stories with their children, both generations will find role models to guide and inspire their lives.

Check out the book trailer for Jacqueline's Bible series!

All artwork was by Natascia Ugliano.

Jan 18, 2010

Bringing "Hot Pursuit" to Life

Today's guest blogger is Craig Orback, who has illustrated several picture books including Keeping the Promise. Here he shares his research and creative process for his latest book, Hot Pursuit. It's about the murders of civil rights workers in 1964 Mississippi, so it's especially relevant today as we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. You can learn more about Craig at his website and blog. Thanks, Craig!

Almost a year ago I finished work on the book Hot Pursuit: Murder in Mississippi for Kar-Ben Publishing. This true story is written by Stacia Deutsch & Rhody Cohon and I was lucky enough to complete the 31 individual paintings.

Here is the description of the book provided by the publisher:

It was the Freedom Summer of 1964. Civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were driving through rural Mississippi. When a police cruiser flashed its lights behind them, they hesitated. Were these law-abiding officers or members of the Ku Klux Klan? Should they pull over or try to outrun their pursuers? The last day in the lives of these courageous young men is relived in this gripping story.

Being that I was born in 1971 I did not know a lot about this event in the Civil Rights Movement. I had seen the 1988 movie "
Mississippi Burning" that recounts the investigation of their disappearance but nothing is shown about the work they did before their tragic deaths. The time seemed right for an illustrated book for kids telling their story so I jumped at the chance to illustrate it.
As an illustrator, research always comes before pencil hits paper so I found lots of books and images on the internet to help familiarize me with the three main characters. I also read through several books about the civil rights movement and their story specifically. Usually I am looking for images that will help me to make my illustrations more accurate but reading the text provides me with important details not available in photos.

I had difficulty finding many photos of Mickey, Andrew and James. To the left are about the only images I could find.

In my research I learned that Mickey, the leader of the three civil rights workers, being from New York City was a fan of the NYC Mets baseball team and was seen most times wearing a baseball hat. That was a detail I had to include.

Since I didn't have a lot of photos of them to help me my next step was to take the photos I had and translate them into sketches which would help me later when painting them at various angles.

Two other characters important to the story are the law enforcement officers of Neshoba County Mississippi that arrest and jail the civil rights workers. I mostly show them in the shadows but these photos were helpful nonetheless.

Also in my research I learned that during the days before their disappearance in Mississippi they were driving around in a blue 1964 Ford station wagon. There were going to be lots of scenes of them in the car so I wanted to have some good photos of the inside and out of that kind of car. One day I decided to look on craigslist for similar cars for sale and amazingly enough found someone near Seattle was selling a car of that exact description. He was nice enough to let me take photos of his car. It wasn't blue but it was a great find nonetheless! Here is a photo of the real car from the story and photos I took of the similar one.

After all my research I was ready to start the paintings! Again I had 31 individual paintings to do when typically I only have about 15-20 to do for a book. Early on it was decided that this book should have a graphic novel feel which would mean there would sometimes be several illustrations on a page showing the action from different angles. This was a new challenge for me but I loved thinking of compositions in a new way.

Now it was time to start drawing! I will be showing you the steps I took to illustrate the scene from pages 20-21 in the book. It's one of the scenes showing the main characters being chased by the local sheriff. The story jumps several times from past to present showing them being chased by the sheriff and the hard decision Mickey has to make.

With any illustration I start with small thumbnail sketches.I liked to explore lots of ideas. To the right are the ones I came up with for that scene.

Eventually I get an idea I like and a larger sketch is made (here on the left).

I liked this one because in two illustrations it captured both the dramatic chase between the cars as well as the fear felt by the young men. All my larger sketches for the whole book were then reviewed by my publisher, some changes were requested, and then I was ready to complete the final paintings!

As my work is pretty realistic I like to have reference photos of models to paint from. For this book I was mostly able to use my self as a model then later made them look like the real life people I was depicting. Here are a few photos for that illustration. Note Mickey's Mets baseball cap.

Next I do a final line drawing (shown on the right) for myself based on my research and model photos.

I use a projector to transfer this small drawing to my final larger surface and can now finally start painting!

For these paintings I used oil paint on smooth illustration board. Oil allows me to rework a painting while still wet and I love the painterly look I can achieve with it. After a few days of painting this is the final page as it appears in the book!

As you can see there are a lot of steps when completing an illustration, especially throughout a book like Hot Pursuit. One of the pleasures for me was depicting details from the 1960's: a favorite decade for me with its great music, fun fashion and design, even if I did miss being a part of it by a couple of years! This book was a challenge for me in many ways but I felt lucky to be a part of sharing this important story with young readers.

Jan 13, 2010

Thank You, Readers!

It's been a thrill to connect with our readers through social media these past few months! Your comments, feedback, and enthusiasm is much appreciated!

As our thanks to you, we're offering 10% off your next order at karben.com! Use the coupon code SOCIAL* when you check out, and the discount will be automatically applied to your order.

While you're shopping, be sure to check out what's new! Here's a preview. Click on the covers for more information...

*Offer not valid with any other discounts. Web orders only. Expires 2/28/2010.

Jan 12, 2010

Awards Excitement!

No, we're not talking Golden Globes and Oscars, here. The Sydney Taylor Book Award winners have just been announced! The prestigious award, administered by the Association of Jewish Libraries, exclusively honors children’s and YA books of Jewish content.

Kar-Ben is pleased to announce that both Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim by Deborah Bodin Cohen (pictured left), illustrated by Jago, and Benjamin and the Silver Goblet by Jacqueline Jules (pictured right), illustrated by Natascia Ugliano, have won the 2010 Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Younger Readers! The authors and illustrators will be honored at the annual AJL conference in June 2010.

Four additional Kar-Ben titles were recognized as Sydney Taylor Award Notable Books:

The Secret Shofar of Barcelona by Jacqueline Dembar Greene, illus. by Doug Chayka
Sukkot Treasure Hunt by Allison Ofanansky, photos by Eliyahu Alpern
Menorah Under the Sea by Esther Susan Heller
The Man Who Flies with Birds by Carole G. Vogel and Yossi Leshem

Mazel tov to all the winners! It is an honor and pleasure to include your books in our catalogue.