Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Jerusalem International Book Forum and The International Writers Festival

 Every May, Jerusalem is host to the International Book Forum and The International Writers Festival. As with many events, this live gathering was highly anticipated. While there were many interesting sessions from which to choose, the one that caught my eye was "Where the Cool Kids Are: The Rise and Rise of YA and Children's Literature." As an aside, my former English teacher, Christopher Pomeroy Fearon, is rolling in his grave about a phrase ending with a form of the verb "to be" and with a colon after it. But I guess the "Cool Kids" don't worry about proper grammar.

This was the first YA panel ever presented at the Forum. The session was moderated by Rena Rossner, Literary Agent at The Deborah Harris Agency in Israel. Her first question to the participants was about what's happening in the market, and what's selling. Obviously, the pandemic had a huge impact on book sales, with increases across the board. Barbara Marcus, President and Publisher, Random House Children's Books PRH, US noted that even though the US industry is down eight percent, retail sales continue to grow. Books about Social Justice, Asian Americans, and the ever-popular Dr. Seuss were big sellers.

Thille Dop, Senior Publisher, Children's & YA Literature, Luitingh-Sifthoff, Netherlands, was a delight. Young readers in the Netherlands want to read in English -- Wimpy Kid, Story Treehouse, Dog Man are favorites. 

What is happening in Italy? Very impressive that during the lockdown, books were considered an essential good, like medicine and groceries, and bookstores remained opened. Marta Mazza, Editor in Chief, Mondadori Children's Books, Italy said the Heartstopper Series (a Queer romance graphic novel) was very popular. 

Natasha Farrant, a literary scout and author from the UK, commented that comedian David Walliams' book sold very well during the pandemic.

Finally, Belina Ioni Rasmussen, Managing Director of Macmillan Children's Book UK noted that the young part of the market grew. Sales of picture books and activity books increased significantly, and children's books accounted for 24.5 percent of the market -- bigger than the adult fiction market. She also talked about the phenomena of Marcus Rashford, a professional football (soccer) player for Manchester United. He is also an activist and very involved in charities that address food poverty. And, he involved with literacy. In 2020, he launched a book club and his book, You Are a Champion was published in 2021. The book club will distribute 50,000 free books annually, and hope to release two new books are year. 

All of the speakers noted two big trends in the YA market. The first is social media. Bookstagram and Book Tok, dedicated areas of Instagram and Tik Tok, respectively, are driving the market. People are posting loads of content about their favorite books. On the positive side, if people like the book, it will attract more readers. On the negative side, this content can also be negative and dissuade young readers from picking up the book. Readers are creating communities, and this organic growth of book lovers can make or break a book. 

The second is the rise of the physical book. E-books and audio are not so popular, but special editions are all the rage. On of the panelists mentioned Illumicrate, a subscription service that delivers a box of goodies that include a hardcover book with an exclusive cover design, and a variety of book merchandise that can include drinkware, stationery, bookmarks and tote bags. 

Here are the major trends mentioned:

  • Horror 
  • Graphic novels
  • Increase in sales of banned books
  • books about mental health/self-care/resilience
  • manga
  • the rise of the backlist
  • and poetry and other books to feed the soul

As for the Real Cats of Israel, exciting news from the Safari in Ramat Gan - a litter of five sand kittens was born on May 16th.

Sand cat kittens at safari
(Photo: Yam Siton)
Happy Reading!

Monday, May 9, 2022

Waking Lions

 My local book club was yet another fatality of COVID-19. Between finding a safe place to meet and all the people passing around the book, it finally succumbed earlier this year. I was not the most active member; I often skipped the books in which I had no interest (as did other members, which could be another reason why the group folded). But I miss discussing books, so I decided to read the latest selection for a local library group.

This month's selection

So first of all, here is how not to run a book club: Send out a notice that the group will be meeting on Zoom and that a few days before the meeting a request for reservations will be sent out, and then never send out the request for reservations. Arrange it so that the person sitting at the desk at the library has no information and has to call the book club contact person. Then have the contact person not contact the person who asked to participate. So that you not only ruined my evening, but pretty much guaranteed that I'm not interested in your group anymore.

