Dec 28, 2011

Kids Home from School? Need Entertainment? Look in a Book

With kids home from school, the onus is sometimes on adults to keep them entertained. Books can provide multiple ways to keep kids entertained:
  • head to the library
  • take a favorite and turn it into a play
  • make paper bag puppets inspired by a book
  • sort and arrange books, selecting some to donate
  • set up the video camera or web cam and have older kids record their readings
  • transform an old board book into a chalkboard slate
  • create a scavenger hunt based on a favorite book
  • create your own books, in a simple (crayons and paper) or elaborate (computer and copy shop) way!
How do books keep you entertained?

Dec 16, 2011

“Iron Chef”? Try “Iron” Latkes!

A family I know hosts one of the most fun Hanukkah parties, and everyone looks forward to it each year: the "Iron" Latke Party. Each family brings their own latke creation and a taste test is done by all. Secret ballots are made and a family is declared a winner and actually given a trophy to keep at their house all year long. Plus, the bragging rights are pretty sweet.

Try these different recipes:

Dec 14, 2011

Hannukah: Free to Be Who You Are

There is an interesting piece today over at Raising Kvell by Jordana Horn. The gist of the piece is that a family cannot celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in deeply meaningful ways simultaneously. Horn prefaces the piece with a disclaimer that she knows that the piece might elicit strong feelings in readers. She underscores a really interesting point: "The Maccabees would rather die than observe any religion other than their own – they recognized that they would and could not be anything other than who they were, Jews. And it is that determination to be who we are and no one else that is what we are celebrating when we celebrate Hanukkah."

In the Kar-Ben book All About Hanukkah, there is a section called Free to Be that gives questions and ideas for families to think about and discuss while the Hanukkah candles are burning:
  • Trace you family's geography. Were there times when they emigrated in search of freedom?
  • Hanukkah was a struggle for spiritual freedom; Purim was a struggle for physical survival. How are they different?
  • Some families light an extra menorah to recall Jews living in poverty, and hunger who cannot celebrate Hanukkah.
by Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler
illustrated by Kinny Kreiswirth

The story of Hanukkah complete with candle blessings, rules for playing dreidel and other games, recipes, songs, and thoughts on miracles, giving, and more.
“…recommended not only for students beginning to learn about the holidays, but also for teachers and parents to use as guidelines for teaching children who have not yet been exposed to the holidays in depth. Any synagogue or day-school will benefit from adding these titles to their collections.” –Association of Jewish Libraries  Buy your copy today

Dec 2, 2011

Chag haBanot, Festival of the Daughters

Story excerpted from Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig

It’s cold and wet on the streets of Paris, but Jacqueline, Geannette, Danielle, and Margot are enjoying the toasty warmth of their Grand-mere’s home. The cousins have already lit the candles for the seventh night of Hanukkah. Grand-mere explains that this night is for girls only, the way it was in Nabeul, Tunisia, where she grew up.
“Hanukkah is the only holiday that starts in one Hebrew month, Kislev, and ends in another, Tevet," Grand-mere explains. “Tonight is Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new month. When I grew up, the Rosh Chodesh that fell during Hanukkah was a holiday within a holiday. It was called Chag haBanot, Festival of the Daughters.
“And you slept over at your Grand-mere’s house?” asks Jacqueline.
“We did more than that. While the candles burned, we relaxed. No one went into the kitchen. The next day we had a feast for women and girls only.”
“No annoying boys?” asks a wide-eyed Geannette.
“We did serve them a snack after candlelighting—an artichoke, olive spread, or a hard-boiled egg. But the really delicious food was saved for the women’s feast, where young and old gathered to honor Judith, the Hanukkah heroine.”
“I don’t remember a Maccabee named Judith,” insists Margot.
“Aha! I knew one of you would say that. Legend has it that the Maccabees were inspired by Judith’s bravery. Who knows her story?”
“I do,” says Danielle. “Judith fed a Syrian Greek general salty cheese that made him thirsty, so she gave him wine to drink. He got drunk and then she…”
“Stop,” insists Grand-mere. I’ll tell you the whole story tomorrow at the celebration. And I want each one of you to tell a story, too—about a different Jewish heroine.”
“Is that what you did?” asks Jacqueline.
“Oui,” answers Grand-mere. “We had heard enough stories about heroes. On the seventh day of Hanukkah we honored only our heroines: Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Miriam, Judith, Hannah, and…”
“And that’s it?” interrupts Geannette rudely. Danielle frowns at her. Geannette frowns back.
“That reminds me of another thing we did,” adds Grand-mere. “We settled all fights and apologized to one another.”
“Sorry,” says a half-hearted Danielle.
“Anything else?” continues Geannette.
“At the end of the meal we at special Debla cookies. We’ll bake some tomorrow.”
“No entertainment?” asks Margot.
“Of course,” smiles Grand-mere. “We danced and listened to all the popular songs.”
“Sung by women?”
Grand-mere pauses, gets up from her seat, and goes over to a table with drawers. “One last thing. One year my Grand-mere gave me four pieces of her favorite jewelry. Guess who’s going to get them tonight?”
Buy Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig

