Children’s book explains coronavirus quarantine to kids

‘Bubie’s in Bidud’ is based on a grandmother’s own experience trying to explain to the little ones why she cannot visit

‘BUBIE’S IN Bidud’ depicts a grandmother unable to make her weekly visits to see her grandchildren. (photo credit: MEITAL MAOR)
‘BUBIE’S IN Bidud’ depicts a grandmother unable to make her weekly visits to see her grandchildren.
(photo credit: MEITAL MAOR)
How does a grandmother explain to her grandchildren why she cannot come to visit? In the case of educator Karen Guth, she turns it into a book. Bubie’s in Bidud, the bilingual children’s book about the COVID-19 pandemic is Guth’s way of telling her real-life grandchildren about quarantine and viruses.
Although a first-time author, Guth is no stranger to addressing difficult topics to children. As a professional educator she has previously edited and helped publish two compilations of Israeli children’s writings that deal with challenging subjects.
Bubie’s in Bidud is a brightly-colored, rhyming book aimed at young children. The bubie (grandmother) herself spoke to In Jerusalem about her being in bidud (quarantine) and her inspiration.
EDUCATOR KAREN GUTH holding her Bubie book, based on her own experiences. (Photo credit: Eric Guth)EDUCATOR KAREN GUTH holding her Bubie book, based on her own experiences. (Photo credit: Eric Guth)
The book was born out of Guth’s website, Tell me a Story Bubie, in which she shares her tailor-made tales for her own grandchildren.
“I wanted to impart certain values,” Guth explained, focusing on stories that ask questions.
The weekly visits she and her husband, Eric, made to her grandchildren ended abruptly when a fellow educator contracted coronavirus, forcing Guth and all the teachers to self-isolate.
“My husband and I were not allowed to see our grandchildren for several months,” Guth lamented.
While sitting at home alone, her idea of turning the Tell Me a Story Bubie blog into a book morphed into the children’s book published this Hanukkah.
“Our grandchildren were very excited about it,” Guth told In Jerusalem. “Every week they asked me when is Bubie b’Bidud” going to be ready?”
Bubie teamed up with illustrator Meital Maor whom she worked with when Maor was in seventh grade. Guth’s former student Michal Yechieli provided the Hebrew translation.
“I told her, it doesn’t matter if it’s not word-for-word, just as long as it maintains the rhymes,” she said.
Guth and her husband raised their two sons in Denver, Colorado, where she worked as a teacher in both public and Jewish schools. Guth earned a master’s degree in Jewish education in the US and a doctorate in education in 2016.
In America she taught Jewish history, philosophy and Hebrew at Jewish day schools.
“When I got to Israel, I discovered the average grade-school student seemed to know more than I did about the Bible, so I decided to stick with English,” Guth joked.
She currently works as a teacher and English coordinator at Yeshivat Makor Chaim, the high school founded by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in Kfar Etzion. She also teaches at Ulpana Rosh Tzurim Girls’ High School and has worked as a literature counselor for the Education Ministry.
The Guth family made aliyah in 2000, and their two sons integrated into Israeli society. One is a successful Tel Aviv-based musician who performs as Troubadour Adam Road and has found success on the Galgalatz radio playlist. Their other son is a happily married father of six living in Jerusalem’s historic and very religious Mea She’arim neighborhood, where many things have stayed the same as they were when the neighborhood was built over 140 years ago.
“We knew he was going that direction in Denver,” Guth explained, “we just didn’t know how far.” Today, Guth’s son and daughter-in-law are eager to connect to a traditional lifestyle and are quick to shield their children from immodesty.
This culture clash was an impetus for Guth’s writing.
“Our grandchildren saw themselves in the book,” the educator says of the artwork. Bubie and Zeidi are depicted in bright pastels, as are the kids, however their son and daughter-in-law would have preferred they be drawn as they actual dress, in black clothing, not the more colorful garb as seen on the last page of the story, when Bubie finally gets out of bidud and comes for a picnic.
They would have also preferred that Bubie write in Yiddish, because in their community, Hebrew is reserved as a holy language used for prayer and Torah study.
Nevertheless, Bubie’s in Bidud is at the grandkids house, six copies in fact, one for each child, signed by the author in Yiddish.
GUTH, WHILE lamenting some of the limitations on outings and other “typical grandparent activities,” sees the cup as half-full. “We actually play real games with the grandkids. They don’t have a phone or computer, so they are happy to spin the dreidel, play jacks or Rummikub, the games kids today don’t play anymore because they have screens.”
Her son in Tel Aviv suggested creating a “Bubie’s Bookshelf” that would have recommended reading that children of all religious denominations can enjoy.
Guth is pleased her book and others like it could bridge the gap between generations and demographics. Israeli parents with American grandkids, or secular children with Orthodox elders and any combination in between, can reach common ground with reading material.
Guth tries to incorporate a conversation in her stories about a social issue, whether it be a deadly virus or a physical disability. The author knows first-hand about disabilities, having experienced a failed hip replacement.
“I now have one leg about eight centimeters shorter than the other and I have a lift in my shoe,” she explained. “I want my grandchildren to be sensitive to people with disabilities.
“One of the things I like to do in my stories is to ask the question ‘What would you do?’ I want to create a dialogue between grandparents and grandchildren,” she said.
The Guth family continues to grow, as her daughter-in-law gave birth recently.
“We had to add another baby before the book was published,” the proud grandmother explained. “She was added in at the last minute.” So what will the youngest Guth grandchild think when she is old enough to read her grandmother’s Yiddish inscription?
“One thing I notice about my grandchildren is they always want to hear stories about us when we were young,” she stated.
During the days of the Second Intifada, a rash of terrorist attacks plagued the Jewish state. With the help of the Gush Etzion Foundation, Guth published Courage and Hope: Inspirational Writings by Youth in Gush Etzion. Her collaborator at the time, as today, was then-seventh-grader Meital Maor.
Maor spoke to In Jerusalem about the book. “I still remember it as my first encounter illustrating for text,” she said. “It was a great opportunity. I also wrote one story in the book.”
Today, Maor is a professional illustrator, her latest project being artwork for a musician.
“When Karen approached me this year, it was amazing to think that seed planted years ago was still there. It’s like coming full circle,” she said.
In terms of the book’s subject matter, Maor considers herself lucky to have a profession that can be done from home.
“I wonder about the kids in my vicinity and how they perceive it. How will they look back on this time when they missed half of school due to this invisible threat?” she asked.
“I think it’s nice to be able to convey a certain aspect of this whole crazy time in a straightforward way through this book.”
Guth and Maor also worked on a second volume of the Courage and Hope series in 2005 about kids’ feelings in the aftermath of the expulsion from Gaza.
“Those books were for a specific period and now they are history,” Guth noted. “A friend read my new book and said she looks forward to the day when she can read this to her grandchildren and it too will be history – a story of something we once went through.”
The writer ponders what impact the corona crisis will have on the younger generation. Those born during the corona period have never really seen adults in public without a mask on, she noted.
“I think this is going to be something that kids will still want to talk about, and maybe even need to talk about even after the vaccines.”
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