Dec 16, 2014

Eight Activities for Eight Nights!

Hanukkah is here! Of course, reading a good book is one of our favorite holiday activities, but below we've put together a list of eight more for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah!

Make Your Own Menorah from Joyful Jewish

Let even the youngest children participate in the lighting of the menorah with this pretty homemade menorah with paper "flames" that kids can safely use!

You'll need: paint, construction paper, toilet paper or other cardboard tubes, and popsicle sticks

Follow the instructions here.

Milk Carton Dreidel from Spoonful

Make recycling a part of your Hanukkah season with this nifty dreidel made from a milk carton!

You'll need: empty 8oz milk carton, craft knife, unsharpened pencil, blue masking tape, and a paint pen

Follow the instructions here.

Hanukkah Gelt Cookies from More Quiche, Please

Now you have your homemade dreidel and so much Hanukkah gelt you're not sure what to do with it all. Turns out they're a perfect way to dress up some holiday cookies!

You'll need: peanut butter, margarine, eggs, sugar, flour, baking soda, vanilla, and 3 bags of Hanukkah gelt

Follow the instructions here.

Hanukkah Door Decoration from DLTK's Home

Decorate your door with this colorful Hanukkah wreath that needs just a few materials that you're sure to find around the house!

You'll need: wire coat hanger, toilet paper rolls, paint, paper, tape, glue, scissors

Instructions available here.

Learn about the Maccabees with these Activities

Help children learn and remember the story of Hanukkah with these fun coloring and maze activities from Kar-Ben!

You'll need: printed activity pages and colored pencils, crayons, or markers

Download the Maccabee color-by-number here, the Maccabee shield here, and the Torch Relay Maze here.

Homemade Hanukkah Cards from Scrumdilly-do

Help children learn the importance of showing they care with these sweet handmade Hanukkah cards, which are much more unique than store-bought cards.

You'll need: tinfoil, glue, cardboard, scissors, colored tissue paper, thread, and glitter

Follow the instructions here.

Decorate Your Home from Enchanted Learning and She Knows Parenting

Kids will love to help decorate with these unique tin and felt designs that they can make themselves!

Metal Star of David
You'll need: disposable pie plate or roasting pan, a marker, scissors, a nail, and string or yarn
Follow the instructions here.

Felt Dreidels
You'll need: assorted colors of felt, pen, scissors, glue, string, and tape
Follow the instructions here. The page also includes a popsicle stick Star of David craft.

Still looking for last-minute Hanukkah gifts? Check out the Kar-Ben website for great deals and new Hanukkah books like Latke, the Lucky Dog!

Dec 11, 2014

Our Favorite New Hanukkah Pup

This week's blog features a guest post from Ellen Fischer, author of Latke, the Lucky Dog, a sweet story about a fuzzy puppy named Latke who is rescued from an animal shelter on the first night of Hanukkah. Although he has trouble learning the house rules and gets into all sorts of hijinks, he is one Lucky Dog! Told from the pup’s point of view, this sweet Hanukkah story for little ones is a great addition to Kar-Ben’s Hanukkah collection and our December Book of the Month!

Latke, the Lucky Dog is available at your local Judaica store, or online here.

Read about where Ellen got her inspiration for Latke below:

“Where does your inspiration come from?”  It’s a frequent question I’m asked. And the easy answer is “life.”  The more satisfying answer is, “ family, students, friends, nature, books.  If you observe and listen, inspiration is everywhere.”

For Latke, the Lucky Dog, the inspiration was right at home.  Our own shaggy haired, medium sized, golden brown Jazzie gave us14 years of laughter, fun and challenges.

When Jazzie arrived at our home, she was an adorable, fluffy puppy.  Being the diligent “parent,” I enrolled the two of us in “Puppy Pre-school.”  Jazzie quickly became the star of the class.  “Wow!” I thought.  “This training will be a piece of cake.”  Of course, once we were home, it was a different story.  As I walked in the kitchen one morning, there on the floor was a book with all the corners chewed to bits.  I recognized the book immediately. How to Train Your Puppy. This was certainly my first sign as to just who was really in charge.

Our Jazzie, just like Latke, really did chew up one of the kids’s favorite dreidels.  Our Jazzie really did tear open Hanukkah presents.  (see photos below)  And our Jazzie, just like Latke, eventually learned the rules. (Well, most of them anyway)  Given the opportunity she would eat the sufganiyot, no matter what the rules were!  And like Latke, my children always came to Jazzie’s defense.  They loved her no matter what.

Anyone who’s had a pet, knows they are more than animals.  They are family members.   And of course, we all know exactly what they would be saying if they could talk. 

So when I got ready to write a story with a dog as “the star,” I had all the material I needed.  I thought it would be really fun to use voice of Latke. (Because they do talk, right?)  Mostly, Latke, the Lucky Dog is a story of unconditional love.  Just as Jazzie gave us, just as we gave her.

Nov 3, 2014

A Truly Remarkable Bat Mitzvah!