Dreidel Variation for Little Ones

Have little ones who don't have the patience to sit and play dreidel but still want to be involved?

Try this variation called Dreidel Hunt from the book All About Hanukkah ($7.95, paperback) by Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler:

One player (the little one) leave the room while the others hide a dreidel. When the player returns to hunto for the hidden dreidel, the rest of the players sing a Hanukkah song. As the searcher comes closer, the singing should get louder. See how long it takes each player to find the dreidel. As an alternative, use a CD of Hanukkah music and turn up the volume to note when the player is closer. Have prizes like gelt and trinkets for everyone!

Nov 30, 2011

Hanukkah and Olive Oil

Wonderfully unique, Harvest of Light is a Hanukkah book with no spinning driedels, no shiny presents and no glitzy parties, just the simple gift of olives from nature and the joy a young family experiences during the olive harvest. The book is newly available in paperback, and is a wonderful Hannukah gift (perhaps along with a bottle or two of olive oil) for any family.

Here is a hello from Harvest of Light author Allison Ofanansky from her home in Israel:
After a week of much-needed rain, the olives in the Galilee of northern Israel have turned plump and purple, full of oil.
Along with friends and neighbors, our family is busy harvesting the olives and taking them to the press. So far this year we have taken over 600 kilograms of olives to the press, from which we got about 180 liters of oil, and we aren't done yet!

Before I moved to Israel I never lit a hannukiah with oil, and did not know that hannukah is also a harvest holiday--the harvest of the olives for oil. In addition to lighting the hannukiah with our oil, we also love eating latkes fried in it!

How can you incorporate olive oil into your Hanukkah celebration?
Dip bread in olive oil at dinner
Bake olive oil cake
Have an olive oil tasting party
Make a facial scrub and moisturizer with olive oil and give it as a gift
Make flavored olive oils and give them as gifts
Buy or borrow a lamp that burns oil and use olive oil


Nov 29, 2011

Feliz Januca

In Mexico, the fesitval of lights is called "Januca."

Children play toma todo--a game of dreidel--but the highlight of the celebration is breaking a pinata shaped like a dreidel and collecting sweets and toys.

Learn more about Hanukkah, Latino-style, complete with recipes for bunuelos, or fried dough!

--from Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig

Nov 23, 2011

Great Gifts from Grandparents

Whether Grandma, Babba, Bubbe, Savta, Oma, Saba, Grandpa, Zeidy, Zayde, or Opa, as the line from the book A Grandma Like Yours reminds, whether you call them by their English, Yiddish, or Hebrew names, [grandparents] can be counted on to make each Jewish holiday a special occasion for their grandchildren.” 

One of the ways to make a holiday special is to make a memory together. Sharing a story is a fun way to do that, even if you are far away. You can read a story by telephone or Skype, or you can record yourself reading a book and send the recording and the book—a great help for beginning readers!

Great Gifts to Give this Hanukkah:

A whimsical collection of animal grandparents illustrate the characteristics of Jewish grandparents. Read about grandmas, bubbes and savtas from the front of the book, then flip it over to read about grandpas, zaydes and sabas from the other side.

