Jan 31, 2013

Win The Purim Superhero eBook!

For a chance to win an eBook version of The Purim Superhero all you have to do is post a comment below (maybe tell us about your favorite Purim costume) or Tweet this line: "Have you met Superhero Nate? RT to win THE PURIM SUPERHERO eBook from @KarBenPub"

We'll be giving away 3 eBook copies! The winners of The Purim Superhero will be announced on this blog next Thursday, 2/7. Make sure to check the blog to see if it's your lucky day!

Kar-Ben eBooks can be viewed on any browser-enabled device or with a free app for iPad.
The Purim Superhero
by Els Kushner, illustrated by Mike Byrne
Nate loves aliens and he really wants to wear an alien costume for Purim, but his friends are all dressing as superheroes and he wants to fit in. What will he do? With the help of his two dads he makes a surprising decision.

Want a print copy? Get yours here.

Remembering Astronaut Ilan Ramon

February 1, 2013 will mark ten years since the Columbia disaster that claimed the life of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. Part of his remarkable story includes some items that he brought with him to space, including a small Torah scroll.
Author Tami Lehman-Wilzig wrote Keeping the Promise, (illustrated by Craig Orback) a children's picture book which follows the incredible journey of a small Torah scroll from a Dutch rabbi to a Bar Mitzvah boy during the Holocaust and finally to Ilan Ramon.
An excerpt from the book:  

He thought about his mother who had also been in a concentration camp. After his visit to the professor, he returned to Houston and continued to train for his space voyage. Still, he couldn’t get the story of the tiny Torah scroll out of his mind. Finally, after a few weeks, he called the professor.

“Can I take the Torah scroll with me into outer space?” asked the astronaut. “Yes,” agreed
the professor. “Its story must be told.”
And so the tiny Torah scroll boarded the spaceship Columbia with Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. On January 21, 2003, while orbiting the earth, he held up the Torah scroll for all the
world to see. As he told its story, the Torah floated out of his hand in zero gravity. Afterwards he added:

“This little Sefer Torah in particular shows the ability of the Jewish people to survive everything,
even the darkest of times, and to always look forward with hope and faith for the future.”

Learn more about Ilan Ramon's incredible life and journey, as a documentary premieres this week on PBS stations around the United States.

Jan 21, 2013

Thank You, Trees!

As we celebrate Tu B’Shevat this year, here are some facts to share on why trees are important to our environment.
Trees produce the oxygen we use to breathe, and absorb carbon dioxide; this slows the effects of global warming.

An average tree can absorb 1 ton of carbon dioxide from the air in a year.

One medium sized tree can provide enough air for a family of 4 for one year.

Tree roots can prevent erosion.

Trees improve the quality of water by filtering water.

The shade a tree provides can reduce the earth’s temperature by 20 degrees.

Trees provide shelter and food for wildlife.

Some species of trees can grow up to 328 FT tall and can weigh 660 tons.

Many species of trees produce food and can have medicinal properties. 

33% of America is covered by forests and plants.

Discover Kar-Ben's collection of Tu B'Shevat books!

Jan 16, 2013

Meet The Purim Superhero Author Elisabeth Kushner

The Purim Superhero author Elisabeth Kushner lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her spouse, Lise, their daughter, and a jumble of books and musical instruments. If she were a superhero, she'd be Orange Ukulele Girl. Her favorite kind of hamentaschen is poppyseed. This is her first children’s book.

Meet Elisabeth and learn more about her book--the first LGBT-inclusive Jewish-themed children's book published in English--The Purim Superhero.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?
As a child, I had two favorite novels: A LITTLE PRINCESS, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and HARRIET THE SPY, by Louise Fitzhugh. I read both of them over and over. They’re different in so many ways, but they’re both books about young girls in great cities (London and New York) who overcome serious problems through storytelling or writing. That theme appeals to me a lot, for obvious reasons, I guess. I also loved a book called THE TALL BOOK OF MAKE-BELIEVE, a sort of anthology of poems and stories—some famous, some obscure--that all touched on some kind of magic or imagination. It had the most wonderful illustrations, by Garth Williams (before he became famous for his illustrations of E. B. White’s Stuart Little and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series).