But I'm so glad I read Waking Lions. This one was definitely out of my comfort zone of literary fiction and romance. And when I leave my comfort zone, I am either disappointed or very excited that I tried something different. In this case, it is the latter. The appeal points are all there and all amazing: a strong sense of place in the Negev region of Israel and perfect pacing. But what really stands out are the characters. As I read, I kept changing my mind about who was good and who was bad, and I'm still thinking about it. The way the story unravels with so many twists and turns kept me glued to the book until I finished it.

I don't want to spoil it because I highly recommend reading this book. Here's a little teaser: Eitan Green is a neurosurgeon who for some political reason had to leave his prestigious job near Tel Aviv and now works at Soroka Hospital in Beersheva. His wife Liat is a police detective, and they have two sons. One night after work, he decides to blow off some steam and takes a drive south on Route 40. He hits and kills an Eritrean on the road and leaves the scene. But the man's wife is there, picks up the wallet Eitan dropped, and shows up on his doorstep. What follows is a tense tale of secrets and strange alliances that doesn't quite make sense until the end of the book.

A big thank you to super librarian/book club leader Rachel Kamin for providing me with discussion questions and an article from her book group meeting.

As for the Real Cats of Israel, as long as the book is about lions, here are some more cats from the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem:

Happy Reading !

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Kindness Is the Word

 Three recent children's books focus on kindness. We've all seen posts on Facebook or bumper stickers or graffiti with quotes like Ann Herbert's "Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Beauty." There are websites like Inspire Kindness, with posts like "Kindness 101: What Is Kindness and How Do You Teach It?"

ABCs of Kindness
is one of the four books in a "sweet collection" of books written by Patricia Hagerty and Summer Macon (Caterpillar Books, 2019). The other three are 123s of Thankfulness, Happiness Is a Rainbow, and Friendship Is Forever.  The illustrations are super cute. I could see all these adorable elephants, bears, rabbits, and mice on the walls of a nursery or on baby clothes. For the most part, the rhyming text is simple and upbeat and emphasizes friendship, caring, and inclusiveness. But at Life Is Like a Library we read across genres and recommended age levels, so there are often interesting references and connections. The line "E is for everyone -- we are all the same" brought to mind Dara Horn's People Love Dead Jews (W.W. Norton & Company, 2021). We are not all the same, but that's okay. In fact, that is the challenge -- to love and respect others despite our differences. The verdict on this one is very cute pictures, and, for the most part, okay text with a positive message.

Lala's Words
(Orchard Books, 2021) is illustrator and animator Gracey Zhang's first picture book. The illustrations of Lala's home and neighborhood are black and white, while Lala's dress is yellow. But this heightens the impact of Lala's special place -- an empty lot filled with green weeds. Lala goes there, waters the plants, and speaks to them lovingly, complimenting their leaves and encouraging them to grow. But soon it is just too hot to go outside. What will happen to Lala's plants? You MUST read this book to find out because it is charming and packs a big punch. It has been proving that talking to plants makes them grow. Imagine if we talked to everyone with words of kindness and encouragement!

And finally, who doesn't love a wordless picture book? You can imagine what the characters are saying and make up your own dialog. Not so great for story time, but great for the classroom and creative writing. Marta Bartolj's Every Little Kindness (Chronicle Books, 2021) was first published in Slovenia in 2018. A woman wakes up and goes outside, and soon, as in Pirke Avos, "mitzvah gorreret mitzvah," one good deed inspires another from sharing fruit, to picking up trash, to returning a lost item, and so on, until it comes full circle, and someone does a kindness for the woman at the beginning of the book. Subtle illustrations with pops of color put the focus on the characters' actions. Recognized as an outstanding wordless picture book at the Kristina Brenkova Awards, this one is a winner on many levels.

As for the Real Cats of Israel, they are enjoying the warm weather. This is our friend Nacho. He looks very much like our beloved JoJo, so his name is a double play on words (which we love): Nacho because he's orange, and "not Jo," because he is not JoJo.

Happy Reading!

Monday, March 7, 2022

But Perhaps...Just Maybe

 We're super excited about a book that will be available later this month:

But Perhaps, Just Maybe... written by Tuvia Dikman Oro and illustrated by Menahem Halberstadt (Green Bean Books, 2022), was originally published in Hebrew in 2021 as Aval, Bichlal, L'Mashal (Yedioth Books), which is more euphonic because it rhymes, but literally means, "But, at all (or ever), for example." 