Why can’t you be Jewish like me? Why can’t I be Christian like you? a young Jewish girl asks her non-Jewish grandfather.
In answer, her grandfather tells her the biblical story of Jethro, Moses’ non-Jewish father-in-law, whose relationship with his grandson Gershom is a model of love and respect.
With warm watercolor artwork and a gentle storyline, Papa Jethro sensitively looks at the issue of interfaith families and reminds us that the Bible has timely lessons for every generation.
Feivel the woodcarver leaves his family in the Old Country and comes to America to make a new life. As an apprentice to a carousel maker, he lovingly crafts a set of carousel horses in the spirit of his wife and children, dreaming of the day when they will be reunited in America. Based on the true story of Jewish immigrant woodcarvers whose carousel horses have delighted generations of children.
An elderly black grandmother passes on the story of the 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.
In writing the Sammy Spider books, Rouss said she intends for Jewish children to “see the beauty of the Jewish holidays and appreciate our celebrations.” According to Rouss, Jewish people have to “look to ourselves and see what we have in our religion that we can cherish—our holidays.” Sammy Spider is “an outsider that wants to be a part of our holidays. Sammy sees the beauty of it.”

Rouss said Jewish people are “very lucky” because we have a yearly cycle of celebrations that serve to reaffirm our Jewishness almost every month. In writing books for Jewish children, she hopes to instill them with a sense of excitement about being Jewish. Wouldn't you love to share this with your grandchild?

Nov 7, 2011

Guest Blogger: About Avi

Picture books may have relatively few words but they can convey big ideas. A manuscript goes through many rounds of revision and editing, and many people can be part of that process. In preparing Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles for publication, we showed the manuscript to a wide variety of readers, from preschool teachers to families with special needs children. We were especially interested in feedback from siblings of special needs kids, who we thought would have a very important point of view for us to consider. Rebecca Goldsteen, now a high school senior, is one of the siblings we approached during the editing process. She shared an important perspective on what it is like to have an older brother with autism. Rebecca provided us with important notes on the realism at the heart of the story—what a relationship is like between siblings, or with a friend who does not understand autism. We thank Rebecca for allowing us to share the following piece of her writing about her brother, which she developed as her college essay:

Being human means being imperfect. Being human means having flaws. Being human means being independent and original. But most of all, being human means interacting with the world around us, including the way we treat others.

When people realize my brother is autistic, whether or not they are aware if it, they immediately treat him and speak to him differently. This has made me very aware of the way I treat others, based on what I think I know about them.  Many people with autism are very skilled in something, whether it is related to school, sports, or hobbies. My brother, Avi, has the most impressive memory of anyone that I have ever encountered. Those who know this about him tend to associate it with his autism and categorize it as “the thing he’s good at." To those who know him well, however, it is easy to see that this aspect of him comes nowhere close to defining him as a person.

If anyone who knows him well were to be asked to describe him, some adjectives they might use include caring, sweet, funny, loving, smart, confident and creative. It is understandable that these words have been used an infinite number of times to describe countless individuals but they truly shine through Avi’s personality, specifically, through the way in which he treats his peers. Avi has taught me to treat everyone fairly, no matter what. Even if he doesn’t know someone, or has heard bad things about him or her, he talks to them respectfully, as if he or she is a close friend of his.

Most people don't really think about the importance of family until they are grown up. Avi never forgets to tell our immediate family, as well as our entire extended family, how much he loves and appreciates all of us. If not for him, I doubt I would think about how happy I am to have the family that I have, even though we have many flaws.

One day when my brothers and I were home, I was frustrated about something too small for me to be able to recall. Avi noticed my frustration and asked what was wrong. I explained to him why I was aggravated and he responded by asking, “Why?” This puzzled me. I tried once more to explain the reason and how there was nothing I could do about it. He shrugged, put one hand on his hip and scratched his head with the other, smiled, and asked if I wanted something to eat. I was amazed at how, although he understood my frustration; he couldn’t understand why I was focused on something so small and unimportant when I could be enjoying myself.

My friends have always been impressed with how difficult it is for me to become angry. I can’t say that it is because I have a high tolerance, because that is untrue. The reason I can easily disregard things that irritate most people is because I have learned to put myself in Avi’s shoes and see the way that he would perceive the situation and think; “Is this really worth getting mad about?” If the answer to this question is no, which it usually is, I simply forget my aggravation and move on.

Avi does not hold grudges. He truly understands the meaning of second chances. He wakes up every morning with the attitude that yesterday is history and that the present is full of possibilities. I have seen the way people treat other people, and I have seen the way that Avi treats other people. I strive to be like my big brother: to judge as little as possible, to ignore the little things that frustrate me, to make every experience as enjoyable as possible, to treat others the way that I want to be treated, to do things not because I am supposed to but because I want to, to make every day better than the day before, to love with all my heart and most importantly, to be happy.

