Aug 17, 2017

Real Readers Respond: Dvorah K. Reads Lily Renee, Escape Artist

We love when young readers share their thoughts about Kar-Ben books. Want to share your perspective (and maybe appear on our blog)? Send reviews to jcolella(at)

Reader Dvorah, age 14, recently read Lily Renée, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer. The graphic novel tells the true story of a brave girl who escapes the Holocaust and becomes a true pioneer in comic books.

The year is 1938. Lily Renee is 14. She is living in Vienna. She loves art and ballet. Her art was shown at a gallery. She went to the opera twice a year with her school. Lily was a typical girl living in the 1900’s.
One day, her life was completely flipped around as the Nazi’s marched into Austria. Her whole life, her hopes, and her dreams were totally shattered overnight. 

In order to survive, Lily leaves everything she ever loved and traveled alone to England. Little did she know that her train was the last one leaving Austria.

This is only the beginning of her long journey. Besides escaping the cruel Nazi’s, she must escape all the dangers of living all by herself.

I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like for Lily. We have to remember, she was just a teenager, like me! Running away from my home? My family? All alone to some strange country? That’s so tough on a 14 year old girl. She did this courageous act, knowing she would never see her family again. Brave Lily did this to continue her family’s chain.

Like graphic novels and comic? Compelled by stories of real-life heroes? Order a copy of this remarkable book. 

Interview: Meet The Whispering Town Author Jennifer Elvgren

Based on a true story, The Whispering Town tells the story of a brave child named Anett in Nazi-occupied Denmark. Anett and her parents hide a Jewish boy, Carl, and his mother in their cellar until a fishing boat can take them across the water to safety in neutral Sweden. The Whispering Town has received the Andersen Prize and the Prairie Pasque Children’s Book Award. The Whispering Town was named to the ALA Children’s Notable Book List and is a Sydney Taylor Honor Book as well as a Jane Addams Honor Book. Jennifer lives in Albemarle County, Virginia—about 20 miles from Charlottesville—with her husband, three children.

In a recent piece, "How to Talk to Your Kids About Charlottesville," New York Times children’s book editor Maria Russo included Jennifer Elvgren's The Whispering Town among "children’s books about people — including kids — who helped in the fight against Nazis and against racism here in the U.S."

We asked Jennifer about the inspiration behind her book.

Kar-Ben: Why did you want to become an author?
Elvgren: I wanted to become a children’s writer to create stories that inspire dreams and create empathy in children.

credit: Jen Fariello 

Kar-Ben: Where did you get the inspiration for The Whispering Town?
Elvgren: In Ellen Levine’s nonfiction book Darkness Over Denmark she talks about people whispering directions so a Jewish man could find the harbor on a dark night to escape to Sweden. That image leapt off the page and set me to dreaming about an entire town that whispered to save someone. The title came before the story. Then I asked myself the following questions, Who would think of the whispering? Who would be saved by the whispering? And the plot started to come.

Kar-Ben: What are you most excited about promoting in The Whispering Town?
Elvgren: WWII was a black period in world history. I am excited to tell people stories of hope and kindness that arose from that darkness.

Kar-Ben: What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing your book?
Elvgren: I always tend to write manuscripts in third person. This is the first manuscript that I experimented with writing in first person. I felt like I could zoom in closer to Anette’s thoughts. I am now writing a middle grade novel in first person.

Kar-Ben: How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
Elvgren: I hope this book encourages children to be problem solvers and to help all people in need.

Aug 15, 2017

In memory of Ben Saypol, Kar-Ben’s namesake

It is with sadness that we inform Kar-Ben’s readers of the death of Ben Saypol, the “Ben” in Kar-Ben, who died last week at the age of 44 from colon cancer. Ben’s mom is Judye Groner, the co-founder of Kar-Ben along with Madeline Wikler, whose daughter Karen is the “Kar” in Kar-Ben. Last year on this Facebook page we posted an interview with the charming Ben, the little boy blowing the shofar on Kar-Ben’s mini-calendar for many years. In tribute to Ben we are re-running this interview. May his memory be for a blessing.  


September 9, 2016

For over four decades, Kar-Ben has been well known for its beautiful Jewish books for children and its Jewish calendars. One perennially popular product is the Kar-Ben Mini Jewish Calendar. In fact, it is the highest selling product on so far this month, and tens of thousands have been sold over the years. As many of our customers who have been buying the calendar for decades know, one significant feature hasn't changed: the photograph on its cover of a young boy blowing a shofar.

Kar-Ben calendar

And while time has stood still for the boy in the image, we wanted to catch up with the formerly little boy. Meet Ben Saypol, the son of one of Kar-Ben founding's duo, Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler.

Kar-Ben: Many of our customers have purchased the Mini Jewish Calendar for years, and the photo of the little boy blowing the shofar hasn’t changed. Can you tell us when and where that photo of you was taken?

Ben: That photo of me was taken when I was about 3 years old. I am 43 now! It was taken at the beautiful Brookside Gardens in Silver Spring, Maryland near where Kar-Ben Copies home office was located. Mom dressed me up in that nice outfit, Aunt Madeline (Wikler) the resident photographer took me to the gardens, and she told me to blow as best I could. Honestly back then I couldn't blow very well, but I got better as I got older and did in fact blow shofar in synagogue on the high holidays when I was younger.

Kar-Ben: How did you feel about being the face of Kar-Ben’s calendars—then? Now?

Ben: I loved -- and still love -- being the face of Kar-Ben's calendars. I consider it an honor. It makes some sense given that I am in fact the "Ben" of Kar-Ben! Mom (Judye Groner) and Aunt Madeline (Wikler) founded Kar-Ben Copies for Jewish children, and so they named their company after their two youngest children. Aunt Madeline had Judy and Karen (Kar), and my Mom (Judye Groner) had Josh and Benjamin (Ben). I think they were also being clever given that Kar, Ben, and Copies sounded like "Carbon Copies," which is how you Xeroxed back in the early 70's! But don't quote me on this last fact.

Kar-Ben: Anything else you’d like our customers to know—anything biographical that you’d be inclined to share?

Ben: Sure! After Jewish Day School (K-8) and public school (9-12), I attended Northwestern University in Chicago, studied History and Theater, and then was a professional actor in the musical theater for 5 years. The highlight of my career was playing Tony in the National Tour of West Side Story. I then changed fields to that of Education. I taught in the Colorado Public Schools for 3 years, and then attended graduate school at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I got a Masters in Music Vocal performance and then a PhD in Theater Studies. My specialty is Interactive Theater for Social Change--using theater to promote dialogue and solutions around social issues. After doing it with colleges and universities for several years, I now have my own company, Theater Delta. We work with colleges and universities, medical providers, the US military, the World Bank, and others. I love what I do.

When I was young I actually was a shofer blower in my local shul on the high holidays, but then I became a self taught Cantorial Soloist. I have been chanting services at Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, IL outside of Chicago for the past 22 years. I love doing it.