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 www.stopbullying.gov):

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.