--Rebecca Goldsteen

Nov 2, 2011

How Will You Teach About Kristallnacht?

Kristallnacht was November 9, 1938. Though it occurred seventy-three years ago, Kristallnacht remains an important historical event about which children should learn. Named a School Library Journal Best Book of 2010, Benno and the Night of Broken Glass is a picture book that thoughtfully and carefully introduces young readers to the Holocaust through the eyes of a cat.

Benno was the neighborhood's favorite cat. During the week, he napped in a sunny corner of Mitzi Stein's dress shop, and begged scraps from Moshe the Butcher. He spent Shabbat evenings with Sophie Adler's family in Apartment 3B. But one night the Nazis came to Berlin. Windows were shattered, books were burned, and Benno's Jewish friends disappeared. Life would never be the same.

Praise for Benno and the Night of Broken Glass:

"[W]hat truly distinguishes this book is the striking multimedia artwork composed of paper, fabric, and drawn images in hues of olive, brown, and red. Interesting angles, textures, and patterns add to the visual effect throughout. . . . [T]he message of terror and sadness that marks the beginning of the Holocaust is transmitted in a way that is both meaningful and comprehensible."
School Library Journal

"It is not easy to tell young kids the horrifying truth about the Holocaust, but this picture book is a good place to start."

Oct 25, 2011

Weaving Pictures & Words: An Illustrator's Perspective on Writing

My name is Durga Yael Bernhard, and I am an illustrator and an author.  Why did I say "illustrator" first?  Usually the author writes a book first, and then it is illustrated.  If one person does both, he or she usually says they are an author and an illustrator, not the other way around. 

But for me, pictures have always come before words.  I've always “thought visually.”  From the age of thirteen, I knew I wanted to be a painter, and by the time I was sixteen, I knew children's books would be part of my career someday.  I was a visual arts major at SUNY Purchase, learned printmaking at the Art Students' League of NY, and studied illustration at the School of Visual Art in Manhattan.  My first job, while I was in college, was at a telephone publishing company, where I learned how to paste up galleys with the latest modern invention, a waxing machine.  I worked at a slanted drafting table with a t-square, a triangle, and razor blades.  I liked the work; it left my mind free to think and wander, to listen to the radio, and to enjoy conversations with my co-workers.  Later, I started working for a magazine publisher, where I was allowed to contribute “in-house” illustrations to a variety of specialty magazines.  I drew blacksmith bellows and chainsaw blades, passengers moving through turnstiles, rabbit cages on a forklift, and fingers punching a cash register – whatever was needed – and it was the best practice in the world for a young illustrator.  I learned to be flexible, to communicate visually, and to please the reader.  Most of all, I learned the first axiom of graphic design: how to work within limitations.  Designers do not get to set parameters; they work within them. 

In my late twenties, an opportunity came my way to meet the editor-in-chief at Holiday House.  Holiday House is among the last family-owned independent children's book publishing companies.  I took the train to Manhattan, and walked with my portfolio from Grand Central Station to 425 Madison Avenue.  The editor liked my artwork, but did not have a story for me to illustrate.  At her suggestion, I wrote my first book, What's Maggie Up To?, about a painting I had done for my son's bedroom.  The painting showed a stack of colorful windows in what appeared to be a white-walled Mediterranean villa.  Each window showed someone, and something, different.  The story was written around the art.  The apartment building became home to a cast of characters who together took care of a stray cat named Maggie.  For me, each window was a graphic opportunity.  I designed the whole book, with ten little kittens to count at the end.  It was a simple story, but a good beginning. 

Over thirty books later, I still write about pictures.  Even if the writing comes out on paper first, it begins with an image, and then another image, like a slide show on a screen.  If I am illustrating another author's writing, the words instantly form pictures in my mind.  Even the sound of a title forms a picture.  In a funny way, I don't even think of myself as a writer.  It's just part of my job, sometimes, to string images together with words. 