What’s your favorite line from a book?

My favorite line from a children’s book is from MAX’S BREAKFAST, by Rosemary Wells: “You can’t hide from your egg, Max.” And it’s true. You can’t. Your egg, whatever it is, will always find you, wherever you are.

Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
I’ve always been a word person; words are how I think and express myself and understand the world. I don’t even like music that doesn’t have words in it. So I always wrote things down—like Harriet the Spy, I had a Notebook-- and always wanted to write a book because I loved books so much.

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
My advice is the same as that of almost everyone who’s ever written about writing: you just have to do it. And you don’t have to be a special kind of person to write; you just have to write For a long time I thought I had to be a more confident or brave or polished or disciplined or wise, or, well, just a *different* kind of person to be a Real Writer. But I didn’t. I could be the flawed and imperfect human being that I was, and am. I just had to be that person, writing things down, and then revising them.

Where did you get the inspiration for The Purim Superhero?
The direct inspiration for this book came from two places. First, I was a librarian at a Jewish day school for nine years, and in that time I read dozens and dozens of Jewish picture books to library classes. I was always looking for books to share at Jewish holidays. And it always seemed weird to me that there were lots of great read-aloud stories about Chanukah, and a good number of Passover books, but there were almost no books about contemporary Jewish kids celebrating Purim. It seemed like such a natural theme for a children’s book, with many of the appealing qualities of Halloween and April Fool’s Day (Costumes! Silliness! Carnivals! Treats!), but most of the books I found, while wonderful, were basically retellings of the story of Esther. I wanted a book to share with my classes that would reflect and expand on their present-day experience of celebrating Purim. I thought a kid with a costume crisis might be a good hook for a story, and I tried to start one, but it didn’t go anywhere.

Then, a few years after I’d left that job, I heard about Keshet’s Picture Book Contest: Keshet is a wonderful organization for Jewish gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and they sponsored a contest for a picture book with both gay/lesbian and Jewish content. Apparently there had never been one, which really surprised me! I was working on a novel at the time, plus I had a day job and a family, and at first I thought I didn’t have time for another project. But then I thought, wait, I’m a Jewish lesbian, I’m a parent, I’m a writer, and I’ve read *lots* of Jewish picture books. If I don’t enter this contest, I’ll never forgive myself!

And I realized that my old idea for a Purim story was a perfect fit for this project: Purim is very much about “coming out” as yourself—Esther is a great example of someone who comes out of the closet for a good cause—and I thought that would be a good setting for a book about a kid with gay parents.

What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
I’m very excited that this is a picture book about a kid with same-sex parents where his family structure is not the problem, but is still an important part of the story. I think that kids like my daughter and her friends, and like many of the kids I knew at the Jewish Day School, who’ve been lucky enough to grow up in inclusive and accepting communities, will recognize children like themselves and their friends in this story. And I hope that kids with any kind of family and any religious background who feel weird and self-conscious because they like different things than their friends or classmates—and I think that’s all kids, at some point—will find inspiration and sustenance in Nate’s story.

I am also really excited to be promoting a Purim story about a contemporary Jewish kid! I know there are more now than when I first started thinking about this book, but it’s still an aspect of the book that’s close to my heart.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing or illustrating your book?
When I started THE PURIM SUPERHERO I had just finished a first draft of a novel, and had struggled with the plot and resolution. Plot is really hard for me! I turned to this project with some relief, thinking, “Well, I wrote a novel, and this is just a picture book; how hard could it be?” And was amazed and astounded to discover that I had all the same plot-related problems with the picture book that I’d had with the novel—in fact, it was even harder, because it had to be so compact. That was a humbling and educational experience.