Our November Book of the Month is Bubbe's Belated Bat Mitzvah, written by Isabel Pinson and illustrated by Valeria Cis. When Naomi convinces her 95-year-old great-grandmother that it’s not too late to become a Bat Mitzvah, all the cousins pitch in to help Bubbe celebrate her big day. While usually it’s the grandmother that teaches the child, in this story the tables are turned and Naomi realizes that she has something very special to teach her great-grandmother.

We love the intergenerational aspect of this story. Naomi and her grandmother have a lot to teach one another, and Naomi's cousins all help Bubbe prepare as well. Bubbe also tells Naomi about the evolution of bat mitzvahs, adding an incredible and fascinating historical aspect to their story. Overall, we cannot recommend this book enough. It's a sweet, touching way to honor and appreciate Bat Mitzvahs and family members of every age.

In celebration of Bubbe's Belated Bat Mitzvah, we've included a book trailer and guest post from the author below! Pick up a copy for your family here or at your local Judaica store!

"I never intended to write a children’s book – it happened quite by accident. 

My mother, Esther Silverman, at the age of 95 was studying to become a Bat Mitzvah when I was asked if I would write a children’s story about the event.  My “instructions” were to include a multi-generational theme and of course the Bat Mitzvah itself.  I am a preschool librarian and I’ve read hundreds of picture books over the years and I can sense when a story will entice and engage.  Keeping those story elements in mind, I decided to give it a try.

The first draft was very sentimental – no, that wouldn’t do.  I rewrote it and asked a Middle School English teacher for her thoughts; it still wasn’t right.  I went back to the keyboard for another rewrite and this time I asked an established author for her opinion. She was very direct, but I was not comfortable with her writing style criticisms.  After thinking about the story again, I suddenly found my own voice.  Yes, I would write the story from a young girl’s point of view, in this case a great-granddaughter.  Let Bubbe explain the “evolution” of Bat Mitzvah of the women in the child’s family!  Let the child dream about this event for Bubbe!  Let Bubbe imagine herself as a Bat Mitzvah!   And of course, let all the great-grandchildren take part!  The illustrator, Valeria Cis, captured all these scenes in vibrant, expressive illustrations.

My mother, on the other hand, has a different story to tell of her Bat Mitzvah experience.  While reluctant at first to even consider such an idea, she pondered it and she decided to give it a try.  The studying, at the very least, would keep her mind sharp.  She was, in the end, pleasantly surprised.  She was affected by the remarkable young women in her class.  Many were Jews by Choice, all juggling family and professional obligations at the same time. They came with a curiosity, a modern world outlook and an intense spirituality. Esther came to the group with all the values of a traditional Jewish upbringing, living a full, rich, Jewish life.   She tenderly imparted so much to the group – her Jewish knowledge, her hands-on “recipe” for Jewish living, and the wisdom of her years.  She was a wonderful role model for each and every woman in the class.  On their Bat Mitzvah day, not only did these women prove their Jewish learning to all their family and friends, but they gracefully showed their respect for each other.  What a wonderful example for Bubbe’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren to emulate! 
Mazal Tov to Bubbe and to the b’not mitzvah on this milestone!"

Oct 15, 2014

7 Activities for Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah is just a few days away, and this year a very special book has us incredibly excited for the holiday - The Patchwork Torah. You can read more about it and see a book trailer below. We've also put together a handful of kid-friendly activities to help you celebrate at home or in the classroom!

Candy Torah Scrolls
A sweet (literally!) and easy way for children to make their own miniature Torah scrolls, this activity is great for the classroom as children can manage it without much help. When they've paraded with their scrolls, they'll have a treat to enjoy as well! From Challah Crumbs.

A Torah Poster
This poster can be used year-round, or just on Simchat Torah, to remind children of all the stories the Torah contains. Putting the poster together on Simchat Torah is a great way to commemorate the past year of Torah readings, or it can be used to review and preview what will be read in the coming year!

Felt Torahs
Another sweet way for children to make their own miniature Torahs to celebrate with, these felt Torahs are more durable and lasting than the candy Torah scrolls. From

Torah Blintzes or Sandwich Rolls
Celebrate Simchat Torah with a quick and fun snack - there are a slew of recipes on the Internet, including this one for blintzes with pretzel sticks, and this one, for turkey sandwich rolls with carrot sticks.

Candy Apples
Remember how sweet it is to learn the Torah with candy apples! Prepared ahead of time, they can even be used to top children's miniature flags for Simchat Torah celebrations. Try traditional candy apples, or try caramel apples for a just as sweet but less sticky treat.

Color the Israeli Flag
Israeli flags are also an important part of Simchat Torah celebrations. Use this printable flag and have children color their own to carry.

Read a Good Book!
Simchat Torah celebrates the Torah, the Jewish people's favorite story to read again and again - so what better holiday to celebrate with a good book? Our October Book of the Month is The Patchwork Torah. Take a look at the book trailer below, featuring beautiful art by Elsa Oriol, and find it on the Kar-Ben website.
You can also celebrate Simchat Torah with everyone's favorite spider in Sammy Spider's First Simchat Torah. Learn along with Sammy as he watches Josh Shapiro get ready with his own flag and candy apple, and learns about why the Torah is the Jewish people's favorite story.