Why is this book so wonderful? 

First of all, it is based on a verse from Ethics of the Fathers (Pirke Avot). Not only is Pirke Avot our favorite Jewish text, but the book is based on one of our favorite verses, which is translated so beautifully as the beginning of the book:

Joshua ben Perahiah would say: Find for yourself a teacher, choose for yourself a friend, and judge everyone with the scale weighted in their favor (Chapter 1, Verse 6).

The verse is often translated as "Make for yourself a rabbi, acquire for yourself a friend, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt." 

Either way, these are important words to live by.

Next, the adorable illustrations by Menahem Halberstadt, illustrator of many children's book and the man behind the art in the hit series Shtisel. The use of native Israeli animals and birds -- the hedgehog (kipod - very popular in kid's books and TV shows) and the hoopoe (national bird of Israel) -- gives the book an Israeli flavor, even though the story could have taken place anywhere.

Then you have Duck and Hedgehog whose bicycles both have flat tires. While Duck is continually frustrated by others' actions, Hedgehog keeps repeating the refrain, "But perhaps, just maybe," finding alternate explanations for things like a cat stirring up dust and a rock in the road while they walk their bicycles to the repair shop.

So not only do we learn about giving the benefit of the doubt, we learn about choosing a friend that can be positive and see things differently. 

And, of course, at the end, Hedgehog was right about all the situations they encountered.

We love this book, and perhaps, just maybe... you'll love it, too!

As for the Real Cats of Israel, Spring has arrived and they are out and about:

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Eat Chocolate on Days that End in "y"

Here at Life Is Like a Library, we don't celebrate or observe secular, Hallmark holidays. Thanksgiving for us, for example, is not the fourth Thursday in November, it is every possible minute of every day. "Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky and our feet as swift as hinds -- we still could not thank You (God) sufficiently, and to bless Your Name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors that You performed for our ancestors and for us" (Morning Service for Sabbath and Festivals).

Next. St. Valentine's Day is the day this early Christian clergyman was martyred by the Romans in 269 CE. He became the patron saint of love, marriage, and affianced couples, and also of beekeepers and epileptics. According to one source, Valentine's Day "might have been a Christianized version of Lupercalia, an ancient post-winter-early-spring Roman fertility and purification festival that was observed on February 15th in which boys slapped women with bloody goat's hides." February 14th is actually a very sad day for Jews. In 1349, the Massacre of Strausbourg took place. The locals blamed the Jews for many things: the Bubonic plague (Black Death), poisoning wells, price fluctuations.  The community was imprisoned, and driven by a mob to the cemetery, where 2,000 Jews were burned to death in a pyre. Their valuables were stolen, and, or course, all debts owed to the Jews were canceled. So no, we do not send cards or flowers or go to fancy restaurants for dinner or give each other big boxes of chocolate.

But much like the way we celebrate thanksgiving, every day is a good day to eat chocolate, and while the above story is rather grim, the new book from Green Bean Books, The Chocolate King is a cute tale of how Jews introduced chocolate in France. Written by Michael Leventhal and Illustrated by Laura Catal├ín, it is the story of young Benjamin, who dreams of making chocolate like his grandfather Marco, who made a thick, dark beverage of hot chocolate. Without gory details, Marco explains to Benjamin how their family had to leave Spain, with as many cocoa beans as they could take, and move to France. There, people were not familiar with chocolate. How they discover how delicious it is, thanks to Benjamin, is the climax of the story. While there is no overt Jewish content in the book, it is based on historical fact. As a librarian, I appreciated the "Bite-Sized History of Chocolate and the Jewish Community," a pictorial timeline that starts with the Mayans around 600 CE and ends with Bayonne as the chocolate capital of France. Another pictorial shows the production of chocolate "From Bean to Bar." And, completing the backmatter is a recipe for "Thick Hot Chocolate Drink" -- Chocolate a La Taza -- by Claudia Roden. 