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
I hope that Nate’s story will help children recognize that they can be all the parts of themselves at once: the self that is Jewish; the self that is part of their family; whatever its structure; and the self that loves aliens or superheroes or rock stars or whatever it is that they’re passionate about.

I also think that a compelling story about believable characters (which is what I hope THE PURIM SUPERHERO is) has a deep value in itself, and that a good Jewish story broadens and enriches the Jewish world of the reader; it doesn’t have to teach a lesson or do anything else except to be a good story.

What are some fun facts about you?
I come from a musical family, and my spouse, Lise, is a musician, but I never could manage to learn a musical instrument until a few years ago, when I took up the ukulele. I have a little orange ukulele that I play all the time now. It drives my daughter nuts but it makes me really happy to play. I use it when I do storytimes at the public library where I work now, and kids always want to know about the “little guitar.”

Buy a copy of The Purim Superhero, available in hardcover and paperback. 

Tu B'Shevat Teachable Moments

Despite its minor status in the hierarchy of Jewish holidays, Tu B’Shevat still has significance in today’s modern world. Tu B’Shevat has evolved into an opportunity to celebrate a connection to Israel while promoting environmentalism. Tu B’Shevat provides a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about the importance of a healthy planet.

In Sammy Spider’s First Tu B’Shevat, the Shapiros observe the holiday by going outside and planting a tree. While it’s much too cold here in Minnesota to do the same, there are still many ways to help the planet.

Many families will grow parsley so that kids can experience what it’s like to nurture a plant. The parsley could also be used on the seder plate for Passover. If you’re not into parsley, bean sprouts are a good alternative for a kid-friendly plant. Another option is donating to organizations like the Jewish National Fund which uses the money to plant trees in Israel.

Spend the day eating fruit and enjoying environmentally friendly activities. After each meal, practice recycling and put the fruit skins in the compost. Conserve your electricity and water by shutting it off when it’s not needed. Go to your local botanical gardens or nature conservatory (indoors if necessary) and walk around in the greenery. Test each other to see who can memorize the most plant names.

Whatever you choose to do, take this opportunity to talk to your kids about why it’s important to take care of the planet. It’s theirs to inherit and nurture.

Jan 9, 2013

15 Tu B’Shevat Facts

Did You Know?

1. Tu B’Shevat is celebrated on the 15th of Shevat on the Hebrew calendar. “Tu” is Hebrew for 15.

2. Tu B’Shevat is the birthday for trees and was originally meant to help farmers determine when the trees were mature enough for their fruits to be harvested.

3. The Rabbis picked the 15th of Shevat because they believed that the climate in Israel was them suitable for planting and harvesting trees.

4. Fruit trees are considered important in the Torah because of their symbolism for life, growth and nourishment. (Have you read The Apple Tree's Discovery by Peninnah Schram?)

5. Parsley is often planted in areas of the world where it is too cold to plant trees during Tu B’Shevat. The parsley will often be used a couple months later on the Passover seder plate.

6. Traditionally, a cedar tree would be planted for a baby boy and a cypress tree for a baby girl.

7. There’s a ban against cutting down fruit trees during a battle siege in the Torah.

8. When a fruit tree turned four, its fruits were given to the Temple Priests as a tax.

9. The importance of Tu B’Shevat fell with the destruction of the second Temple (and there were no more Priests to receive the tax), but rose again with the Kabbalists during the 15th century.

10. The Kabbalists created the Tu B’Shevat seder during the medieval period and modeled it after the Passover seder.

11. Early Zionists planted trees in Israel to help restore Israel’s land and as a symbol of the growth of the Jewish people.

12. It’s customary to drink four glasses of wine on Tu B’Shevat.

13. The most common fruits to eat during Tu B’Shevat are olives, dates, grapes, figs, and pomegranates.

14. Many Jews around the world observe Tu B’Shevat by donating money to the Jewish National Fund that purchases trees to reforest Israel.

15. Today, Tu B’Shevat is associated with Jewish environmentalism and upholding a connection to Israel.
Discover Kar-Ben's books about Tu B'Shevat!