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Sunday, November 23, 2014

9 phrases you’ve got to stop saying about mental illness… and 4 questions to ask yourself instead.


Some of these phrases are so deeply ingrained that you might not even realize you’re talking about mental illness when you say them.

  1. “You’re driving me crazy.”
  2. “I’m feeling schizophrenic about the situation.”
  3. “Quit being so paranoid!”
  4. “Are you totally nuts?”
  5. “He broke up with that psycho girlfriend.”
  6. “Maybe you’re hearing things.”
  7. “She’s a little disturbed.”
  8. “Welcome to the loony bin.”
  9. “He has issues.”

Oh, yeah… and then there’s the Big #10:  “mental illness.”  What does it mean, anyway?  Is it like a virus, rotting away at somebody’s brain? 

Most of us have no clue. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The family tree of grief – a quote


Have you lost somebody you loved?

Of course you have.  I know from all the people who spoke to me and shared stories after my brother Eli died in the spring.  Maybe you told me yours.  I loved hearing those stories.  I don’t know what I will do with them yet, but they are all still alive, here in my mind, waiting to come out in some way.

This quote jumped out at me over Shabbos, and I wanted to share it.

An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken"It's a sort of kinship, as though there is a family tree of grief. On this branch the lost children, on this the suicided parents, here the beloved mentally ill siblings. When something terrible happens, you discover all of a sudden that you have a new set of relatives, people with whom you can speak in the shorthand of cousins."

- Elizabeth McCracken, from the book An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

Will you believe me if I tell you that a book about grief can be funny?  Happy?  Optimistic? 

"This is the happiest story in the world, with the saddest ending," McCracken begins her memoir, about the loss of a baby, and the birth of two more.  About becoming a mother and a bereaved mother in the same instant. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

MamaLand Review: Elisha Davidson, the kosher Harry Potter –?


Are you ready for a wild ride? 

I hope so, because writer M. R. (Rhonda) Attar has just released the first in what promises to be a trilogy of adventure books about young Elisha Davidson, Elisha Davidson and the Letters of Fire (Menorah Books:  2014).

Elisha Davidson and the Letters of Fire I’d call the book weird and wonderful.  But I’d also caution that it’s not for the youngest readers, or maybe for any reader younger than 12 or 13.  There are scenes that are frightening and/or violent, like in the first chapter, where a renowned professor passes out era pool of blood.  (He remains comatose for the entire book.)

This is an ambitious book, weaving hundreds of years of mystical Jewish teachings into an exciting modern-day story.  It reads quickly as long as you don’t let yourself get too hung up on the details.  But that might be just me.

Like I said:  weird… and wonderful.

There are enough parallels to the Harry Potter books to either delight or annoy fans, depending on how they feel about such things. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Enter to win: “Chanukah Monsters” Chanukah Disaster giveaway!


Chanukah’s coming… What could go wrong???

Well, Murphy’s Law of Holidays says anything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong when it comes to holiday seasons.  But there’s no reason we can’t laugh about it now.

Tell me all about your biggest, baddest, funniest, craziest or most MONSTROUS Chanukah disaster and you could win my book Chanukah Monsters (softcover, 8.5” x 8.5”, full-colour paperback, retail value $8.99 on, including mailing anywhere in the United States or Canada (sorry, other people; I love you, but you’re too expensive!).

  1. One winner will receive one copy of Chanukah Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod (hey, that’s me!).
  2. Second and third runners-up will receive a free e-copy of any of my books available in digital form (winner’s choice).

Come on… think up your worst disaster.  Get it off your chest and help the rest of us smile when we’re thinking about what could go wrong (or right) this year.  It doesn’t have to involve fire, or latke poisoning, but it could…

To win: 

  1. Share your story in the Comments section below.  Nothing fancy; just a couple of sentences.
  2. But wait!  You ALSO have to enter via the Giveaway Tools contest box below (entering a comment alone isn’t enough).  The Giveaway Tools gadget offers you a few other cool ways to win.  These are all optional.
  3. Winners will be drawn on Nov 22/23 via Giveaway Tools, and results will be posted on this page.

I can’t wait to see your stories!

Sunday, November 09, 2014

FREE Chanukah Monsters colouring book

image from Chanukah Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Like it, Share it, pass it along!  Here’s the link:

(You may have to join CurrClick if you haven't already, but membership is free, and this was easier than hosting the PDF myself).

The colouring book is based on the artist’s original sketches for my new book, Chanukah Monsters, with brief all-new text added by moi.

FREE Chanukah Monsters Colouring Book, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

While you’re at it, if you like the colouring book, check out the original Chanukah Monsters, available now for print and Kindle from

Chanukah Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod Chanukah Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Enjoy, and if you do, pass it along to a friend!


Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Friday, November 07, 2014

Why I wrote a Jewish book about Christmas.


I’ve spent years creating picture books, stories and curriculum materials on every possible Jewish theme.  But when I sat down to write my first chapter book for slightly older readers, I surprised myself:

It turns out it’s all about Christmas.

It’s called No Santa!, and there’s a picture of the jolly guy himself right there on the cover – chased by a menorah.

No Santa! by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Why did I write this book?  Why davka (specifically) about Christmas?

Because Christmas just is.  Even for Jewish kids, if they’re growing up in North America (or any country other than Israel), it’s not possible to avoid it or sidestep it.  And many kids, even if they are Jewish, grow up celebrating it in some way.