As long as we are celebrating chocolate, be sure to check out Michael's collection of chocolate recipes, Babka, Boulou & Blintzes. We recently shared the recipe for Boulou, which are even more delicious when they are dipped in a mug of hot chocolate. 

Here's a basic recipe for hot chocolate from Celebrating Sweets:

Homemade Hot Chocolate

Makes 1 serving:

1 cup milk

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 Tablespoon sugar

2 Tablespoons chocolate chips

1-2 drops vanilla extract

Place milk, cocoa powder, and sugar in a small saucepan, and heat over medium/medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until warm, but NOT boiling. Add chocolate chips and whisk constantly until the chocolate chips are melted and distributed evenly into the milk. Add vanilla extract and serve immediately.

As for the Real Cats of Israel, they eat everything but chocolate (It can be lethal for them. Interesting fact: theobromine is the toxic agent and can cause abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and death). But this guy reminded me of one of my favorite combinations -- chocolate and peanut butter. Reese was last seen dumpster diving in the municipal parking lot.

Enjoy chocolate every day!
Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Unfinished Corner - Interview with Writer Dani Colman

 Finally, finally. Almost as a reward for wading through "less than ultimate" review books, I have been blown away by an amazing graphic novel, and I will have to keep checking my thesaurus for different words for "amazing."

Published in 2021 by Wonderbound, The Unfinished Corner creators are

Dani Colman - Writer
Rachel "Tuna" Petrovicz - Artist
Whitney Cogar - Colorist
Jim Campbell - Letterer

The graphic novel is such a great format for an adventure story like this one. The combination of illustrations and text, the different formats -- panels, double spreads, etc., and the mythical characters, will hold the reader's attention.

As a fan girl, I could go on, but I had the privilege of asking writer Dani Colman some of my questions.

I want to be very careful not to reveal spoilers, because I know readers will be delighted when they encounter some of the amazing (stunning? astounding?) things in the graphic novel.

LILAL: I will give a hint that there is a scene which to me was a combination of the television show “Glow Up” and Mirka, of Hereville fame, versus the dragon. There is also a vehicle which reminds me of either The Magic School Bus or the Mystery Machine van from Scooby Do. Have others noticed this?

Dani Colman: The book is absolutely full of references for the eagle-eyed! I very much wanted to pay tribute to Hereville; there are very few proudly Jewish graphic novels for younger readers, and the Hereville books are so witty and adventurous and fun. Reading them was huge to me in proving that yes, this kind of story can be done. There are also references to many of the stories that influenced me growing up, from The Iron Giant to The Land Before Time to Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Part of this is just a love letter to the stories that made me: I wouldn't be the writer I am without all of these wonderful influences. But I was also conscious of the fact that, as a millennial, some of the parents reading this book to their kids will be around my age, and will have grown up with the same stories. Nostalgia is such a powerful force, so I hope that including these little shoutouts to meaningful stories will help these parents and other adult readers tap into that childhood sense of wonder and adventure as they read.

LILAL: My short summary would be: Miri Feigenbaum, a talented art student, is swept into a bat mitzvah vision quest to save the world from demons. What’s yours?

Dani Colman: The way I pitch it to new readers is this: "It's a fantasy adventure based on Jewish mythology, in which four children are kidnapped by a rogue angel who wants them to finish the corner of the Universe that G-d forgot." What I've found works really well about this description is that it has three moments of surprise in it: three moments where I can see a potential reader's eyebrows go up with intrigue:
"...based on Jewish mythology..."
"...rogue angel..."
"...corner of the Universe that G-d forgot."
By the time I get that third eyebrow raise, they're usually reaching for the book!

LILAL: There is so much Jewish content: Kabbalah, Midrash, folklore, Jewish prayer. Two questions:
How did you research the graphic novel?

Dani Colman: I started by just reading everything I could get my hands on: books, articles, poorly-researched reddit posts - you name it! It's been a long time since I attended cheder, and I also knew I wanted to explore parts of folklore and the non-canonical texts that weren't part of my Jewish Studies curriculum as a teen, so I just absorbed as much as I could. Over time, I zeroed in on a couple of books that collected the kinds of stories that felt right for a fantasy adventure. Howard Schwartz is a renowned folklorist who's spent decades exploring Jewish mythology, so several of his books became foundational texts for The Unfinished Corner. From these foundational texts, I'd pull on threads I found interesting; sometimes they led to more of the same, but just as often I'd find some obscure piece of arcane text that gave the stories additional dimensions or context. One of the things I love about Judaism is that it's a culture of interpretation: the Talmud is literally the product of years of scholars debating the meaning of every line of the Torah! That means that for any given folktale or piece of commentary, there are tens of different versions and hundreds of different interpretations. There's very little "right" or "wrong": there's "doing the best you can to find a meaning that makes sense and upholds Jewish values".

