Apr 29, 2013

What Does a Gorilla Gift at Hanukkah? Ask Author Jane Sutton!

Being funny is hard work. Not all writers have a wellspring of humor to tap into or the patience to refine an idea until it goes from potentially humorous to side-splitting. Jane Sutton, elected class comedienne in high school, gives young readers everywhere the gift of giggles as they read her new Hanukkah book about a gift mix-up, Esther's Hanukkah Disaster (available September 2013).

Esther's Hanukkah Disaster
It’s hard to pick the perfect gift, and Esther the Gorilla’s choices seem all wrong at first. But it all gets sorted out when she invites her animal friends to a joyful Hanukkah party.
Jane Sutton grew up in Roslyn, Long Island, where she began writing stories and poems at a young age. She graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A. in Comparative Literature. In addition to writing books, Jane is a writing tutor and teaches a community education class for adults about how to write for kids. She, her husband, and grown children live in the Boston area.

We interviewed Jane about being a cut-up and having the guts to cut (as in revision) and about Esther's Hanukkah Disaster:
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Horton Hatches an Egg by Dr. Seuss

What’s your favorite line from a book?
From George and Martha by James Marshall: “How do you expect to walk home with your loafers full of split pea soup?” she asked George.

Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
James Marshall, Arnold Lobel, Virginia Lee Burton

Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
I have always enjoyed writing. In elementary school, I would turn an assignment to "write a paragraph using all the spelling words" into a three-act play. An essay I wrote in fifth grade is entitled "A Criticism of Humanity on Behalf of the Ducks." In college (Brandeis University), a sociology professor assigned us to "do something you always wanted to do and keep a journal on it." I wrote a series of children's stories, and that’s when I knew I wanted to write children’s books.

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
Write, write, write. Keep a notebook with you at all times (well, maybe not in the shower) because you never know when you’ll get an idea for a story.

Where did you get the inspiration for your latest or upcoming Kar-Ben book?
I used to tell my children a version of this story, and it gradually evolved into a book.

What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
The book carries a lesson about the importance of putting oneself in another’s place, but it does so subtly, without hitting the reader over the head, and it’s lots of fun. I think the book lends itself to re-reading because young listeners will know from the beginning how inappropriate Esther’s gift choices are and, I hope, giggle with anticipation of the consequences.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing your book?
I learned that my revisions were more effective when I put the book aside for a few days and then returned to it. The time and distance made me see that certain parts could be improved or even cut.

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
At first Esther (the main character) purchases gifts because they appeal to her, not really thinking about the recipient. Her eventual understanding encourages the Jewish value of thinking about others—compassion and empathy. Also, the characters express clearly that the significance of the holiday of Hanukkah is more important than the gifts. And finally, even though these are anthropomorphic animals, they enjoy rich Jewish traditions.

Anything else you would like to share with readers?
I didn’t want to grow up. I figured being a child was a good deal: I got free food and I didn’t have to go to work. When I realized I did have to get older after all, I promised myself that I would always remember what it was like to be a child. Being a children’s book author is a way of fulfilling that promise to myself.

Apr 26, 2013

Have You Met Sadie (and the Author Who Created Her)?

Wonderfully preciocious and charmingly sweet, to know Sadie is to love her. She worries all week long when she learns that her class will be climbing a mountain to celebrate Shavuot, relieved that it just turns out to be a hill behind her school. She solves the problem of inviting guests to dine in the family's sukkah at an early hour by inviting her stuffed animals as breakfast guests. In the newest book in the series--number 3 of 6 planned so far--Sadie artistic expressions in clay smash to bits by accident, yet she finds a way to salvage the pieces and make a new family tradition. Sadie's Sukkah Breakfast and Sadie and the Big Mountain have been embraced by readers who are looking forward to a new release this fall, Sadie's Almost Marvelous Menorah.

Sadie is the brainchild of Jamie Korngold, who is the mom of two girls Sadie and Ori. Jamie is the spiritual leader of the Adventure Rabbi Program. She received her ordination from Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion. She has served as a congregational rabbi in the U.S. and Canada, a street musician in Japan, a cook on a boat in Alaska helping with the Exxon Valdez oil spill clean-up, and an Outward Bound guide. She is the author of the Sadie series, the best-selling God in the Wilderness (Doubleday) and The God Upgrade (Jewish Lights). She lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Let's get to know author Jamie Korngold:

Jamie appears as a character in Sadie and the Big Mountain
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish pictures by Fritz Siebel

What’s your favorite line from a book?
“The night is keen and cold.”  – Lauren Thompson Polar Bear Night

Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
Amy Hest (the Friday Night’s of Nana)
Jane Dyer
Dr. Seuss

Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
I love to tell stories!

