“Bubie’s in Bidud” (Grandma’s in Isolation) — A Delightful Children’s Book by Karen Guth

I have known Karen Guth for many years, both as a friend and as a fellow English teacher in Israel.
March 2, 2021
Credit: Eric Guth

I have known Karen Guth for many years, both as a friend and as a fellow English teacher in Israel. We are accustomed to sharing with each other our successes, challenges and methods to introduce creativity into our classrooms.

So it was no surprise to me to see Karen, who has been writing an educator’s blog — “ETC English Teaching with Creativity” — start another blog called “Tell Me a Story Bubie,” which seeks to share original stories with the world, specifically (but not only), the world of grandchildren and grandparents.

One of the stories on her blog evolved into a book that Guth recently published, called “Bubie’s in Bidud” (Grandma’s in Isolation), a bilingual (English and Hebrew) children’s book about what it’s like when Bubie and Zadi (Grandma and Grandpa) are in isolation. It is written in delightful verse, appropriate for ages three and up.

Guth describes in easy and non-scary language the realities of isolation, masks, hand-washing, what activities one can do on one’s own and missing one’s family and friends. It also deals with the emotions of quarantining:

What does it mean to be in Bidud?
Are you sad, are you angry, or maybe scared too?
With all that free time, is it boring for you?

Guth bases her story when she went into bidud in June 2020.  She shared, “I couldn’t visit my grandchildren then because I was in bidud, and they didn’t know what it meant. You had to be inside your house and be careful; you had to try to not expose anyone and once you were out, [and] there was a time that you could only go within a 100-meter limit.”

That personal history gives the book’s lessons a deeply personal touch.

I’m not angry at all; I’m just trying to think,
What can I do with all this time on my hands,
To make others happy and come up with new plans? 

The book is charmingly illustrated with characters who lightly resemble her, her husband and their real-life grandchildren. But how could Guth inject such a personal element while appealing to general audiences?

Creating wide appeal was a challenge for Guth, as she and her husband are modern Orthodox, but their son and daughter-in-law are part of an extreme Chassidic group. Their grandson and granddaughters, from the age of three, have worn only black clothing, as do their parents. “The women and girls are in capes. My daughter-in-law wears a black scarf all the way down to the floor and a black cape over her black dress,” says Karen.

Guth wanted her grandchildren to enjoy the book and not have it banned by their parents, so the compromise she arrived at was to have the children in the book dress in modest Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) clothing, but in lovely pastel colors, as is the dress mode in most Haredi communities. “The grandchildren see themselves in the book,” says Guth, “and I told their parents, ‘You can’t do a children’s book with the children in all black clothing.’”

The book reflects Guth’s desire to help her own grandchildren and others deal with the reality of COVID-19 and lockdowns. But it also became a cathartic way reach out to her Chassidic family. “The ‘Tell me a story Bubie’ that I began to write on my blog, pre-COVID, was therapy, a way to face the reality in which we were living. We were told that our grandchildren couldn’t eat in our home anymore and we couldn’t take them to most places,” she shared. “Their parents didn’t want us to read to them anything in English, with the exception of stories about tzadikim (legendary righteous people), and they didn’t want Hebrew either, as they only speak Yiddish, so I started writing children’s stories.”

For instance, Guth shared that she decided to “write the stories in a high level of English because they’re not just for our grandchildren. All grandchildren want to hear stories about their grandparents’ lives and about things that happened to us in the past, as well as made up stories.”

But when Guth heard about other grandparents who deal with similar situations, she thought, “maybe this is a way for me to express our values and pass them on.” In the book, she shares her religious philosophy and optimism:

It won’t help to be scared
Because everything happens for a reason,
“The cure was invented before the disease,”
The Rabbis teach us,
And I have faith that a vaccine will very soon reach us.

Fortunately, her grandchildren loved the book. “They keep it on the bookshelf so they can take it down and read it and they are very excited about it,” she shared.

The book is illustrated by Meital Maor, a graphic artist who illustrated two of Guth’s other books. Michal Yechieli Coppenhagen, a former student of Guth’s, translated from English to Hebrew and did a wonderful job of maintaining the rhyme of the verse. “Now,” shares Guth, “it is truly a bilingual book, as one side is in English and the other side is in Hebrew.”

Guth hopes to have the book on Amazon or with another distributer soon. In the meantime, the book can be ordered on her Tell Me A Story Bubie website and shipped anywhere from Israel. “Some people have asked if this book will be available after there’s no more COVID-19,” she shared, but she noted that the grandchildren of Rochel Sylvetzky, op-ed and Judaism editor for Arutz 7, said to Rochel, “this is a book about what we went through, and it’s going to be about our history.”

But while COVID-19 is still around, this little book will help children of every age get through it with a bit more joy.

Toby Klein Greenwald is an award-winning journalist, director of Raise Your Spirits Theatre and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com. She has not been in ‘bidud’ but her grandchildren are enjoying this book.

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