Oct 8, 2014

The Story Behind the Patchwork Torah

Our October book of the month is The Patchwork Torah, by Allison Ofanansky. There are so many things we love about this book! It has warm, beautiful illustrations that accompany a touching and unique intergenerational story. Books for Simchat Torah aren't that easy to come by, but this is a great one, as it features two celebrations of the holiday. A message about recycling means that this book is a good fit for the spring and Earth Day as well. Below, watch the book trailer and read a guest post from author Allison Ofanansky about her inspiration for this very special story!

"The story of the Patchwork Torah was inspired by a real Torah put together from rescued and repaired remnants of old and damaged scrolls. Like the scroll that David puts together in the story, this Torah contains sections that were written by a number of soferim (scribes) that lived in different times and places. We don’t know the stories behind the sections in this Torah. The stories of the scrolls that David collects in the book are made up, though some are based on real historic events (the Holocaust, Hurricane Katrina).

A real patchwork Torah was purchased by my community in Tzfat, Israel in 2009. There are many Torah scrolls in synagogues in the city of Tzfat, but these are strictly Orthodox and women can’t come up for an aliyah or read from the Torah or dance with it on holidays. So a group of friends decided to buy a Torah to which women could have access.

We held an auction to raise money. People donated things to be auctioned off. (I donated some of the books in the Nature in Israel series.) Then we bid to buy each others’ donations (I bought a funny wax sculpture). We raised a fair amount of money at the auction, but not enough for a new Torah scroll, which costs between $15,000 and $30,000. Then we heard about a ‘recycled’ Torah which had been put together with parts of several damaged scrolls to make a whole, kosher Torah. We had enough money to buy it!

Once we got this Torah, we realized how special and beautiful it is. Throughout the year, as we read through the scroll, we can see the distinctive calligraphy of seven soferim who wrote various parts (three large sections and four small ones). Some wrote simple letters, others added fancy decorations. Even though there are strict laws for writing a kosher Torah, and each letter must be perfect, there is still room for soferim to express their individual styles. This Torah suits our community, because we also come from many different places, with our own individual styles, and together make something new.

We have enjoyed celebrating with this Torah over the past few years. My daughter Aravah (whose pictures you may have seen in my Nature in Israel books) read from it at her bat mitzvah. All four of her grandparents came up for an aliyah. On Simchat Torah, women and girls dance with the scroll. I’ve seen women who never had a chance before to touch a Torah scroll cradling it like a baby, with tears in their eyes.

I’d like to imagine that David’s granddaughter, who gives him the idea to make the recycled Torah, will read from their patchwork Torah at her bat mitzvah—maybe even become a sofer herself! (On women scribes-- soferot -- see"
Aravah reading from the real ‘patchwork Torah’ at her bat mitzvah, with both her grandmothers beside her.
Aravah holding the Torah at her bat mitzvah.
Photographs by Eliyhu Alpern, 2012

Sep 16, 2014

Rosh Hashanah Activities for Home and Classroom!

Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner! It's one of our favorite holidays here at Kar-Ben - there's delicious apples and honey to be eaten, the first chilly feeling of fall in the air, a year to look back on and be thankful for, and a whole new year to look forward to! To help celebrate, we've found some fun and thoughtful Rosh Hashanah activities great for both the home and classroom.

L'shanah tovah!

Apple Blessings Placemat
These adorable and easy placemats are also a great way to remember the blessings for eating the traditional Rosh Hashanah apples and honey. Using halved apples and poster paint to decorate the placemates gives them a special fall feeling, and makes for an affordable classroom activity too! From Kveller.

Apples in short supply? You can use the ends of bottle corks instead! Cutting a small divot out of the cork with make the stamp more apple-shaped, and green marker can be used to add a leaf detail.

Hanging Apple Decorations
These sweet decorations are a great way to reuse plastic bottles. In fact, many part of this craft can be made from extra materials lying around the house, making this a great spur-of-the-moment craft! A great activity for older children, or for younger children with help from an adult. The end result is a beautiful apple decoration that you can even use again at Sukkot! From Joyful Jewish.

3-D Shanah Tovah Card
A great classroom activity for older kids, the end result is a pop-up book-style card to give to family or friends to wish them l'shanah tovah! All that's required is the card template, coloring supplies, glue or tape, and scissors. From

Stained Glass Fish
This neat craft lets kids create a beautiful stained-glass effects just using materials found at home. This symbol of abundance is a wonderful decoration for the holiday, whether you partake in eating a fish's head or not!

Paper Shofar
These colorful and kid-friendly shofars will make sure that everyone is able to help ring in the new year! The materials are simple and classroom friendly too, making this a great craft for school. From Joyful Jewish.

Edible Honey Bowl
A new and creative touch to add to the traditional apples and honey, this is a craft for a kid to do with a little help and a lot of supervision. From Kveller.