LILAL: How did you weave it all together – across time and space?

Dani Colman: I knew where the story had to start, and I knew where the story had to end, and I knew that one stop in the middle was non-negotiable from the outset - I won't spoil it here, but it's a rare Jewish folktale that's very familiar to many non-Jews as well, so including it would instantly make the book more accessible to a wide variety of readers. From there, it was a question of which of the stories I'd researched would help the children in their journey: who's going to give them new information, or a way to traverse something impassable? Which characters will get in the protagonists' way, but in a way that forces them to be creative and learn something new? Which pieces of mythology can I draw on to exploit the specific strengths of my characters, or trip them up in interesting ways? Some folktales lent themselves really well to the epic journey nature of the story, such as the travels of Bar Bar Hanna (a sort of Jewish Sinbad figure); others, as much as I loved and wanted to include them, just didn't mesh well with the story I was trying to tell, and got put in the "maybe for a sequel" folder.

LILAL: How do you think non-Jewish readers will react to the story?

Dani Colman: I knew from the get-go that this book had to function as a fun, engaging adventure first. Readers are sensitive (and rightly so) to soapboxing, so if the characters aren't relatable and the story isn't gripping, any attempt to teach readers a little about Judaism will fall flat. So far, the response from non-Jewish readers tells me the book has succeeded in that! Readers enjoy the fantastical adventures, and I've had more than a few people tell me they were inspired to go out and read more about Judaism after they finished reading The Unfinished Corner. Reading stories based in other cultures was a huge part of my upbringing, from folklore to other religions to stories based in parts of the world I'd never seen. Every time I read a book that introduced characters living lives that were unfamiliar to me, I was motivated to read more, learn more, experience more. I can only hope that The Unfinished Corner does the same for non-Jewish readers!

LILAL: Many characters that are usually villains or “the bad guys” in Jewish lore are portrayed somewhat sympathetically. For example, Lilith (my son told me not to say her name out loud!) seems pretty reasonable. Are she and the Nephilim (fallen angels) just misunderstood?

Dani Colman: Jews are traditionally quite good at seeing other people's point of view; we're generally not dogmatic. It's built into our liturgy and tradition, from the Noachide commandments for ethical living for non-Jews, to the mitzvahs of taking care of guests and not making non-Jewish household members or staff work on Shabbat, to stories of even our more traditional villains (like Achashverosh) being brought around by wisdom and lateral thinking. I had some conversations with my editor very early on about whether it would strengthen the story to include a more traditional "Big Bad", but at the end of the day, it just didn't feel authentically Jewish to do so. There's also the fact that Jews have been cast as villains in so many anti-Semitic narratives and we as a people are - of course! - much more complex than that. The vast majority of us are ordinary folks just doing our best; just like any group, we've also got truly good people and people who are...not. For any non-Jewish reader who's got a little unconscious anti-Semitism floating around in their brain, making sure the nominal antagonists of the story are complex and empathetic is a way of countering that bias.

LILAL: My library colleagues usually assign graphic novels to the “middle grade” section of the library, but as an adult, I appreciated so many references, for example, Hadassah singing “Three Little Maids” from “The Mikado” in the back seat, that I don’t think they would appreciate. Who do you see as your target audience?

Dani Colman: Our recommended reading age is 8-13, and we've had a pretty good response from that demo, even with the occasional Gilbert and Sullivan! That said, I feel strongly that "all ages" material should be truly for all ages. Younger readers will probably read this book with their parents, which means that there should be jokes and references for the parents to enjoy too. Speaking purely for myself, there's also something so satisfying about returning to a book I enjoyed as a kid, and finding something I could only appreciate as an adult - it's like the author left a gift for me. A book like Watership Down is meaningful to me because every year I've read it - and I've read it almost every year since I was eight or so - I've discovered or understood something new. That's the mark of good kids' or teens' literature for me: a story that grows and matures with the reader.