Green Bible Stories was both a challenge and an honor, because the classic stories from Torah that I illustrated are so well-known.  How could I do justice to these ancient stories which have already formed pictures in so many people's minds?  It was difficult to choose just one or two images per story.  But I was blessed with an unexpected trip to Israel just two days after the manuscript arrived in my inbox, and got to walk the land where some of the stories took place.  I went into the Judean Desert and sketched the date palms and mesas; no photograph could have conveyed the heat and spaciousness that I experienced there firsthand.  I visited Ne'ot Kedumim, the Biblical land reserve outside Jerusalem, and did several paintings there.  These studies helped me convey the local flora, and a more palpable sense of texture and light, in the illustrations.  When I came home, the rainy weather in New York made the Biblical terrain stand out even more by contrast as I worked on the final art. 

Making a book is like weaving a tapestry.  When all the strands come together, the result is like something both man-made and natural, with a richness all its own.  Pictures and words are like the many-colored threads of a weaving.  How they come together is up to you.
Durga Yael Bernhard is the illustrator of Green Bible Stories for Children, and these images are her studies of Israel's landscape.


It is with great sadness that we announce to Kar-Ben’s customers and friends the death of Nancy Kaplan, Kar-Ben’s longtime customer service representative. Nancy was a kind, caring and lovely person, devoted to her family and friends, an active volunteer with the Girl Scouts, Hadassah, and the Beth El Synagogue Women’s League. She treated Kar-Ben colleagues and customers like family, asking about everybody’s children and grandchildren, wanting everybody to be happy and healthy, and sharing both joys and sorrows with a wide range of people. She loved Jewish children’s books, and especially enjoyed when local preschoolers came on field trips to tour Kar-Ben’s book warehouse, their eyes open in wonder and delight when they spied Sammy Spider books or other titles which they recognized. Nancy was a loving wife to Ron, mother to Brenda and Debbie, and bubbie to Anya, Brianna and Ezra. We will miss her dearly. May her memory be for a blessing.

Joni Sussman, Publisher
Kar-Ben Publishing

Oct 24, 2011

Bullying, Library Books and Maccabees

October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month. A recent article in School Library Journal pointed out a startling statistic that of the more than 43,000 teens between the ages of 15 and 18 attending public and private schools surveyed about bullying in a study,  over half of them had been victims of bullying or had bullied other students. 

Bullying, like most any other topic, lends itself to examination through the teachable moments books can provide.  In thinking about Kar-Ben’s catalog, the books that present tropes for understanding bullying best are Hanukkah and Purim books. Both holidays are about the oppression of people by bullies who seek power and domination. Tilda Balsley’s book Maccabee! tells the story of the Maccabee revolt against Antiochus, a figure who meets each of the parts of the primary definition of a bully (from

Imbalance of Power: people who bully use their power to control or harm and the people being bullied may have a hard time defending themselves

Intent to Cause Harm: actions done by accident are not bullying; the person bullying has a goal to cause harm

Repetition: incidents of bullying happen to the same the person over and over by the same person or group

As a reader of Balsley’s book, I am most captivated by a refrain that repeats several times:

Sometimes it only takes a few,
Who know what’s right, and do it, too.

Whether it is a bully, a bystander, a school administrator, teacher or parent, maybe this is the best teachable moment that the story of Hanukkah inspires: a problem—even a pervasive and devastating one—can be alleviated when someone—bully, bystander, advocate—who knows what is right takes action.

Oct 19, 2011

Sukkot Inspires Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has much in common with the festival of Sukkot.
The Bible was an important book for the early American settlers. They named their children Benjamin, Joshua, and Rachel after people in the Bible, and called their towns Sinai, Canaan, and Jordan after places in the Bible.
The pilgrims compared their voyage to America to the Exodus from Egypt. The Atlantic Ocean was their Red Sea, and America was their Promised Land. In 1621, when they gathered to give thanks for a good harvest after a hard year in the New World, the settlers were reminded of the Biblical holiday of Sukkot, and created their own harvest festival.

Is your celebration of Sukkot similar to your celebration of Thanksgiving? How?
Excerpt from All AboutSukkot by Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler

Oct 17, 2011

Four Species, Four Types of People

Did you know?

The etrog is both sweet-smelling and tasty.

Dates, from the lulav, have taste but no smell.

Hadasim (myrtle) have smell but no taste.

Aravot (willow) have neither taste nor smell.
The rabbis said they are like the many kinds of people who make up the Jewish community…those who study, those who pray, those who give tzedakah, and those who rely on the goodness of others.
Which one are you?