Oh, we never SAID we were “celebrating Christmas” when we were growing up.  My parents would never have allowed that.  We never had a tree – that was waaaay over the line.  But we had stockings.  Beautiful felt stockings, hand-decorated in red and green and sequins.  And every year, on Christmas morning, we’d wake up and race downstairs eagerly to find them stuffed full of little gifts.  (Anything too big for the stockings went on the end tables instead.)

Of course, stockings don’t fill themselves.  On December 24th, before bed, we’d put out cookies of some sort for Santa.  I don’t remember if we left him milk with it.  Probably.

It was cute.  We were totally adorable.  We have pictures of ourselves on Christmas morning, in jammies and bathrobes, surrounded by wrapping paper.  Some years, there was a menorah in the background, too. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

No, we’re not all the same (even though I wish we were)


“What might save us, me and you… is if the Russians love their children, too.”  Singer / songwriter Sting wrote that near the end of the Cold War, when we still thought Russians were going to be the death of us (listen here or watch it below).

I came of age with these optimistic words ringing in my ears – and the assumption that, since our enemies are just like us, we’ll ultimately find peace.

I hate to say it, but Sting lied to a whole generation of us.  We’re really not all the same.

A friend said in a dvar Torah last week that while Migdal Bavel (the Towel of Babel) was being built, the builders had tremendous unity of purpose.  They were all working together in harmony. It was the first and last time all the people of the world worked together with such clarity. 

So why did Hashem object, to the point of smashing the tower and scattering the people?

My friend explained that if one of the builders fell down from the tower to his death, the others wouldn’t cry.  No big deal; they had lots of people.  If a brick fell down, however… it was the end of the world. 

At the time, bricks were the hottest new technology.  They’d just been invented, and they were hard to make.  There were also no sophisticated modern ovens, so bricks tended to be fragile and crumble easily.

Bricks were valuable.  People were throwaways.

You wouldn’t believe anyone was like that today, would you?  Like Sting says, we’re all basically the same, with the same values, right?

Reluctantly, I don’t think so anymore.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hashem's Amazing World: three terrific science / nature books for Jewish kids

The Hashem's Amazing World series, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Looking for a way to share the wonders of science and nature with Jewish kids?
These books may be the answer.
I don't post a lot of brags on here, but I wanted to quickly pop in and let you know how excited I am about this series - the Hashem's Amazing World series.  
The first book, Zoom: A Trip to the Moon, has been out for a while.  But the other two have been sitting in various stages of Technical Difficulty-land for a few months while life caught up with us and I had to deal with other things (excuse me, did I mention I just moved to another continent last year?).

I love looking at all the covers lined up like this (and at home, lining up the real thing is even more thrilling)...

What are they all about???

Zoom! A trip to the moon - explores the moon, earth and space, and gets our little explorer home in time for Shabbat.

Buzz! A teeny tiny world - gets down and dirty with some actual bugs (and a spider), and explores why Hashem put bugs here in the first place.

Baby! Life before birth - discreetly explores what happens before a baby is born from a spiritual and physical perspective.  In case you're worried, when I say discreet, I mean it - I've tried to strike a balance between sharing information and letting parents decide how much their kids are ready to know.  Here are two sample images.  Click through to see more.

What's next???

I'm definitely interested in suggestions for future books.  Someone suggested dinosaurs.  Now THERE is a topic that would be terrific with a lot of kids, but needs to be handled very carefully from a perspective of hashkafa.

Any other thoughts?

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Friday, October 17, 2014

MamaLand Review: Every Picture Tells a Story, a new illustrated weekly parsha book for kids


How are parsha books like popcorn?  You can’t have just one! 

If you’re anything like our family, you already have a preponderance of parsha books. 

But it’s impossible to have “enough,” isn’t it?  Especially when it comes to finding great kids’ parsha books that are both appealing to kids and reflect your family’s hashkafa (religious outlook).  And especially if the author isn’t afraid to do something a little different.  So when the chance to review a new parsha book that combines words and pictures in an innovative new format came along, I got a bit excited. 

There’s a good chance that this book may be just right for your family.

For my review, I received free from the publisher both the hardcover Every Picture Tells a Story Volume One:  Bereishis (Menorah Books: 2014) and the accompanying softcover colouring book:

cover, Every Picture Tells a Story cover, Every Picture Tells a Story (colouring book)

Aren’t those great covers?  They’re bilingual!  And they tell you exactly what you’re going to get inside. 

(I don’t love the fact that on Amazon, you can’t use “Look Inside” to peek into the books, but the publisher has previews on their website instead.  Smart marketing would suggest that they include a URL to these previews in the book description on Amazon, because I was not the only one deterred by this.)

Here’s what I loved about the book, right off the bat:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

FREE Printable Easy Reader Mini-Book, “On Rosh Hashanah”


Joining the free printable mini-books I have made for Shavuos, Pesach and Chanukah, is this awesome little counting book for Rosh Hashanah.  Specially designed to print, cut out and staple at home.

imageimage image

To receive a free PDF of this very simple print-cut-staple easy reader for Pesach, featuring all the usual cute “borrowed” Internet graphics you have come to love from my printables, please sign up for my mailing list (below).  I’ll send it to you within 24 hours.

If you’re already on my mailing list, just fire off an email to me at

Here are the others in this series:

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה