Remembering Miriam and Edward Magdol

Miriam Sper Magdol young
Miriam Sper Magdol

The daily news brings me close to tears. I find myself looking for light, for what’s good in the world. Being active on the local level with others who refuse to accept the hate emanating from the White House, and around the world, helps, but it’s hard to shake the feeling of helplessness.

It’s at times like these that I remember my Aunt Mim, to whom I dedicated Hanukkah: A Counting Book in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish.

Hanukkah: A Counting Book
Original 2001 Edition

The dedication reads:
Dedicated in loving memory to Miriam Sper Magdol zl, whose flame will burn on long after her passing.

It’s impossible to remember my Aunt Mim without my Uncle Eddie, the love of her life. Together they fought to make the world a better place. Be it racism, economic inequality, the oppression of workers, or any other social injustice, they spoke out with words or in writing.

Edward Magdol, Navy uniform
Edward Magdol

My Uncle Eddie was an historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the 1970’s at SUNY Potsdam, besides teaching Black Studies, he taught labor and immigration history. If he was alive today, I’m sure he’d be involved with the sanctuary movement. I’m honored to have his books on my bookshelf.

Books by Edward Magdol
Books by Edward Magdol

The black pages of Hanukkah: A Counting Book set off the brightly colored candles as they show through die-cut pages. Some people call it “the black Hanukkah book.” Hearing this, a friend suggested “the colorful Hanukkah book” would be a better moniker. Keeping my aunt and uncle in mind, let’s not lose sight of the colors and keep the flame burning.

Hanukkah Coloring & Activity Book, 2016

In 2016, when I revised Hanukkah Coloring & Activity Book, among seven new activities, I added a tzedakah — charity — page. In the spirit of my aunt and uncle, it’s my way of creating positive change in the world…one candle at time.

 

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Access to Nature Shouldn’t Be a Privilege

Crystal Lake, Newton, MA
Crystal Lake

Most days of summer I ride my bike up the street to Crystal Lake where I swim. On the way, I pass Bullough’s Pond. Trees line the streets and small wooded parks are scattered throughout the suburban city in which I live. I’m lucky and know it.

If I want to go one notch up the niceness scale, I can drive a half hour to Walden Pond. And, when invited, I visit friends with houses in beautiful areas of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. This makes me doubly lucky.

Thinking about privilege reminds me of The Fresh Air Fund that gives New York City children the opportunity to spend part of the summer with a host family or at a camp outside the city. While a summer of fresh air is a start, everyone deserves a safe and healthy environment all year long.

Mountaintop Lake Ossipee
Mountaintop near Ossipee Lake

My first trip of the summer was to Freedom, New Hampshire. My friend Tatjana introduced me to a trail up a small mountain overlooking Ossipee Lake. On another trail, with varied terrain, I wasn’t quick enough to see the beaver, but later had a long look at a broad-winged hawk perched high in a tree next to the house. That evening we enjoyed wild edible mushrooms Tatjana found on our hike.

Danforth Ponds, Lake Ossipee, New Hampshire
Paddling the kayak, Ossipee Lake
Lily pads on Danforth Ponds
Lily pads on Danforth Ponds

In a double kayak, we paddled through the inlet to Danforth Ponds where we found lily pads, the eyes of a swimming turtle, and mountains in the distance. With only a paddle boarder and two kayaks on the other side of the pond, I listened to the sounds of nature that are usually drowned out by man-made noise. I did have to ask the paddleboarder guide to turn down the volume of the music blaring from her phone!

 Wild blueberries
Wild blueberries

Summer in New Hampshire means wild blueberries. They grow alongside roads, in the sandy soil of a former airport, in the woods, and on mountaintops. We spotted a few wild strawberries, too.

View of Mount Monadnock
View of Mount Monadnock

After a few days at home, I was ready to head back to Troy, New Hampshire to pick more blueberries. On my annual trek with Judy and Harry, we climb a small mountain near Mount Monadnock where blueberries are plentiful. It’s the perfect hike to do with friends who’ve never seen a blueberry growing wild. One in the bucket, one in my mouth, one in the bucket, one in my mouth…

While we ate our sandwiches, two birds on treetops tweeted back and forth. On our way down, fellow hikers showed us a photo of the snake they encountered on the trail. I wasn’t disappointed to have missed the real thing!