From All About Sukkot by Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler

(photo of four species from Wikipedia)

Oct 14, 2011

Tzedakah at Sukkot

Tzedakah was an important mitzvah for Jewish farmers, especially at the time of harvest.
The Torah commands farmers to leave a portion of crops unpicked, so the poor might glean (gather) them for food.
Farmers also are required to set aside a tithe (a tenth) of their grain, oil, wine, and livestock. A portion was used to feed the priests at the Holy Temple, and a portion to feed the poor.
Today, some families help glean crops to donate to food banks. Others contribute funds to shelters and soup kitchens that help feed the hungry.
What mitzvot are you doing this Sukkot?
From All About Sukkot by Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler.

Oct 11, 2011

An Author, An Illustrator, An Editor and ZB the Zebra

Ever wonder how a book goes from idea to printed, bound pages held in your hands?  The Whole Megillah recently interviewed Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast author Jamie Korngold, illustrator Julie Fortenberry and editor/publisher Joni Sussman to learn more about the creative synergy that produced the book.

The creation of a picture book requires a lot of deliberation and the magic of bringing the best resources together to create the right overall feeling of a book. Perhaps the greatest secret ingredient here were the photos supplied by Jamie to Julie of her children’s stuffed animals (or “stuffies,” as she calls them). Stuffed animals do turn out to be the heroes of the book (you’ll have to read to learn why!), and Jamie’s “kids are thrilled to see them in the book, especially ZB the Zebra.” Clearly, as you can see above, the right forces are at work here!
Read the entire piece at The Whole Megillah blog.

Learn more about Sadie's Sukkah Breakfast and more Sukkot books from Kar-Ben.

Oct 10, 2011

Sadie's Sukkah Breakfast...A Fun New Preschool Tradition?

Sadie's Sukkah Breakfast is the first book in Kar-Ben’s new “Sadie” series (the next one is due out this spring for Shavuot--Sadie and the Big Mountain). Waking up early in the morning on Sukkot, sister and brother Sadie and Ori decide to serve breakfast in the family sukkah. But when the table is set and the food is ready, they remember that a sukkah celebration needs guests. No one is awake, so who can they invite?
Sadie and Ori use their problem solving skills and ingenuity to decide who to invite into their sukkah—their beloved stuffed animals. The book can become the inspiration for a class “teddy bear picnic” in a class or school sukkah, which would also involve the class using their own problem solving skills and ingenuity to design, build and decorate a sukkah worthy of such a meal. Additionally, students can learn basic manners and etiquette and what it means to host others and to share. Eat cereal and challah rolls just like Sadie and Ori!

Learn more about Sadie's Sukkah Breakfast!

Oct 6, 2011

Tolerance, Torah and Tears in Tennessee

Beth Huppin, a Judaics teacher from Seattle and recent recipient of the National Covenant Award, shares an account of her unusual Rosh Hashanah experience this year. Traveling with her husband, Huppin, who generally attends Shul on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, agreed “with some ambivalence” to visit Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee instead. This school, famous for creating a monument to Holocaust victims of Nazi Germany using paper clips as a means for understanding the staggering number of victims, became the subject of the documentary film Paper Clips and the Kar-Ben book Six Million Paper Clips. Huppin’s husband, also an educator, has taught about the Whitwell program in his classes and wanted to visit.

The project, begun about ten years ago, was started by now retired principal Linda Hooper, who remains involved. The school continues to train student docents to give tours to the public, archives letters that continue to arrive “from every corner of the world,” and collects artifacts for the project’s resource room. The day Huppin visited, a class of African-American students from Chattanooga also arrived, learning about the Holocaust from the young white Christian docents -- on Rosh Hashanah.

Two artifacts, in particular, caught Huppin’s attention: a Torah and an Aron Kodesh (a Holy Ark), in a place in America where most people have never met a Jewish person. She writes:

With tears in my eyes I explained to Linda that this was my first Rosh HaShanah not in synagogue. I told her that my friend, Shelly, had reminded me that there is more than one way to worship. Entering this room and seeing the Torah, I was overwhelmed. Being a religious person herself, I could see that Linda understood. God sees and hears prayers in many different forms, she assured me.
Curious students asked to see the Torah, and Huppin and her husband retrieved their tallitot from their car and carefully unrolled the Torah. Huppin chanted from the beginning of Numbers in Hebrew, and the mainly religious (Christian) student body knew there was common ground. After her reading, Huppin relates:

A girl came up to me after the students left, in tears, so moved to have experienced a Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah. It wasn’t the right Torah reading. (I had considered rolling the Torah to the Akedah, but there wasn’t time.) And there wasn’t a minyan. And we hadn’t recited the requiredt prayers. But, as Shelly told me, worship comes in many forms. And we had just experienced it.
I told Linda that this experience would not have been the same if it hadn’t been Rosh Hashanah. “Well then, it must be beshert,” she (a woman who had lived her whole life in rural Tennessee) said with a grin, using the Yiddish word that loosely translated means “fate.”  Of course.
Beshert indeed.

Sep 28, 2011

Be Rude at Rosh Hashanah

In a recent essay in the Albany Times Union, Kar-Ben author Linda Elovitz Marshall writes about the power of words and their ability to create conflict or bring understanding. Marshall’s most recent book Talia and the Rude Vegetables, plays with language as the young protagonist mishears her grandmother ask her to gather root vegetables from the garden for a Rosh Hashanah stew. Marshall writes:

As she digs for the seven vegetables her grandmother requested, Talia ponders what makes a vegetable rude. Does it talk back to its mother and father? Does it push its brothers and sisters around? Talia remembers that she, too, has been rude and that the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah is coming.
Rosh Hashanah is coming, Talia says, I must ask their forgiveness.
As a child, Talia sees clearly what we, adults, often miss. Talia knows she has been wrong and must ask forgiveness. Rosh Hashanah is coming.
As Marshall continues to connect words and deeds in her piece, she emphasizes forgiveness during the Days of Awe, writing: “One might wonder if that is what happened with the children of Abraham. One might wonder if Hagar and Sarah had spoken kindly to each other, cuddled each other's offspring, perhaps there would be more happiness in the world.” Indeed, the connections between thoughts, words and actions is apparent at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Marshall’s assertion that through awareness of rudeness we can arrive at forgiveness is a compelling one.

Read the whole piece.

Sep 21, 2011

Is Blowing the Shofar Dangerous?

Jacqueline Dembar Greene is the award-winning author of more than 30 books for young readers. She loves to write stories about the Sephardic Jews who were her ancestors. Ms. Greene has traveled to Spain, walking in the ancient Jewish quarters in Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Seville and Cordoba.  We interviewed Jacqueline about writing The Secret Shofar of Barcelona, a book that depicts a daring Rosh Hashanah celebration in a dark time in Jewish history:
"Musician Don Fernando longs to hear the sounds of the shofar on the High Holidays, but, like the other secret Jews in Inquisition-era Spain, he must hide his religion. When he is asked to perform a symphony celebrating the new world, he and his son Rafael devise a daring plan to usher in the Jewish New Year in plain sight of the Spanish nobility!"  

Where did you get the inspiration for The Secret Shofar of Barcelona?
There was a legend about a composer from Barcelona, who lived during the time of the Inquisition. It was said that he had dared to play the shofar during a concert, risking his life so that the secret Jews could hear it. That sketchy tale inspired me to create new characters, and research the history of music in 1500s Spain. I imagined a new story about young Rafael, who courageously blows the shofar on Rosh Hashanah eve, right under the noses of the dreaded Inquisition.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing or illustrating your book?
I was stunned to realize that the secret Jews living in Spain under the rule of the Inquisition had never heard the sound of the shofar. Not hearing that call during the High Holy Days would leave an empty feeling in anyone observing the holidays. I was also surprised to learn that the Spanish conquerors in New Spain (now Mexico) taught the native people to play western instruments, taught them to play church music, and used many native instruments, as well. It was a way to bring non-believers into the church service.

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
I always write a book to engage a reader or listener to use their imagination as they enter into a different world. The story of Rafael in The Secret Shofar of Barcelona shows how one person, even a child, can make a difference for many. It also demonstrates that standing up for your beliefs sometimes takes real courage.

Anything else you would like to share with readers?
Books open new worlds to you, and every time you curl up with a book in your lap, you have a chance to let your imagination roam and have an armchair adventure. No matter how many electronic games and videos you might choose, a book is always what you make it in your own mind. Always have a book by your side—it doesn’t need a battery! Buy a copy of The Secret Shofar of Barcelona.                                                                                           

Sep 13, 2011

Hanukkah Story Promotes Autism Awareness

Stories can be powerful, accessible ways for children to understand people different than themselves. Stories can also show that people share universal traits in common, like the desire to be happy, healthy and part of a family. Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles is a book that will connect readers with a young autistic character.
Kar-Ben author Tami Lehman-Wilzig lived for a year in Providence, where she met local PJ Library director, Nicole Katzman. Tami introduced Nicole to her books and Nicole, the mother of four young children (one of whom is autistic) and a fierce campaigner for autistic children's rights, told Tami about her determination to have a book on an autistic child written for the American Jewish community. It didn't take long for the two to pair up and develop Kar-Ben's new book Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles. Read the authors’ exchange about their story:

Nicole: Accepting the other in our midst is an important Jewish value. As a mother of an autistic child I didn't feel that acceptance. All too often I found the situation to be reverse and at times painful. I knew that in order to help children understand how to accept the other they needed a story to which they could relate.

Tami: I understood Nicole's feeling of urgency. One of my sons has special needs and I remembered how difficult it was for him as a child. In addition, there were autistic twins in our neighborhood while our sons were growing up, so I was already familiar with autistic behavior. For example, they would continually repeat the same question or statement, but we needed more than behavioral differences. We needed a peg around which we could develop a compelling story.

Nicole: At first I tried writing a story, but it didn't work. After reading it, Tami decided that she had to “interview” me. So I told her all about our son Nathan. She kept prodding me with questions. Finally, she said 'give me an example of something Nathan did that got you really upset.'

Tami: The minute Nicole related the incident of Nathan blowing out the Hanukkah candles the previous year, I knew we had the peg. It was perfect. Nathan's action was off the chart and Hanukkah was a wonderful setting. Creating a story around it with the right feel was the challenge. I wanted the story to be true – not too sugary, but not too tough. Finding the right balance was a challenge and it took several drafts, plus the help of “book doctor” Deborah Brodie to put me on the right track. It was Deborah who suggested that I tell the story from a sibling's vantage point.  The minute I did that, everything fell into place. Since I was already familiar with the repetitive nature of autistic children's conversations, I used that particular quirk to jump start the story. I consulted with Nicole throughout the entire writing process to make sure that Nathan's behavior was on track, as well as the reactions of siblings and kids.  

Nicole: It's exciting for me to have a book on an autistic child that is specifically my son. It's more than a dream come true. It's an opportunity to open people's eyes and minds. Too often they are misinformed about autism, insensitive in their comments and judgmental of both the child and his/her caregivers.

Tami: I am so pleased that Nicole inspired me to write this book. Both of us feel that Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles will make an important contribution to the Jewish community by being read aloud in the classroom or at home, and then used to open a conversation on how to love, respect and understand children who are different.

Nicole: Do you have a child with autism, or a friend or relative? If you have a story of your own please share it with us. Help us break down the barriers.

Please add your voice to Tami and Nicole’s initiative to create more understanding about autism.  Please post your own comments, story or insights about autism below.

Linda Elovitz Marshall Cooks Up a Rosh Hashanah Story

Finding inspiration for stories is almost always an interesting process. Linda Elovitz Marshall’s new book Talia and the Rude Vegetables has inspirations that are as varied as they are interesting. We interviewed Linda to learn more:
Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
I love words and I love playing with words. I like to string them together in all sorts of different ways and see what happens. I never get tired of this game. I guess that’s why I like writing.
Where did you get the inspiration for Talia and the Rude Vegetables?
One of the things I enjoy doing is helping people from other countries learn to speak English. While I was teaching a Russian speaker, I realized that there’s not much difference between the sounds of the words “root” and “rude.” I combined this with a recipe that I use for Rosh Hashanah (based on root vegetables, many of which I used to grow in my garden). And that’s how I cooked up the story! I used the name “Talia” because my granddaughter, Talia, was born just about the same time I presented the story to my editor at Kar-Ben.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing or illustrating your book?
In an early version, Talia sold the perfect vegetables and gave the money to her grandmother. When I showed that version to my Russian student, she said, “Nyet! Money is not to be in a story for children.” I thought about what she said. And I thought about Tzedakah. That’s how I got the idea that Talia should give the perfect vegetables to the rabbi, for distribution to the poor.

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
I hope the book will help Jewish children appreciate the joys of gardening and the need to help the hungry.
Get ideas for Rosh Hashanah related activities: grow your own "rude" vegetable.