Shofar Word Search
A great way to engage kids in a discussion of the many important and meaningful elements of Rosh Hashanah. From

Papier Mache Apple
This is a more time- and materials-intensive craft, but the payoff is wonderful - a papier mache apple to fill with each child's hopes or plans for the coming year. From How Stuff Works.

Cinnamon-Apple Honey Cake
A twist on the traditional Rosh Hashanah honey cake, this sweet treat is relatively simple and provides lots of places for kids to help out in the kitchen! From Taste of Home.

And, of course, read a good book!
Have you taken a look at Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story yet? It's a wonderful holiday story about Katy, whose favorite holiday is Rosh Hashanah, when she gets to pick apples and make applesauce with her mother. But what happens when the tradition is interrupted by the early arrival of her new baby cousin?

Check out this blog post from author Allison Sarnoff Soffer (you can also watch the book trailer), and use the Activity Guide for more Apple Days-inspired activities and reading questions!

Sep 2, 2014

Apple Days: Behind the Scenes

We're so excited to announce our September Book of the Month, Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story! Apple Days tells the story of Katy, whose favorite holiday is Rosh Hashanah, when she gets to pick apples and make applesauce with her mother. But what happens when the tradition is interrupted by the early arrival of her new baby cousin?

We love this book because it presents a situation to which every kid can relate - when family priorities must sometimes change - and Katy handles the change of plans both realistically and admirably. With a new twist on the traditional apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah, a community that comes together to lend a hand, and a sweet family tradition, there are an abundance of things to love about Apple Days!

Below, check out the book trailer and a guest post from the author, or head over to the Kar-Ben website for an Activity Guide or to get a copy of the book!

Watch the book trailer:

And read a guest post from author Allison Sarnoff Soffer!
"I want to share a bit about the story behind the story of Apple Days.

For years I’ve cherished a random collection of impressions about apples that have somehow felt connected.   As a child, I remember watching my father peel a Granny Smith apple with his Swiss army knife, removing one very long coil of light green skin. The gently spiced scent of my mother’s apple crisp baking for company also stays with me.  Later, when I became a parent, I savored my family’s experience of apple-picking at a local orchard and returning home to make applesauce for Rosh Hashanah.  Suggested by a friend, this outdoor respite from the busyness of September was to become an annual tradition.

I found myself jotting down apple ideas that I read or heard about.  A short essay about a child watching grown-up hands slicing apples evoked strong identification.  The image of a wedding tradition where guests presented apples to the bride’s parents also impressed me.   Then to my delight, I received an assignment to bring our favorite fruit to a family retreat to contribute to a community fruit salad. Of course, we brought apples!

When we broke into groups at the retreat, I had the chance to describe our family’s apple-picking tradition. I realized that I had never before articulated it.  There was more to understanding the meaning of our trips to the orchard, which grew out of a poignant need, I explained.  Because I lost my mother as a young woman, I had to find a way to be able to celebrate with my young children, to protect them from my sense of loss as the High Holy Days approached.  Getting outside, instead of preparing entirely in the kitchen, became my unexpected answer.  One group member was listening carefully: children’s author and rabbi Mindy Portnoy.   

At this point in my life, I was a new teacher at Temple Sinai Nursery School where I would eventually set the story. A significant development at school inspired the story’s turning point. A beloved teacher was ill and the community galvanized to help.  Children, watching their parents and teachers acting on their kindest instincts, wanted to join the effort. They initiated their own baking efforts culminating in a series of sales that raised almost $5,000 over several months.

I let my mind work on these varied impressions as I always do when I am deep in a writing process.  As Rabbi Portnoy and I met to discuss ideas, the arc of the story slowly came together. Of course, it was going to be a book about apples. Its premise would be the anticipation of our family’s beloved apple-picking ritual by a mother and a daughter. It would focus on disappointment overcome in an unexpected way, the power of community, and the competence of children. 

Apple Days took about a year to write, through two Rosh Hashanahs, and many revisions. When it was done, it felt more complete than anything that I had ever written.  To me, this story was crying out to be told, to get off of my computer screen and into the world. 

I hope that children will listen to Apple Days during a teachable moment with their parents or teachers, when they can pause and really hear it.  Perhaps it will inspire them to welcome the Jewish New Year at a local orchard or to try a new apple recipe.  Maybe Apple Days will spark an idea for a completely novel holiday tradition, or encourage a child to help a struggling friend.  You just never know what can happen.  This is my hope for Apple Days."

Aug 4, 2014

August Book of the Month: Goldie Takes a Stand

This month, Kar-Ben is thrilled to introduce a new feature on our website and Facebook: the Kar-Ben Book of the Month! Each month, we're going to feature a book from our current season that we think is particularly relevant, interesting, or exciting. Each book of the month will come with a guest blog post from the author and a book trailer, as well as additional information on why we love the book!

Our first featured Book of the Month is Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir's First Crusade by Barbara Krasner. Even at the age of nine, little Golda Meir was known for her leadership skills. As president of the American Young Sisters Society, she organized friends to raise money to buy textbooks for immigrant classmates. This story is a glimpse at the early life of Israel's first female Prime Minister.