I also should probably mention that Miri's family is lovingly inspired by my own parents and siblings, and gathering around the piano with my dad to sing Gilbert and Sullivan was a proud family tradition. The bat mitzvah-scene rewrite of "Modern Major General" was directly inspired by my own siblings' b'nei mitzvah, in which - in lieu of speeches - I sang The Bat Mitzvah Rag to the tune of "Tom Lehrer's Vatican Rag," and my siblings sang The Rabbi Cometh to the tune of Flanders & Swann's "The Gas-Man Cometh."  It's just what the Colman kids do!
There's also a musical joke in the middle of the book that I expect exactly one person (outside the creative team) to get, and that's my dad. Hi, Dad!

LILAL: The Association of Jewish Libraries maintains a Jewish Values Finder. From that values list, I obviously saw Tikkun Olam/Repairing the World and Cleaving to Friends. What other values would you like readers to take away – both personal and communal?

Dani Colman: Lifnei Aver - inclusivity - is the big one. The four main characters are very different, and have unique strengths and weaknesses. In writing the story, I was very careful to make sure that for each character, there was at least one point where the story could not progress without them; that, without Judith's worldliness or Avi's studiousness or Miri's stubbornness or David's open-heartedness, the foursome would stop dead. This in turn plays into the broader theme of not just valuing each other's differences, but actively making space for them, and it helps the children come to the realization that those they think are the villains of the story actually have much more to offer.

T'shuvah and s'lichah - repentance and forgiveness - are also really important. Growing up is making mistakes, and these characters do that: they keep secrets, they behave selfishly, and they lash out when they're hurt. It takes acknowledging their failings, understanding how they've caused hurt, and willingness to forgive and be forgiven for them to come together in strength and persevere.

LILAL: Any plans for a sequel or related graphic novel?

Dani Colman: There are so many places I want to take these characters! The stack of fun ideas I had to leave out for space is bigger by far than the stack of ideas that made it into the book. Given the opportunity, I could explore the infinite corners of Judaism with these characters for the rest of my career. Right now, though, this is a debut book from a brand new imprint, so we're still watching how it does out in the world. When the time is right, we'll be ready!

Thank you Dani.

And now, one of the best parts of the graphic novel world...


Watch the trailer here.

Click here to download a preview of The Unfinished Corner.

Click here for free bookmarks.

Click here for a chat with Dani Colman and Wonderbound Managing Editor Rebecca Taylor

Some sad news from The Real Cats of Israel. One of our own Real Cats, JoJo, has ascended to Kitty Heaven. We saved JoJo when he was a kitten, and he was in our lives for five years. While this feisty Tom reminded us of a teenage boy -- run around, eat, sleep, he definitely crawled into our hearts.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Chocolate and Talmud

Life Is Like a Library has had a run of "less than ultimate" books. "Using our gift to only uplift," we try to stay positive in this space, so with the deadline looming, we were worried if we would have something to share for this month's Jewish Book Carnival. When all else fails, CHOCOLATE! Actually Green Beans, as we feature two recent books by this British publisher.

Babka, Boulou & Blintzes: Jewish Chocolate Recipes from Around the World
(Green Bean Books, 2021) will be out later this month. Michael Leventhal compiled this collection of all things chocolate. The introduction discusses the history of chocolate and the Jewish connection. In the 1500s, Jewish traders in Spain "starting playing a key role in the creation and expansion of the chocolate market." These traders fled to France from the Spanish Inquisition, and Bayonne became the "chocolate capital of France." The recipes are organized by Cookies, Bars & Brownies; Cakes, Loaves & Tarts; Savory Dishes & Drinks, Hot & Cold Desserts; and Bonbons, Bites & After-Dinner Delights. Leventhal helpfully includes a glossary of UK-US terms and a note on measurements, so us non-Brits finally know that what the Brits call caster sugar is regular white sugar. Many talented people contributed recipes to the book, including Amy Krtizer Becker from What Jew Wanna Eat, foodie Joan Nathan, and Orly Ziv. Even better, all sales of the book help raise money for Chai Cancer Care.