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
Read and listen to lots and lots of books. Notice the words that make up the story. Words are so much fun. I love of words. When you discover a word that is fun to say (for example I love to say, “bumble bee and pumpernickel”) make up a story using those words. The secret ingredient for making a fabulous book is to use words that paint pictures in the reader’s mind. The order of the words is also important, but getting the right words is the key!

This is my favorite word game. Invite your family or friends to pick the characters or objects to put in your story.  For example, yesterday my daughters asked for a story with, princesses, a warthog, and pumpernickel bagels.  Then you get to make up a story using those words.

Where did you get the inspiration for your latest or upcoming Kar-Ben book?
Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah is a true story, except it happened to me and the menorah was light blue. I was about 5-years old. I can still remember how broken hearted I was when I dropped the menorah and it shattered. My mom was ingenious for coming up with the idea of Super Shammus.  What a great mom. We still have Super Shammus!

What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
I admire how the mother takes a child’s perceived catastrophe and turns it into a celebration.  There is a lot of great parenting in that moment!

The theme of all my children’s books is that we have to make Judaism our own for it make our lives more meaningful.

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
I hope this book reminds  kids that there is always  a place at the Jewish table for them. In this story the broken menorah gets to be the star. You don’t have to be perfect to have a place at the Jewish table.

Apr 25, 2013

Meet “Rifka Takes a Bow” Author Betty Rosenberg Perlov

Sometimes a picture book can encapsulate the spirit of a very specific time and place. When this happens it is always special, but it doubly special if the collective cultural memory of that time and place is rapidly fading.
At the turn of the century in New York City, the place to go for any Jewish person—immigrant or not—was the Yiddish Theater. New York’s vibrant Jewish immigrant community on the Lower East Side boasted the Yiddish Theater District.  With roots reaching back to Eastern Europe, the comic, dramatic and musical performances of the Yiddish Theater found an enthusiastic audience in thousands of Yiddish-speaking immigrants. The Yiddish Theater provided a shared experience for immigrants from different parts of the world who had a language in common, but sometimes little else.  It offered entertainment and amusement, but education, too. Popular with all classes of people, the productions exposed audiences to culture, such as Yiddish adaptations of Shakespearean plays. Productions raised relevant issues of the day, such as conflict between old ways and new, assimilation, and Jewish values. The Yiddish Theater launched many stage and song greats, from actresses Molly Picon and Sophie Tucker, actor Edward G. Robinson, singer Eddie Cantor, and songwriter Irving Berlin, and once-child actress and now first-time book author, Betty Rosenberg Perlov.
Betty Rosenberg Perlov, age 96, grew up in the Yiddish Theater, where her mother was an actress and her father a playwright, actor, and producer. Always artistic, she was a "child star" on her father’s weekly Yiddish radio soap opera, Men Without Eyes, in which she played a blinded young woman who was jilted by her betrothed.

Eventually Betty was married and assumed a fairly traditional life of middle class parent and wife, but always felt a need for artistic expression. In her fifties, Betty decided to go to college and earned a BA. Then, in her sixties, she went to NYU for graduate studies in Speech Pathology, received an MS and became a licensed speech pathologist, working in the field through her seventies. Satisfying as this was, Betty still felt the need to share her artistic gifts with others, feeling not completely realized as an artist. That is until now, since her beautiful book does the magic of transporting us to the past and exciting young minds about the possibilities of performance. Rifka Takes a Bow will be available in Fall 2013.
Q & A with Betty!

What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Gulliver’s Travels

What’s your favorite line from a book?
“Open Sesame”

Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
John Tenniel, JD Salinger, Isaac Babel

Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
Because I wanted to emulate the authors and artists who inspired me as a child.

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
Don’t be discouraged by rejection.  Always persevere.  I’m 96 years old and look at me.

Where did you get the inspiration for your latest or upcoming Kar-Ben book?
When I was a child, my parents were Yiddish Theater performers and I was awe-struck by the magical world of the theater and my parents’ workplace.

What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
The Yiddish Theater started approximately 130 years ago and I very much want to see its memory kept alive.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing or illustrating your book?
I learned that I can remember small and subtle details from many years ago.
How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
I want Jewish Children to be aware of a very exciting part of their culture – one that, perhaps, they do not know much about.

What are some fun facts about you?
When I was three years old, I knew 53 songs in Russian and Yiddish.

Meet "Thank You, Trees! Author" Marilyn Gootman

It is amazing just how much can be conveyed in a space as small as a 12 page board book, but an author with the educational background that Marilyn Gootman has can select each word thoughtfully and deliberately and make it truly count.

Marilyn Gootman’s most recent book Thank You, Trees! (written in collaboration with Gail Langer Karwoski and illustrated by Kristen Balouch) does just that, sharing messages about Judaism, the environment and multiculturalism through the interplay of very few words and images. The New York Times wrote of Thank You, Trees!: "This charming celebration of Tu B’Shevat marries Jewish tradition with contemporary environmentalism in a celebration of trees, reflecting the way the winter holiday is celebrated today in much of Israel.” That is a lot for 12 pages!