We love this book because it has an empowering and compassionate message for children. Goldie notices the needs of her classmates, and isn't daunted by the setbacks she faces when trying to solve that problem. It's also a great story, based on true events, about Israel's first female Prime Minister! Pick up a copy here.

Writing about Golda Meir’s early days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

a guest post from Barbara Krasner

In August 2010, I was spending two weeks at a writers retreat at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania. There was a slight break between the two weeks over a weekend. On that Sunday, I was invited as press to attend the annual reading of the Moses Seixas and George Washington letters of religious tolerance at the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

I wanted to take a break from writing intensely during the first week. I perused the titles on the Highlights shelves and found Golda Meir’s autobiography. That Saturday night, ensconced in a flea-bitten motel across the bay from Newport, I began to read Golda’s autobiography. Her voice was unmistakable, full of self and authority.

At first she wrote of her beginnings in Ukraine and her immigration to the United States, specifically Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Then within two pages, she described the formation of the American Young Sisters Society and how she, as president, marshalled their resources to buy school books for their classmates who could not afford to buy their own. I knew this was the story I wanted to share.

Researching Goldie’s early life

Many resources could tell me about Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, but few allowed me to delve deeply into young Goldie’s life. I contacted the Milwaukee Jewish Historical Society and spoke with archivist Jay Hyland. He was able to locate the September 2, 1909 Milwaukee Journal article about the American Young Sisters Society and their fundraiser. It even had their picture. Jay sent me the article.

Historical accuracy is important to me as a historian, so I consulted histories of the Jewish community in Milwaukee and, through the help of a friend in the Milwaukee school district, a history of the Milwaukee public school system. I also worked with Norman Provizer, director of the Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership at Metropolitan State College of Denver, to ensure accuracy. Dr. Provizer and I had some discussion about the spelling of Goldie’s maiden name, because it appeared in historical records in a variety of ways. We finally presented it in the back matter as Mabowehz and Mabovitch. Spelling back then wasn’t as important as it is now.

Accommodating Goldie’s strong voice

It’s unusual to have the main character of a picture book speak for herself. Goldie’s voice was so strong that using the first person “I” was the only way to get her bravado across. She was a force to be reckoned with and her attitude had to come out through the story.

What would Goldie do?

I’ll be promoting Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade, naturally (as Goldie would say) in a program called, “What Would Goldie Do?” She set high standards for herself, and I suspect for everyone around her. In this program, I’ll pose some scenarios and ask kids what they would do. Then I’ll ask what Goldie would do. I bet there’ll be some differences! We’ll talk about some ideas how they can practice tikkun olam, repairing the world, just like Goldie—how they can help someone they know to make his or her life just a little better.

Contact Barbara about her programs.

Jul 17, 2014

On Storks, Sirens, and Missles

This week's blog post is a guest piece from Tami Lehman-Wilzig, the author of many Kar-Ben favorites, such as Passover Around the World and Zvuvi's Israel, as well as the new Fall 2014 book Stork's Landing.
"As I sit in my office, which also happens to be our safe room in our Kfar Saba apartment, I wonder how am I ever going to focus on the fact that my new book – Stork's Landing – will be hitting bookstore shelves in less than two weeks' time. I should be excited, but the existential question of the hour is far more pressing for me as an Israeli citizen.

Just this morning, as my husband and I sat down to breakfast, we were treated to two siren alerts. Nine hours later we 'enjoyed' a bookend effect as we sat down to dinner. Lodged behind a heavy metal door, checking the minute-by-minute news on the internet, my mind wandered to the video that went viral two days ago, in which one Israeli pilot signaled another to pass over a target because children were clearly visible. I was struck by our humanity, a compassion clearly missing on the other side. Then it hit me. This is the connection with Stork's Landing. A touching nature tale set in Israel, it highlights the Jewish bent to reach out and care for the wounded through a focus on the Jewish value of kindness to animals.

It's a gentle story, beginning with the fact that Kibbutz fish farmers must place nets over their  fishponds in order to shield their fish from ravenous birds flying above. To an extent, these nets are to the fish as what the Iron Dome is to our population. They are there to protect and preserve.  Sure enough when a hungry stork comes in for a landing it gets caught in the net, breaks its wing to the serious extent that it cannot be operated on, yet the kibbutz members don't put it to sleep. They nurture and shelter it, providing a secure surrounding. A true parallel to the Palestinians being treated in Israeli hospitals, even during these worn, torn times. A fact rarely covered in the world press.

So while we hover in what I smilingly call our 'War Room,' I am now focusing on the fact that Stork's Landing is a Jewish everyman's tale and how lucky all Jews are to have the State of Israel. We live by the same book, we perpetuate the same values, and we will make sure we remain a safe haven  for all Jews.  In the meantime, come early autumn may only storks, not missiles, land on our shores."

