With retirement of founders, Kar-Ben publishers turning a page

BOSTON (JTA) — The founders of Kar-Ben, a publisher of Jewish children’s books that includes the “Shalom Sesame” series and “Six Million Paper Clips,” are retiring after 40 years.

Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler, who started Kar-Ben in 1974, will step down as editorial directors this month, according to Publishers Weekly.

In 2001, Kar-Ben was acquired by the Minneapolis-based Lerner Publishing. Groner and Wikler became editorial directors, editing more than 200 titles.

Groner and Wikler started the company to self-publish their co-authored book “My Very Own Haggadah” after being rejected by several publishing houses. The first run of 5,000 copies sold out and the book, still in print under the Kar-Ben imprint of Lerner Publications, has gone on to sell more than 2 million copies.

Their initial success led the Kar-Ben founders to write other books on Hanukkah and Shabbat, and later to publish books by other authors that went beyond the didactic and more traditional portrayals of Jewish life and ritual common at the time in children’s books.

Among their titles in 1985 was “Ima on the Bima: My Mommy is a Rabbi,” by Mindy Avra Portnoy. Some Jewish bookstores refused to carry the book, recalls Portnoy, one of the first women to be ordained as a Reform rabbi.

In an email to JTA, Portnoy described the Kar-Ben founders as “prescient, daring, and attuned to the real Jewish world that was out there, looking for new Jewish books.”

Kar-Ben has more than 300 titles in print, including the popular “Shalom Sesame” series; the “Sammy the Spider” series;” “Hot Pursuit,” about the civil rights movement; and “Six Million Paper Clips,” based on an award-winning movie. Kar-Ben publishes 18 to 20 new titles annually.

Groner and Wikler credit the success of the company in part to a renewed interest, beginning in the 1970s, in ethnic awareness and a new generation of Jewish families who were rediscovering their Jewish identity.

“Our books provided them with a tool,” Groner said in a statement.

“In the Jewish book world, they’re really legendary,” said Lerner publisher Joni Sussman, who will assume their duties.

 

 

 

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