Marilyn Gootman and Gail Langer Karwoski
Marilyn E. Gootman, has been the "pied piper" of young Jewish families in Athens, Georgia since 2007 - when she founded the PJ Library Program for the Congregation Children of Israel.  Over her 35-year plus career in general education as well as Jewish education, Dr. Gootman has taught children, university students, educators, camp counselors, and parents. Besides writing books for children, Dr. Gootman has written The Loving Parent’s Guide to Discipline (Berkley Publishing, 1995, 2000); When a Friend Dies, A Book for Teens About Grieving and Healing (Free Spirit Publishing, 1994, 2005), and The Caring Teacher’s Guide to Discipline (Corwin Press 1997, 2001, 2008).

What was your favorite book when you were a child? 
I loved the story Heidi and found it very exciting when on my travels I visited the part of Switzerland where she lived and saw the lovely fields of flowers.

Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators? 
I think Walter Isaacson is a brilliant biographer and really captures people at their essence.  I particularly enjoyed his biography of Einstein.

Robert McCloskey’s charming story about ducklings in the Boston Public Gardens Make Way for the Ducklings is one of my favorites.  I loved that book as a child and so do my grandchildren.

Margaret Wise Brown authored many charming books including the “Noisy Books” that I loved reading to my children and now to my grandchildren.

Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
When I see things that could be improved - especially for kids - I want to make that happen. Writing books is one way to engage in tikkun olam and make the world a better place.

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
Follow your passion.  As Theodore Herzl said, “If you will it, it is no dream.”

Where did you get the inspiration for your latest or upcoming Kar-Ben book?
From my Aunt Freyda Siegel , who had an inspiring, and magical touch with children of all ages.

What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
Judaism enriched my life. I want to share this precious heritage with kids.

Apr 3, 2013

Lesson Plans and Activities for Yom Hashoah

Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, is next week. Are you planning a program?
Many schools and community organizations create programs to observe the gravity of the Holocaust and to educate and create awareness among future generations.
Creating compelling programming for schools can pose a challenge, especially for children in younger grades who have not yet learned about the magnitude of the Holocaust. Children's picture books can be important tools for teaching about the Holocaust. Our books give children a first glimpse at history through unique lenses--modern cave exploration, collecting paper clips, a journey into space, and even from through perspective of a neighborhood cat.
All of our book selections are available as eBooks, too. Using a projector or SmartBoard, an entire class, grade or school can experience these powerful books together.
Benno and the Night of Broken Glass
   A neighborhood cat observes the changes in German and Jewish families in Berlin during the period leading up to Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. This cat's-eye view introduces the Holocaust to children in a gentle way that can open discussion of this period.
Keeping the Promise
Follow 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, the first Israeli astronaut, who died on space shuttle Columbia.
The Secret of Priest's Grotto
According to legend, a group of Jewish families survived the Holocaust by hiding out for months in the 77 miles of caves in Ukraine known as Priest's Grotto. Cavers Taylor and Nicola chronicle their trip to explore the caves and uncover the story of the survivors.

Six Million Paper Clips
At a middle school in a small, all white, all Protestant town in Tennessee, a special after-school class was started to teach the kids about the Holocaust, and the importance of tolerance. The students had a hard time imagining what six million was (the number of Jews the Nazis killed), so they decided to collect six million paperclips, a symbol used by the Norwegians to show solidarity with their Jewish neighbors during World War II. 

Planning a program or looking for new ideas? Share with others on our Facebook page.

Apr 1, 2013

Celebrate Opening Day with Books

We're a little bit lucky in that Target Field is a just a few blocks from our offices here in chilly Minneapolis. It is a beautiful ballpark and a nice destination for a lunch hour walk. While there is no snow forecast for opening day, it will be on the cooler side as fans watch the boys of summer in 20 degree wind chills.

Do you love baseball? Excited for opening day? Here are some books to inspire young baseball fans, direct to you from Minnesota Twins Territory.

All-Star Season
Reuven is quiet and thoughtful. His younger brother Avi is outgoing and impulsive. As irritating as they can be to each other, the boys have two strong bonds-the solidity of their Jewish family life and their passionate love for baseball. As the book opens, Reuven, a pitcher, is desperately working for a spot on the end-of-season All-Star team, while happy-go-lucky Avi probably hasn't even thought that far ahead. Reuven is willing to ignore the advice of his parents and even involve his younger brother in his campaign to succeed. The tensions leading to the big game-and its surprise outcome-will satisfy all young baseball fans.

Matzah Ball: A Passover Story
Aaron is invited to a baseball game during Passover, and his mom sends him with a bag lunch of matzah and tuna. Aaron is embarrassed until his friends go off for snacks and something wonderful happens.