LIttle Squam Lake, NH
Little Squam Lake

Unlike Sal in the children’s book Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, I didn’t meet a mother bear and cub. But, the night before I arrived at Little Squam Lake, my friends heard the growl of a bear behind the house. And I wasn’t the one to see the bear on the road, which was fine with me. Years ago, I had my own sighting of a bear lumbering across the road while cycling the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, Canada.

To ensure a healthy planet for future generations, we need to do all in our power to protect it.

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The Best Earth Day Children’s Books

onePlasticBagOne Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia (2015)
by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way….The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease….Something had to change. Isatou Ceesay was that change. She found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community. This inspirational true story shows how one person’s actions really can make a difference in our world.

Check out Miranda Paul’s books!


Here Comes the Garbage Barge!Here Comes the Garbage Barge! (2010)
by Jonah Winter, ilustrated by Red Nose Studio

This New York Times Best Illustrated Book is a mostly true and completely stinky story that is sure to make you say, “Pee-yew!” Teaching environmental awareness has become a national priority, and this hilarious book (subtly) drives home the message that we can’t produce unlimited trash without consequences.

Check out Jonah Winter’s books!


What On Earth Can We Do?What On Earth Can We Do? (2016)
by Emily Sper

This fun and informative book introduces kids to actions they can take to help make the Earth healthier, such as making less garbage, repair-reuse-recycle, composting, planting a tree, or not wasting electricity or water—without being preachy or silly. Colorful graphics and simple explanations of electricity, carbon dioxide, global warming, renewable energy, and the importance of trees and water add meaning to the actions proposed.

Check out Emily Sper’s books!


The EARTH BookThe EARTH Book (2011)
by Todd Parr

With his signature blend of playfulness and sensitiviy, Todd Parr explores the important, timely subject of environmental protection and conservation in this eco-friendly picture book. This book includes lots of easy, smart ideas on how we can all work together to make the Earth feel good — from planting a tree and using both sides of the paper, to saving energy and reusing old things in new ways.

Check out Todd Parr’s books!


Simon and Schuster Little Green Books Series

The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling (2009)
by Alison Inches, illustrated by Pete Whitehead

Learn about recycling from a new perspective!  Peek into this diary of a plastic bottle as it goes on a journey from the refinery plant, to the manufacturing line, to the store shelf, to a garbage can, and finally to a recycling plant where it emerges into it’s new life… as a fleece jacket!

I Can Save the Earth!: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and RecycleI Can Save the Earth!: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (2008)
by Alison Inches  and Viviana Garofoli

Meet Max the Little Monster. He is a cute, furry green monster who is an environmental nightmare. Among other things, he leaves on all the lights, keeps his computer plugged in, blasts the TV, hoards his old toys and uses so much toilet paper it clogs the toilet until finally, his excessive ways cause a power outage. With no TV to watch, computer to play on, video games to play with, Max finds there is a whole big world outside that he can make a difference in the environment.

Check out I Can Save the Ocean and Alison Inches’ other books!


 

Compost StewCompost Stew (2014)
by Mary McKenna Siddals, illustrated by Ashley Wolff

Kids everywhere are knowledgeable about the environment and climate change. Not only is composting becoming more common in households and residential gardens, but many school gardens feature compost piles, too. But how do you start a compost pile? What’s safe to include? Perfect for an Earth Day focus or year-round reference, this inviting book provides all the answers for kids and families looking for simple, child-friendly ways to help the planet.

Check out Mary McKenna Siddal’s other books and compost-related activities!


Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World (2014)
by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by Laura Beingessner

In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, here is a biography of the pioneering environmentalist. “Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it,” wrote Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmentalist. She wrote Silent Spring, the book that woke people up to the harmful impact humans were having on our planet.

Check out Laurie Lawlor’s books!


 

onEarthOn Earth (2008)
G. Brian Karas

Climb aboard a giant spaceship . . . the Earth! In glorious art, G. Brian Karas illuminates our Earth and its cycles and does a brilliant job of making the concepts of rotation and revolution understandable. As you travel, watch shadows disappear into night, and feel the sun on your face as winter turns into spring. All these amazing things happen because the Earth is constantly in motion, spinning and circling, gliding and tilting. As passengers of the Earth, our voyage never ends!

Check out G. Brian Karas’ books!


Common Ground: The Water, Earth, and Air We Share (1997)
by Molly Bang

Common GroundA simple story of our planet’s natural resources with jewel-like paintings by Caldecott Honor author Molly Bang. Through the example of a shared village green and the growing needs of the townspeople who share it, Molly Bang presents the challenge of handling our planet’s natural resources.