Stork's Landing
by Tami Lehman-Wilzig
illustrated by Anna Shuttlewood

When a migrating stork gets tangled in a net in the fish ponds on Maya’s kibbutz, Maya wonders what to do. She and her father build a makeshift nest for the wounded stork, who Maya names Yaffa. The problem becomes more complicated, however, when two storks settle in a tree nearby.
Can Maya and her father find a way to nurse it back to health and send it back into the wild? Set in Israel, this story brings the beauty of nature in Israel to life and highlights an unusual part of Israeli life – the kibbutz.

This sensitively told nature tale focuses on the Jewish value of caring for animals, while at the same time subtly incorporates issues of adoption and acceptance of those with differences.
Available on the Kar-Ben website.

Jun 26, 2014

Summer Activities to Promote Jewish Values

Summer Camp
Camp is a great place for children to learn Jewish values, try new activities, learn new skills, and hopefully make lasting friendships. This piece in Tablet Magazine explores exactly why the friendships children make at summer camp are more likely to last.

Are your kids going to camp for the first time this year? Ori, from the "Sadie and Ori" series by Jamie Korngold, is too! Sadie, Ori, and Nuggles Go to Camp is a great book for children anxious about their first time at sleep-away camp. See the book trailer below!

Camp isn't the only place for children to learn or practice Jewish values and have fun while they're at it. Below we've included a few ideas for an exciting summer whether your kids are at home, at day camp, or at sleep-away camp:

Learn responsibility by caring for animals.
The Jewish value of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim stresses kindness to animals. Encourage children to take on more responsibility in caring for their own pets at home, or volunteer at an animal shelter. Animals appreciate the attention and the chance to get outside, and make great friends for a summer afternoon. Taking care of animals also helps children practice responsibility.

Do a tzedakah.
If your child has animal allergies, or volunteering with animals isn't for them, there are plenty other acts of tzadakah they can do over the summer. Check with local food shelves to see if they are running any food drives, or contact your local JCC about any service projects they're currently engaged in. Help out by making posters to raise awareness, or brainstorm ideas for service projects if there aren't any currently running in your community.

Work in the garden.
Gardening is a great productive way to spend time outside, and watching the plants they care for grow is a great way for children to see the results of their hard work. Working in a community garden also teaches children the values of communal responsibility and caring for the environment.

Make recycling fun!
Keep some of those useful scraps out of the trash and use them for art projects instead of buying brand-new materials. Reusing what we can is as valuable to the environment as recycling and is an example of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Check out Kinderart for a list of neat recycled material art projects!

Start a lemonade stand. believes that starting a lemonade stand can empower kids and put them on the path to becoming the next generation of entrepreneurs. Learn more on their website.

Learn something new.
Ometz lev means courage, and while we may not realize it, learning a new game, sport, or skill can often be a daunting prospect for children. Teach them about ometz lev by taking a class or joining a new sport. They'll challenge themselves while hopefully meeting new friends and finding new interests.

Jun 11, 2014

Keeping Summer Reading Fun!

Keep Up the Reading!
School's out, and that means time for summer fun! During the first few weeks of summer vacation, books might just be the farthest thing from any child's mind, but reading over the summer is one of the most important things a kid can do.

Research shows that children can lose as much as two months of reading skill during summer vacation. Fortunately, the best way to combat this is simply by reading!

Reading alone can help children maintain their reading skills during summer vacation, but Kar-Ben also has a set of eSources created by teachers and authors to accompany a select number of our titles. They include questions and activities for before, during, and after reading, and are available to download for free on the Kar-Ben website. Check out our eSources, including the newest addition for The Whispering Town, here.

Fun Summer Reading!
These books are perfect for summer - from going to camp to celebrating Rosh Chodesh in the beautiful Negev Desert, they make great reads after a long day outside!

Sadie, Ori, and Nuggles Go to Camp
A wonderful book from children going to sleep-away camp for the first time! For the first time, Sadie’s little brother Ori will be joining her at sleep-away camp. He’s very excited, but he wants to bring Nuggles, his favorite “stuffy,” and is worried that his bunkmates will make fun of him. Is he ever in for a surprise! The fifth book in Kar-Ben’s popular “Sadie and Ori” series.

No Baths at Camp
Another fun book about camp! Great for first-time campers who are reluctant or unsure of what to expect. "There are no baths at camp!” says Max, when his mother starts filling the tub. But as he recounts his week’s activities, he realizes that there were many fun ways he got clean at summer camp.

Picnic at Camp Shalom
This book is great for children worried about making new friends at camp, whether they're going for the first time or have been before. When Carly unthinkingly makes fun of Sara's last name at mail call, her bunkmate refuses to be consoled. But their mutual love of music brings harmony to Shabbat dinner as well as to their friendship, and Carly finally gets the chance to reveal a secret of her own.

New Month, New Moon
This newest book in the "Nature in Israel" series is set in the beautiful Negev Desert. Beautiful photos of the landscape and the Rosh Chodesh celebration will make you want to plan a camping trip of your own! To celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of a new month in the Jewish calendar, a family camps out in the desert and learns about the phases of the moon and their relationship to the Jewish calendar. A photo essay.

