Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kar-Ben Featured on Cynsations

What would we do without Kar-Ben Publishing? This specialty publisher creates Jewish early childhood books without which the shelves in my preschool library would be almost empty. Since the 1970's, Kar-Ben has been an important force in the creation of Jewish books for young children.

Founders Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler created the company from scratch and wrote many of the early titles themselves. They filled a need, and the company flourished. In 2001 they sold the company to Lerner, having published over 150 Jewish children's books. Under Lerner, Kar-Ben continues as imprint that specializes in Judaica, and has expanded to include books for older children as well as early childhood.

The Association of Jewish Libraries awarded Judye and Madeline a Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award for their contributions to the genre of Jewish children's literature. This award usually goes to a prolific author, but Kar-Ben has played a unique role in helping to expand the body of literature available. As they transitioned to Lerner, AJL felt it was appropriate to mark the occasion with special recognition.

You can read an extensive interview with Judye Groner, which includes descriptions of many recent Kar-Ben titles, on the Cynsations blog. Children's and YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith has been blogging since 2004 with a variety of kidlit reviews, literary news, and interviews. It's a great blog for keeping up with happenings in the kidlit world. Thanks to Cynthia for helping to promote Jewish kids' publishing too!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Look Inside Bagels From Benny

Bagels from Benny by Aubrey Davis, illustrated by Dusan Petricic won the 2003 Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Younger Readers Category. Now you can read the entire book online, thanks to They are adding free online picture books all the time, and Bagels from Benny is one of the new entries in their Judaica category.

As Lookybook says:

Benny loves to help out at his grandpa’s bakery in the morning, and the customers love the crusty bagels with their soft insides. When Grandpa explains to Benny that God, not him, should be thanked for the wonderful bagels, Benny sets out to do just that. He decides to leave God a bagful of bagels in the synagogue at the end of each week. And each week God eats the bagels — or so Benny thinks … Lovingly told, Bagels from Benny explores the values of caring and sharing, building a strong sense of community and finding joy in giving thanks.

A reading guide for Bagels from Benny is available from the PJ Library.

The story is based on the old Jewish legend about the loaves in the ark. A more traditional retelling, which was also an AJL Notable Book, is In God's Hands by Lawrence Kushner and Gary Schmidt, illustrated by Matthew J. Baek. Click here for the publisher's description and for a link to sample pages.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hana's Suitcase

Having just reviewed Rutka's Notebook for School Library Journal, my mind turns to other Holocaust narratives I have read. One of the best was Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine, the 2002 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category.

"Hana's Suitcase" was a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio documentary before it was a book. Originally broadcast on January 21, 2001 on The Sunday Edition,
it was produced by Karen Levine, who later became the book's author. It was recognized right away as remarkable storytelling, winning a gold medal at the 2001 New York Festival. The audio can still be heard at the CBC web site.

It's a multilayered story. One the one hand, we have an old suitcase in a Japanese Holocaust museum, with the name "Hana Brady" painted on it. On the other hand, we have the story of what happened to Hana and why her suitcase was left behind. Tying these two threads together is the story of museum director Fumiko Ishioka's globe-trotting detective work to learn about the suitcase's owner. The search led her to Europe and ultimately to Canada, where she found Hana's surviving brother, George.

Intriguing, touching, and ultimately hopeful, the story has attracted attention in all its formats. In 2002, the book version was published by Second Story Press. It won fourteen awards: Jewish awards, Canadian awards, reader-selected awards... and the list goes on.

The story has been produced as a play across Canada and the United States, and the complete script is available in the book Hana's Suitcase on Stage.

A beautiful web site has been produced by the Brady family, which includes additional background information about Hana and her life with brother George. You can even see a silent home movie of the family from 1938!

In a fascinating twist, it was later discovered that the suitcase in the Tokyo museum was actually a replica. Wikipedia explains:
In February 2004, Lara Brady, Hana's niece, discovered inconsistencies between the suitcase on display and the suitcase pictured with Hana's friend after the war in the 1960's. Not only did the physical suitcase appear newer than in the photographs, but the location of the handle was also reversed. In March, Fumiko and George Brady inquired about the suitcase with the director of the Auschwitz museum, who explained that a replica had been created based on the pictures after the original suitcase was destroyed in a fire in 1984. This fire was likely caused by arson (according to the director and police at the time) while on loan to an English exhibit in Birmingham. As the museum personnel omitted this fact when they loaned it to the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, the fact that the suitcase was a replica had gone unnoticed for several years. The family and the Center assert that even as such, the replica's contribution to the cause of human rights and peace education is not lessened by its lack of authenticity.
So many Holocaust books are published each year that the subject can start to feel overdone. This book is one of the standouts: fresh, well-researched, emotionally engaging, and inspiring.