September always feels like a new beginning—the start of the school year, the launch of a new book season, and the start of the Jewish New Year. All three converge at Kar-Ben Publishing, an imprint of Lerner Publishing, proudly the largest publisher of exclusively Jewish-themed children’s books in the world!
Just as the new year (which happens to be 5780) begins on Rosh Hashanah, Kar-Ben’s new book season kicks off with a Rosh Hashanah board book featuring an old friend. In Shanah Tovah,Grover!, Grover and his Sesame Street friends prepare for the holiday and wish each other “Shanah Tovah” (Hebrew for “a good year”)!
Learning about Jewish holidays can be a doorway into the multi-cultural world for everybody. The autumn festival of Sukkot, which celebrates the biblical journey of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt to the Land of Israel, is the inspiration for a new Kar-Ben book, The Elephant in the Sukkah. The tradition is that Jews lived in “huts” as they traveled and the “sukkahs” Jewish families build today to commemorate the journey are such huts. Based on the humorous little-known Talmudic legend that a sukkah wall may be made out of anything—even an elephant—this story imagines a singing elephant coming to join a family sukkah celebration and ending up as part of the sukkah!
Four new stories about Hanukkah will entertain and inspire readers, from the youngest board book readers to middle grade chapter-book readers. Grover’s Hanukkah Party is an occasion for Sesame Street friends to prepare for a Hanukkah party by counting many things that come in eights, especially the eight days of Hanukkah! Another new board book celebrating Hanukkah is Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah, in which farm animals gather ingredients for Bubbe (Yiddish for Grandma) to turn into potato latkes for all to enjoy together.
In Kar-Ben’s new picture book Kugel for Hanukkah?, some gifts to a little girl just don’t seem to make any sense - a thermometer, a spray bottle and a bowl. But the final gift is a wonderful surprise, one that any kid will appreciate.
Older readers will go back to the time of the Maccabees with A Dreidel in Time: A New Spin on an Old Tale, as sibs Devorah and Benjamin experience the story of Hanukkah first-hand. The spin of a magic dreidel, a Hanukkah top that is a gift from their grandparents, transports them on a time travel journey. For even more holiday fun, Chelm for the Holidays is a collection of silly stories and tall tales about celebrating Jewish holidays throughout the year in Chelm, the legendary city of fools.
Of the dozen or so books that Kar-Ben releases each season, some are always about developing character and a sense of community. In Baby’s Blessings a Jewish family welcomes a newborn. In In the Jerusalem Forest, a mother and daughter share quality time as they walk through the woods and look at their reflections in a pond. The story, originally published in Hebrew, is a take on the famous poem by Israeli poet laureate Hayim Nahman Bialik. In Mr. Tempkin Climbs a Tree, Marky and his retired neighbor enjoy watching the birds, until Mr. Tempkin falls from a tree when hanging his bird feeder, and Marky learns what it means to be a true friend. The new book, Kol Hakavod: Way to Go! demonstrates to young readers how children in many different settings in a city—on the street, in school, on the subway—do thoughtful deeds and acts of kindness.
Sharing Jewish history, with picture book biographies of Jews of accomplishment, is core to Kar-Ben’s list. Debbie Levy follows up her award-winning book I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark (Simon & Schuster) with Kar-Ben’s The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music. Levy shares the story of Ladino singer Flory Jagoda and the legacy of her family history, leaving Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, and fleeing Europe during World War II, finally coming to America and bringing her music with her. Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Shop tells the true story of an ice cream proprietor in Budapest who uses his shop to shelter his Jewish customers and neighbors from the Nazis during World War II, in particular young fellow ice cream lover Peter and his parents; the story is told by Peter’s daughter-in-law.
Finally, Kar-Ben’s fall offerings for older readers—about refugees and immigration, hidden identities revealed, and learning self-sufficiency and having the grit to do what’s right--are compelling for Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike. In Room for One More, twelve-year-old Rosetta Wolfson’s life changes when her family takes Isaac, a young war refugee from Germany, into their home in Montreal. As Rosetta and Isaac become friends, she learns his story, recognizes prejudice among her non-Jewish friends, and helps her “ready-made brother” adjust to his new life.
Walk Till You Disappear is a historical novel set in Arizona the 1870s about Miguel, a boy raised as a Catholic who finds out his family has Jewish roots. When 12-year-old Miguel learns of his Jewish ancestry, he flees his home. Lost in the desert, he meets Rushing Cloud, a Tohono O'odham youth escaping a mission school. As the boys travel toward home, Miguel learns from his friend how to survive in the desert, and more importantly, he begins to see his heritage in a new light.
In Kar-Ben’s third middle grade novel of the season, the time-travel adventure “A Whale of Tale” by award-winning author Eric A. Kimmel, Scarlett and Sam follow a stranger who steals the antique rug that their grandmother has asked them to bring to be cleaned. The stranger turns out to be Jonah, who rejects God’s plan for him to do the right thing. Scarlett and Sam know what they must do, even if that means going overboard into the sea with Jonah.
Learn more about Kar-Ben books at www.karben.com, and Shanah Tovah!—have a great new year!