Ziggy's Big Idea
A great book for curious and inventive kids looking to try something new with their summer. Make bagels and invent away! Ziggy’s inventions don’t always work out, but his idea for making the baker’s buns tastier and easier to carry lead to the creation of a favorite breakfast treat – the bagel! Bagel recipe included.

Looking for a New Read?
Kar-Ben's fall books are now available on the website. These new books won't be hitting stores until the fall, but we know that sometimes summer calls for a brand new read! Head over to the Kar-Ben website's new section to check them out.

Jun 2, 2014

Talking Inventions with the Author of Ziggy's Big Idea!

This week's guest blog post is from Ilana Long, author of Ziggy's Big Idea, about a young boy whose persistent inventing leads to the creation of a favorite breakfast treat - the bagel! Check out the book trailer before reading her post, all about inventing (and writing too)! You can get a copy of Ziggy's Big Idea on the Kar-Ben website.

"Have you ever wondered how soap was invented?  Was someone thinking, “Hey! I bet if I mix some cow fat with some ashes from the fire, I could rub it all over my body and feel clean!” 

How exciting it must have been when popcorn was first discovered! After some very cursory and inconclusive research, here’s one scenario I can imagine: A young Aztec woman sits by the fire when she realizes that she waited too long to roast the corn she had picked.  It is all dried out!  Now, how is she going to eat that desiccated, hard corn?! “Oh, well,” she figures, “I might as well chuck that dried up cob into the fire.”
Suddenly –Boom!   Pop! Pop! Pop!  That corn explodes right there on the cob! Her heart races, she falls over backwards and for a moment, she is really scared.  Wouldn’t you be? But when the popping stops, she notices that some fluffy, puffy balls have shot out of the fire.  Carefully, she picks one up, sniffs it, and pops it in her mouth.   Wow!   Crunchy and delicious; She has accidentally discovered popcorn!  “Now, I just need to invent butter and the IMAX 3-D experience.”

Most often, inventions are created because there is a need for something that doesn’t even exist yet.  For instance, maybe there was a student walking around with a whole bunch of books falling out of her arms. Until one day, she thought, “Hey, I should invent a backpack!”
So how did I invent the story of Ziggy’s Big Idea?  It all started one evening when Grandma Evey, came by our house on her way home from a lecture at the Sephardic Jewish Society.  She was eager to tell me all about the interesting speaker she had just heard:  The speaker focused on the history of the bagel.  My first reaction was, “What?!  Why didn’t you invite me?”  My second comment was “Wow!  That would make an awesome story for kids.  I think I’ll call it Ziggy’s Big Idea.”

Actually, the title and the complete story came to me in teeny bits and pieces.  I knew I wanted to write about a kid who was the same age as my own twins.  Like Ziggy, my children are curious and creative, and I thought, “If I were a kid, what would lead me to make a bagel?”
So I did some research to find out the real history behind that yummy bagel, and it turns out there are a smorgasbord of possible ways the bagel came about.  The lecturer had suggested that, compared to ordinary breads, bagels were quicker to bake before Shabbat because the insides didn’t have to cook for a long time.  That was a key piece of information for me, as it presented an idea for a problem within the story.  Every story’s got to have a problem to solve!  

My favorite reasons for the invention of that beloved, baked treat were the ones that came from specific needs.  I learned that the baskets the bread vendors carried were heavy when filled, so some bakers made the buns with holes, so that they could be easily stacked and transported on a walking stick.   I thought that would be a great detail to include in my book.  So I had Ziggy stack the bagels on a broomstick to show Papi how that would work.  My kids weren’t crazy about that part of the story.  They worried that the bagels would touch the tops of the broom straws and get dirty.  I assured them that the broom was brand new, and had never been used.
Are you curious to know the some of the other possible histories?  Check out the back pages of the book, where you can read some other details about the bagel’s origin.   I was interested, for example, in finding out where the word bagel came from.  Can you find the two possible origins of the word bagel?  If you can, then you are on your way to becoming an etymologist - a person who studies when and how words are born.   By the way, it’s a great hobby, but you can’t make a living off of it, so don’t quit your day job.  If you don’t want to be an etymologist, you could become an entomologist and study bugs.  But, again, don’t count on making the big bucks.

I sure had a lot of fun writing Ziggy’s Big Idea.  I hope you find yourself inspired to create, to build, to discover, to invent and to develop your own really BIG ideas!"

May 28, 2014

Let's Celebrate Shavuot!

Shavuot celebrated the day God gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. In Israel, it is also connected to the season of the grain harvest. Today, the Shavuot celebration is made unique by the traditional consumption of dairy products like milk, cheese, and, of course, lots of cheesecake! Below we've collected some activities to teach children about Shavuot:

Mount Sinai Muffins
Teach children about Mount Sinai with this fun and edible craft! Make this easy by purchasing muffins and decorating them together, or go all out and bake them from scratch. Either way, this activity is sure to delight kids. This can also be made as a cake for a table centerpiece and family dessert! From Kveller.

Build Mount Sinai
If muffins won't work for your home or classroom, children can still build their own Mount Sinai using a paper or Styrofoam bowl, some paint, and colorful paper! You can also recreate the scene of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with just paper, crayons, and glue! From Bright Hub Education and Joyful Jewish.

