Ziggy’s Big Idea by Ilana Long

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Ziggy’s Big Idea written by Ilana Long and illustrated by Rasa Joni (Kar-Ben Publishing; 2014; $17.95; Ages 5-9)  is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan. I like bagels, especially mixed orange and cranberry, but I don’t know anything about them really.


Ziggy’s BIG Idea by Ilana Long with illustrations by Rasa Joni, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2014.

Ziggy’s Big Idea presents one interpretation of the bagel’s origin. Ziggy is an inventive young boy, full of ideas, such as a square ball that doesn’t roll into the street. However, his ideas don’t always work out quite as Ziggy hopes. Just read about Rabbi Levi and the “shulstilts” that Ziggy made so that the Rabbi can “see the congregation over the bimah.” Ziggy’s father works in the bakery. So when the baker’s customers complain that “the buns are undercooked at the center,” Ziggy is determined to help! Will he be of use or just get in the way?

This informative read has additional resources, including a bagel recipe and theories on the bagel’s humble beginnings. It also presents life in a shtetl and uses Yiddish words and phrases. The artwork is full of interesting details, such as storks nesting on chimneys and era décor. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get a bagel at my local handy drive-thru bagel shop.


Interior spread from Ziggy’s BIG Idea by Ilana Long with illustrations by Rasa Joni, Kar-Ben Publishing, ©2014.

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Hanukkah Picture Book Roundup

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The Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) Ends Tonight

I just couldn’t light the last Hanukkah candle tonight without sharing a few more terrific Hanukkah picture books for 2013. These are three books you’ll want to keep to read again next Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Bear cover art by Mike Wohnoutka

Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka, Holiday House, 2013.

According to the copyright page, Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8, also available as an ebook) first appeared in Cricket, the Magazine for Children in 1988 and as a picture book titled The Chanukkah Guest with illustrations by Giora Carmi, in 1990.

I’m so glad Holiday House decided to bring out this charming book again, this time with a revised text and new artwork. Whether you read this story in the ’80s, ’90s or are reading it now for the first time, it will not disappoint. Grown-ups and kids alike will get such a kick out of the joyful and humourous Hanukkah tale featuring hungry Old Bear just awoken from hibernation to the smells of cooking latkes, and ninety-seven year old Bubba Brayna, a spry old villager who can neither see nor hear well anymore. Expecting the rabbi, Bubba Brayna opens the front door after hearing a thump and mistakes Old Bear for the rabbi. She then proceeds to have him join her as she lights the Menorah, plays a game of dreidel and finally feeds him. Old Bear “Rrrrrumphs” and “Grrrroooowrs” throughout the evening with Bubba Brayna filling in bits of conversation here and there. The sweet cover image of Old Bear licking Bubba Brayna after receiving his lovely red Hanukkah scarf should be a clue to the youngest readers that the story has a delightful ending and only latkes get eaten!! Plus Wohnoutka’s illustrations have a glowing quality about them that add to the warmth of the story. The end pages contain a handy latke recipe and author’s notes about the holiday for those less familiar with the celebration.

Click here for a Hanukkah Bear maze activity.

Sadie's Almost Marvelous Menorah artwork by Julie Fortenberry

Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah written by Jamie Korngold with artwork by Julie Fortenberry, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.

Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah, by Jamie Korngold with illustrations by Julie Fortenberry (Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback, Ages 2-6), is another fun story for children. Sadie loves school, her teacher Morah Rachel and the approaching holiday of Hanukkah. When Hanukkah arrives she knows she’ll spin dreidels, eat potato latkes with applesauce (my favorite, too!) and light the menorah with her family.  The best part for Sadie is that she and her classmates get to make their very own menorahs from clay. In school she works hard to knead, roll and shape her menorah. Sadie decides to paint hers pink with blue squiggles and can’t wait until Friday when she can bring it home. But when her mother arrives at school to pick her up, Sadie rushes to her and drops the menorah.  The handmade treasure breaks into “a million, zillion pieces!” The clever way Sadie’s mom handles the disaster leads to a new family tradition that  makes for a very happy, unique ending. Fortenberry’s colorful artwork complements the text and conveys just the perfect amount of emotion and detail to help move the story forward. The three candle blessings included in the end are terrific to have especially since our family has only ever known just one to say.


Eight is Great artwork by Hideko Takahashi

Eight is Great by Tilda Balsley with artwork by Hideko Takahashi, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.

For the youngest kids at home, there’s Eight is Great, (Kar-Ben, $5.95, Ages 1-4), by Tilda Balsley with illustrations by Hideko Takahashi, a board book with each page detailing some aspect of Hanukkah incorporating the number eight. Whether it’s eight days and nights to celebrate, or eight candles lit, Balsley finds just the right descriptions in simple rhymes. Of course there are eight places to set at the table and eight latkes to fill the guests’ plates. “There’s more,” says the dad in this family, “don’t hesitate.” Mom helps with eight presents to wrap and for those new to playing dreidel, there are four sides and if you play with two, that makes a total of eight! The story ends, as many a Hanukkah tale does, by remembering “heroes long before us” helping make this picture book complete with just 12 pages. Takahashi’s jewel-toned illustrations light up the board book making this an ideal introduction to the Festival of Lights.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

The Jewish New Year is Almost Here!

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What a Way to Start a New Year! is a new picture book from Kar-Ben about Rosh Hashanah. Written by Jacqueline Jules with art by Judy Stead.

What a Way to Start a New Year! is a new picture book from Kar-Ben about Rosh Hashanah. Written by Jacqueline Jules with art by Judy Stead.

WHAT A WAY TO START  A NEW YEAR! A ROSH HASHANAH STORY (Kar-Ben Publishing, $16.99 Hardcover, $7.95 Paperback, ages 3-8), by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Judy Stead, is a wonderful book to share at the High Holidays or anytime really. Between Jules’s realistic and readable text to Stead’s vibrant and expressive illustrations, this picture book would make a welcome addition to any family’s book collection. A bonus is that the dad, who is not Jewish, loves celebrating the holidays making this story ideal for interfaith families.

It’s Murphy’s Law around Dina’s house as everything that can go wrong does go wrong before the New Year celebration. First, the family has just moved to a new town and are living out of boxes. It’s just not the same as when they lived in Greenville. When they decide to drive the two hours to Greenville to visit the Kaplans, old family friends, one unlucky event after another begins to work against them. Harry forgets his special pillow, Mom locks her key in the house, the car gets a flat tire, grape juice spills all over the floor and someone always exclaims, “What a way to start a new year!”

And while these kids who have just relocated to a new home and new city may compare and complain, it’s not uncommon considering the circumstances. They did not want leftover pizza for their New Year meal! They pined for their round challah and brisket. And the Kaplans, of course, because they were a known entity. Change is never easy.

When Dad accepts an invitation to meet Alan Levine, a work colleague, at the local synagogue for Rosh Hashanah services, Harry and Dina are delighted to meet Mr. Levine’s grandchildren. It’s not long before Murphy’s Law is history and this young family is joining the Levines for a joyous holiday dinner. “What a wonderful way to start a new year!”

– Reviewed by Ronna M andel

When Hanukkah’s Lights Were the Heroes

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Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue  ($17.95, hardcover; $7.95, paperback,Kar-Ben, ages 5-9), a new story about the age old Jewish Festival of Lights written by Heidi Smith Hyde with illustrations by Jamel Akib, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

I have read dozens of Hanukkah books and always love getting a hold of one that presents the holiday from an interesting new perspective and this one certainly succeeds. The tale takes place in 18th century New Bedford, Massachusetts, a whaling community where many Jewish families who have emigrated from the religious intolerance of Portugal now live secretly as Jews in America.


Nine-year-old Emanuel Aguilar is one such Jewish boy, son of a merchant whose shop sells whalers all the necessary supplies and food provisions for days and weeks at sea. The thriving whaling industry employs countless fisherman and many hundreds of ships set sail from the New Bedford port seeking their prey whose oil was used in candle making and in lamps.

Emanuel dreams of adventure at sea rather than the mundane life behind a shop counter but his father cautions him, saying a whaler’s life is “lonely and dangerous.” This timid nature of his father was also reflected in his reluctance to express his religious views afters years of persecution overseas. “This isn’t Portugal, Papa. This is America! No one will put us in jail for being who we are,” said Emanuel. Yet despite Emanuel’s repeated pleas for his father to light and display the Hanukkiah or Shabbat candle, Mr. Aguilar continues to live in fear and practices his faith behind drawn curtains.

It is only when Emanuel stows away on a whaling ship on the last night of Hanukkah that things change in New Bedford. The ship encounters a fierce storm and the ship’s main mast is damaged forcing the captain to return to port. Heavy waves and wind have caused the whaling ship to lose its bearings but with not stars to guide the crew and the lighthouse perhaps struck by lighting, darkness appears endless and finding New Bedford impossible.

But like the miracle oil that burned for eight nights when the Jews returned to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, out at sea a miracle occurred, too! The shoreline of New Bedford shone brightly against the night sky. “In the window of every Jewish home, including Emanuel’s, flames were glowing, proclaiming the last night of Hanukkah.”

When son and father are reunited both are thankful for the lessons learned as are we the readers. This moving Hanukkah tale is marvelously illustrated with chalk pastels that seem to effortlessly flow with story’s mood and setting. This is a picture book you will definitely want to share with the family and discuss because the topic of religious freedom is as relevant today as it was three centuries ago.

Wishing everyone a joy-filled Hanukkah!