Check out The Sunlight Series by Penny Chisholm and Molly Bang!


The Tiny SeedThe Tiny Seed (2009)
by Eric Carle

Eric Carle’s classic story of the life cycle of a flower is told through the adventures of a tiny seed. This mini-book includes a piece of detachable seed-embedded paper housed on the inside front cover. Readers can plant the entire piece of paper and watch as their very own tiny seeds grow into beautiful wildflowers.

Check out Eric Carle’s books!


The Curious GardenThe Curious Garden (2013)
by Peter Brown

One boy’s quest for a greener world… one garden at a time. While out exploring one day, a little boy named Liam discovers a struggling garden and decides to take care of it. As time passes, the garden spreads throughout the dark, gray city, transforming it into a lush, green world.

Check out Peter Brown’s books!


When the Wind Blows

When the Wind Blows (2015)
Linda Booth Sweeney

When wind chimes start singing and clouds race across the sky, one little guy knows just what to do—grab his kite! But as the kite soars, the wind picks up even more, and soon he and his grandma are chasing the runaway kite into town. As they pass swirling leaves, bobbing boats, and flapping scarves, breezes become gusts and the sky darkens. Rain is on the way! Can they squeeze in one more adventure before the downpour?


The Snowy DayThe Snowy Day (1962)
Ezra Jack Keats

In this Caldecott Award-winning book, a small boy named Peter experiences the joy of a snowy day. First published in 1962, this now-classic book broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s publishing. The vivid and ageless illustrations and text, beloved by several generations of readers, have earned a place in the pantheon of great American children’s literature.

Check out Ezra Jack Keats’ books!


Giant SquidGiant Squid (2016)
by Candace Flemin, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

The giant squid is one of the most elusive creatures in the world. As large as whales, they hide beyond reach deep within the sea, forcing scientists to piece together their story from those clues they leave behind.

Check out Candace Flemin’s books!


Sparrow GirlSparrow Girl (2009)
by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

Ming-Li looked up and tried to imagine the sky silent, empty of birds. It was a terrible thought. Her country’s leader had called sparrows the enemy of the farmers–they were eating too much grain, he said. He announced a great “Sparrow War” to banish them from China, but Ming-Li did not want to chase the birds away.

Check out Sara Pennypacker’s books!


symphonyOfWhalesA Symphony of Whales (2002)
by Steve Schuch, illustrated by Peter Sylvada

Glashka can hear the voices of the whales in her dreams. . . but with that mysterious power comes great responsibility. When she discovers thousands of whales trapped in a rapidly freezing inlet, she knows it is up to her to gather the people of her town to help them. Based on an actual event, this inspiring story follows Glashka and her people as they come to understand the importance of all life.

Check out Steve Schuch’s books and music!


owlMoonOwl Moon (1987)
by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr

Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. But there is no answer. Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is.

Check out Jane Yolen’s books!


Swan SkySwan Sky (1988)
Tejima

Despite the devoted attentions of her family, a young swan is unable to accompany them on the journey to their summer home.

Check out Tejima’s books!

 


Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons (1930)
by Arthur Ransome

The first title in Arthur Ransome’s classic series, originally published in 1930: for children, for grownups, for anyone captivated by the world of adventure and imagination. Swallows and Amazons introduces the lovable Walker family, the camp on Wild Cat Island, the able-bodied catboat Swallow, and the two intrepid Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett.

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Children’s Books Brought Me the World

I look at the shelf with my childhood books and see the world. By the time I was ten years old, I’d made friends with children living in Scotland, Africa, and Tibet, among other countries. Some introduced me to everyday lives that were both different and the same as mine. Others, showed me that not getting along with people who are different is a global problem.

Wee Gillis in Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf brings his lowland-highland family together…

weegillis_250

Marcel in All Alone by Claire Huchet Bishop brings a French village together…

allalone_250

and fighting koala bears in The Bear Party by William Pene Du Bois get along when they dress up in costumes from around the world.

bearparty_700

In Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden, I felt Nona’s loneliness as she struggles to adapt to living with her English relatives, missing the life she knew as an only child in India. Together we built a Japanese dollhouse and navigated sibling relationships.

misshappiness_250At a young age I absorbed concepts many adults still haven’t grasped. If all children grew up with these or similar books, we might live in a world in which all people are welcome and treated with respect.