Most of us have our go-to recipes for things like brownies and chocolate chip cookies, so this responsible reviewer decided to try something new: boulou. Boulou is a sweet bread or cake that Jews of North African (Libya, Tunisia) origin traditionally eat during the month of Tishrei. One taste tester thought they were mandelbrot, but they are sort of, kind or, but, not really. The dough is laid out in logs on a baking sheet and then sliced after the logs have been baked and cooled. They come out like a firm cake, not hard like mandelbrot, and they are perfect for dipping in coffee.

I made one almond, one raisin, and one chocolate chip, but next time, I will try making my boulou with a combination of all three. Here's the recipe (shared with permission of Green Bean Books):


from Fabienne Viner-Luzzato (

Makes 3 boulou (each one will cut into several slices; number of slices depends on thickness)
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes


2 large eggs (2 extra-large eggs in the US)
150 g/5 1/2 oz/3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
125 ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup vegetable or sunflower oil
about 500 g/1 lb. 2 oz/ 3 3/4 cups self-raising flour (extra for dusting)
100 g/3 1/2 oz/2/3 cup dark chocolate chips
50g/ 1 3/4 oz/ 1/3 cup raisins
50 g/1 3/4 oz/1/3 cup flaked almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius/180 degrees Celsius fan/400 degrees Fahrenheit/Gas Mark 6. Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper.

2. Place the eggs, both sugars and the vegetable or sunflower oil in a mixing bowl and mix together using a fork. Start adding the flour slowly, mixing with your hands to form a dough. Mix the flour in well, avoiding leaving behind lumps of flour. Add enough flour to make a soft dough -- the consistency of the dough needs to be soft, easy to touch but still slightly sticky.

3. On the work surface, divide your dough into three equal portions to make three different flavored boulou. Add the chocolate chips to one portion of dough, the raisins to another and the flaked almonds to the final portion of dough, kneading each flavoring into the dough until evenly distributed. Cook's Tip: If you prefer, you can mix all the flavoring ingredients together (the chocolate chips, raisins and almonds), then simply divide this mixture into three and knead one portion into each portion of dough.

4. Roll the flavored portions of dough into three equal-length logs (you might need to dust the work surface with a little flour first) and then flatten each one into a rectangle about 5 cm/2-inch wide and 15-20 cm/6-8-inch long, then place on the lined baking sheet.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until they become golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack, then leave to cool completely. Once cool, cut into 2 cm/3/4-inch thick slices to serve (or you can cut them into thinner slices, if you prefer).

6. Store the baked logs in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4-5 days, and slice them, as needed. They will keep for longer, but will dry a little -- but they will still taste amazing dipped in hot black coffee!

Besides chocolate, baking, and eating baked goods with coffee, one of our favorite things is Jewish children's books based on Talmudic stories, and Green Bean came through again with Naama Benziman's Lenny and Benny (Green Bean Books, 2021). Originally published in Israel as Noni and Noni-Yoteir (Morris and Morris-More), it is based on the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza (Babylonian Talmud - Gittin 55B). Lenny and Benny are two rabbits that started as friends, but became not so friendly. When Benny has his birthday party, Lenny is accidentally sent an invitation and shows up. Benny wants him to leave. Lenny, much like Bar Kamtza, offers to help with the party, but Benny refuses and kicks out the humiliated Lenny. In this children's book, the story ends happily and Lenny and Benny reconcile. In the Talmud, Bar Kamtza exacts revenge by spreading rumors about the party host and his guests, which ultimately leads to the destruction of the Second Temple. The blue and red illustrations provide a simple complement to the heart-felt text, and I love the double fold out of Benny's party.

While boulou are usually served in Tishrei, and the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is usually told before Tisha B'Av, they are both appropriate all year long. Cake and coffee are always great, and, for as much as baseless hatred (sinat chinam) was responsible for the destruction of the Temple, unconditional love (ahavat chinam) (and maybe chocolate) will hasten the building of the Third Temple. May it be quickly and in our time!

Sad news from The Real Cats of Israel. Our kittens got sick and are no longer with us. We miss you Yuki, Stormy, and Clawdia!

Happy Reading!