Shavuot Flower Crowns
These beautiful flower crowns made from construction paper are great for the classroom or at home. Engage children in describing Mount Sinai, which was covered in beautiful flowers, while they make a colorful way to celebrate! From Hebrew Podcasts.

Tablets of Stone
Teach children about the Ten Commandments by making their own tablets of stone! Great for at home or in the classroom, this also reinforces counting and the Hebrew alphabet. From Joyful Jewish.

Shavuot Word Pomegranate
An activity to engage the entire classroom or family at once, this simple activity asks participants to come up with words and phrases associated with Shavuot to fill out an illustration of a pomegranate. A great way to create a visual reminder for all year 'round. From Hebrew Podcasts.

Printable Activity Book
This activity packet is great for younger children. In addition to teaching them about Shavuot and the Ten Commandments, it reinforces important skills like counting. Particularly useful for the classroom! From Jewish Homeschool.

Teach Shavuot Values
Kveller has some excellent ideas for teaching young children the important values of charity, loyalty, and kindness. Tell the story of the Book of Ruth to introduce these values, and reinforce them with these simple everyday reminders.

Test Your Knowledge!
If children have access to a computer at home or at school, they can test their knowledge of the Book of Ruth and the Shavuot story with a variety of quizzes and word matches online! Create a family or class challenge to see who can score the highest, or encourage children to improve on their own scores. From A Kid's Heart.

And, of course, read a good book! Kar-Ben has many unique and engaging books about Shavuot, from ones featuring Sammy Spider, to a photo story of children in Israel growing and harvesting their own wheat and making a cheesecake, to the story of little Mount Sinai. Find these Shavuot books and more on the Kar-Ben website!

May 14, 2014

Learn About Lag Ba'Omer with Books and Activities!

Lag Ba'Omer is an interesting and unique Jewish holiday that gives us an opportunity to step outside (literally!) and celebrate with bonfires, singing, picnics, and more. Lag Ba'Omer celebrates Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi, a sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva, and the great wisdom he brought into the world.

Interested in learning more about Lag Ba'Omer? Check out Sadie's Lag Ba'Omer Mystery, the fifth book in the Sadie and Ori series by Adventure Rabbi Jamie Korngold. View the book trailer here, or get the book on the Kar-Ben website!

Below we've included activities for teaching children about Lag Ba'Omer and celebrating at home with family or at school.

Build a Bonfire!
One of the most well-known traditions on Lag Ba'Omer is the building of a bonfire. These bonfires symbolize spiritual light and the impact of Rabbi Shimon's teachings.Whatever the size, a campfire or bonfire is a great way to bring family together for the holiday, and provides a great place for singing songs and making s'mores.

Bake a Bonfire Cake (or Cupcakes)
These cute cupcakes use red and orange icing and pretzel sticks to create the illusion of a bonfire. This is a fun craft for kids with some help from parents - they'll need help with the baking, but they can ice the cupcakes themselves. If you're looking to go bigger, you can create a bonfire cake instead!

Build a Diorama
Teach the story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi with an interactive diorama. Collecting materials for the diorama will get children outside, and after you put the diorama together you can use it to tell the story of Lag Ba'Omer together. Here's an example from Jewish Homeschool.

Paint a Watercolor
Many holidays have beautiful images or items associated with them, such as the shofar for Rosh Hashanah and the menorah for Hanukkah. These symbols help make holidays more meaningful by reminding us of past celebrations. Create a reminder of your Lag Ba'Omer celebration by painting a watercolor like these at Creative Jewish Mom.

Build a Popsicle Stick Bow
These easy-to-make bows (don't worry, they're not functional!) are a great craft for engaging children in Lag Ba'Omer. Children playing outside with mock bows and arrows is a Lag Ba'Omer tradition, arising from the belief that no rainbows were seen during Rabbi Shimon's lifetime because his good made up for all the bad in the world. From Creative Jewish Mom.

Or Just the Arrows!
If you don't want to bother with bows, these decorative arrows made out of skewers are a fun and lovely craft as well. Find the directions at Creative Jewish Mom.

Learn and Craft with this Activity Booklet
This free activity book from Jewish Homeschool teaches the stories of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon, along with pictures for coloring and simple activities to reinforce the most important parts of the story.

Plan a School Field Day
If you want to get ambitious, you can plan a school or classroom field day. Lag Ba'Omer falls toward the end of the school year, so this is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate spring and the anticipation of summer while also teaching about a holiday. Check out the Pre-School at Temple Emanuel's outline for a simple and collaborative day.

Pack a Picnic
If you don't have a space for a campfire or bonfire, pack a picnic instead and enjoy the outdoors. It is said that Rabbi Shimon and his son lived in a cave for twelve years, hiding from the Romans, and during this time they were nourished by a carob tree that grew at the cave's entrance. Celebrate the gifts of nature by spending the day outside. You can pick up a nature guide to learn more about the local vegetation and the different roles that plants play in our environment.