Here are a few more books that made me who I am:

lonelymaria_madeline mogosflute_daughter

latecuckoo_250

Post a comment with the title of a multicultural children’s book that made a lasting impression on you…or send me an email!

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Tu BiShvat — New Year of Trees

Almond Trees, Israel
Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Heh, Israel, 1981

Since ancient times, Jews have celebrated the New Year of Trees on the 15th of the month of Shvat (February 10 at sundown in 2017). In Israel, the cold, rainy winter is coming to an end and flowering almond trees announce the arrival of spring.

cov_whatonearth_250pxToday, in Israel and the diaspora, TuBishvat has become the Jewish Earth Day and I’m pleased that Jewish educators are planning to include What On Earth Can We Do? in their Tu BiShvat and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) programming.

In honor of Tu BiShvat, I’ve compiled a selection of my photographs and drawings of trees.


Croton-on-Hudson, NY, 1975

sper_tree_infared_providence
Providence, RI, 1976

Tree, Lake Tahoe, NV, 1993
Lake Tahoe, NV, 1993

Tree, Zurich
Zurich, 2002

Red Rock Branch
Red Rock State Park, AZ, 2003

Acadia droplets on pink branch
Asticou Azalea Garden, Northeast Harbor, ME

Dreamy Branch
Istanbul, Turkey, 2005

Birch tree, Newton
Newton, MA, 2016

Birch Trees, Cabot Woods
Newton, MA, 2016

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Hanukkah: Counting, Coloring, Card Games

Hanukkah: A Counting Book
Original 2001 Edition

It’s been 15 years since Scholastic Inc. published Hanukkah: A Counting Book in English Hebrew, and Yiddish. In 2011, with over 170,000 copies out in the world (hardback, paperback, and board book), I felt it was time to create a book for older children. The result was Hanukkah Coloring & Activity Book.

Hanukkah Coloring & Activity Book
2016 Edition

Never satisfied, this year I created seven new activities that led to a cover redesign. Now children — and adults — will have even more fun learning key Hebrew words and symbols in the Hanukkah story. There’s even a tzedakah activity to encourage families to donate food and toys to those in need.


Back in 2004, I thought hard to come up with a family activity that would be in the spirit of playing dreidel and complement Hanukkah: A Counting Book in English Hebrew, and Yiddish. One card game grew to three as a way to teach numbers, colors, and Hanukkah symbols in English and Hebrew, the final product being Hanukkah Card Games.

After all my thinking, what did I discover? Playing card games on Hanukkah is an old Jewish custom!

“In all the communities they decreed not to play cards all year long except for Hanukkah and Purim when they allowed it.” —R. Yosef Yuzpe Kashman Segal of Frankfurt, 1718

hgf_hand_200

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Remembering My Mom

Rose "Jerry" Sper
Rose “Jerry” Heringman Sper

This is the first of posts about the people to whom my books have been dedicated.

My dedication in The Kids’ Fun Book of Jewish Time reads, “Dedicated with love to my mom, my first and best editor.” This wasn’t a slight to my Scholastic and Jewish Lights editors, who were great, but my mom brought constructive criticism to another level. Accepting the criticism wasn’t easy, but it was what I needed to hear. “The pictures are great, but the text?” Growing up, my sister and I knew that showing  homework to our mom — only double-spaced on a yellow legal pad — meant we’d have to rewrite it, at least once.

After we went to sleep, my mom worked late into the night copyediting hefty manuscripts, aided by cigarettes and coffee. As a freelancer, she worked on books by Joyce Carol Oates, Robertson Davies, Dick Gregory, and others. I knew she’d worked with Saul Bellow on The Adventures of Augie March on-staff at the Viking Press, but it wasn’t until a friend asked, “Have you edited any authors we might know?” that I heard her say, “Steinbeck.” Working with Steinbeck on East of Eden, she managed to sneak his dedication past Pascal Covici (Steinbeck’s editor and my mom’s boss), to whom the book is dedicated.

Letter from John Steinbeck
Letter from John Steinbeck
Thank-you note from John Steinbeck (Bellogia was a perfume)

My mom’s library was arranged alphabetically, so my literary education began with Anderson and moved on to Austen, Bellow, Brontë, Davies, Dos Passos, Eliot, and on. Until her death at the age of 96, she was still reading books, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, and giving editorial advice to anyone who dared ask.

Just a few of my mom's books.
Some of my mom’s books transplanted to my house

 

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