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Interview with Amalia Hoffman, author of MY MONSTERPIECE
Nov 30th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links: B & N | Amazon

About My Monsterpiece:

A celebration of imagination, creativity, acceptance, and art that will delight children of all ages.

A kid-artist wants to frighten family members and friends by creating the scariest, meanest, most terrible monsters ever. A green tongue, pointy horns, sharp teeth, and terrible claws are sure to make everyone scream!

But what happens when rather than running away in a fright, they smile, laugh, and absolutely LOVE the monsters?

Join the frustrated artist on this hilariously hair-raising journey where the scary and not scary meet and mingle, embarking on an adventure that reveals that overcoming fear and prejudice can lead to a wonderful friendship.

With hand-drawn cutout illustrations, incorporating materials that kids actually use while making art, and a perfect mix of shivers and giggles, this bold, energetic picture book celebrates the power of a child’s imagination and appeals to a child’s love of the scary and the fun. This unique monster story touches on stereotyping and the fear of what is different in a way that young readers will relate to. It demonstrates that it’s possible to overcome bias, and helps children understand that acceptance and diversity make our lives far more colorful and enjoyable.

More photos:

Coloring Pages/Activity

Interview:

Question: What was your inspiration to create this picture book?

Answer: My inspiration to create the book was my many years of working with kids. I’ve conducted many teaching programs in Westchester County, NY . During these programs, I encouraged kids to experiment with mixed media. Just like the illustrations in My Monsterpiece, we used paper plates, yarn, bits of paper and anything fun we could glue on, like buttons, fruit loop — you name it! I noticed that kids love to touch and smear paint. They don’t just use color; they feel it. That’d why many of the illustrations in my book were not painted with brushes but with my fingers. I wanted to create a book that will celebrate a child creativity and imagination. I also noticed that kids are problem- solvers and so I was inspired to write from a point of view of a narrator who solves his or her problem after realizing that no one is scared of the “monster” they have created.

Question: Share a behind-the –scenes secret. Something readers would never know just from picking the book. 

Answer: Apparently, I was a very temperamental child. When I got angry with my mom and dad, I used to punish them by tearing the greeting cards I created for their birthdays and anniversaries.  Years later, when I visited my parents who lived in Jerusalem, I found an envelope with all the bits of torn art that my father saved. When I created My Monsterpiece, I showed the kid’s frustration by creating one spread that feature the kid’s torn monsters.

I remember that when I was about 8, I entered a contest, sponsored by a children’s magazine, to draw a scary witch. Apparently, mine wasn’t scary enough because I didn’t win…

Question: When you’ve critiqued other people’s work, what’s the most common mistake you’ve see and what advice would you give to avoid it?

Answer: One of the most common mistakes writers make is what I describe as, “over-writing.” By that, I mean – repeating what was already clear in the text and not trusting that their readers will understand the story. Also, writers often try to describe emotions with language such as: “She was sad, very sad…” or: “He was very angry…” Such descriptions tell, rather than show the emotional state of their characters. 

To avoid “over-writing” read your story aloud as if you were reading it to someone else. If you notice repetitions, revise and delete. Try not to “fall in love” with every word you typed in your first draft. In picture books, trust the illustrator to fill in descriptions that might be better conveyed in pictures than written words.

To avoid “telling” try to show emotions by describing the feelings in a more enduring way. How did the girl behave when she was sad, what did the boy do with his fists and legs when he was angry, etc.

Bonus:

My favorites:

Favorite music: I love classical music. I also love Israeli music and any Middle Eastern music because I grew up in Jerusalem, Israel and was surrounded by such tunes. I must have something beautiful to listen to as soon as I get up in the morning and, of course, when I work. 

Favorite vacation place: Well, I often dream about going to space… Is that unrealistic???

But for as long as I am restricted to this planet, my favorite place is Jerusalem. I can smell my childhood in the olive trees, the stones, rocks; the falafel stalls in the crowded streets.

Favorite Jewish food: Chicken soup (I’m pretty good at making it) with matzo balls. But it has to have fresh dill sprinkled on top!. I’m also a sucker for Arabic  and Middle Eastern foods: fatush,  falafel, humus, tahina.

Favorite holiday: Hanukkah. I have wonderful memories of celebrating Hanukkah with my sisters and parents when I grew up, watching all the menorahs in the neighborhood. Once, it snowed in Jerusalem on Hanukkah. I ran out and built a snow menorah. We brought latkes down from our 4th floor walk up apartment and celebrated outdoors.

About Amalia Hoffman:

I grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. My first drawing was black crayon 
smeared over the entire page. My mom asked me what it was and I said, “that’s a chicken coop.”

“Where are the chickens?” she asked.

I said, “They are all asleep and it’s dark.”

Since then I have been drawing, painting, sculpting and cutting paper constructions. After graduating from Pratt Institute and NYU, I began showing my artwork in galleries and museums

Gene Moore, display director for Tiffany & Co. loved my paper constructions and invited me to create displays for all his windows in New York. I started creating innovative displays for many prominent
store windows and I was thrilled to see kids with their nose stuck to the glass, as they gazed at the scene in the window.

Writing and illustrating children’s books is, again, a window into a child’s fantasy and imagination. It’s also a wonderful way for me to connect with my own childhood and early memories like the chicken coop drawing.

Interview with Joanne Levy, MG Author of FISH OUT OF WATER
Nov 4th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Link

My ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review!

I choked up several times reading this beautiful middle grade book. Perfect for reluctant readers, this novel conveys a very important message on gender bias, taking on social norms for activities that are deemed for girls and for boys. I’d love to see this shared in classrooms, read to students out loud.

Definitely put this on your MUST READ list!

About the novel from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Fishel (Fish) Rosner doesn’t like regular “boy” things. He hates sports and would prefer to read or do crafts instead of climbing trees or riding dirt bikes with his friends. He also loves to dance. But all his interests are considered “girly.” Fish doesn’t get why that’s a bad thing. He’s just interested in different things than other boys. When he asks his Bubby to teach him to knit, she tells him to go play outside. When he begs his mom to take him to Zumba, she enrolls him in water polo instead. Why does everyone else get to decide what Fish should or shouldn’t do?

Interview:

Question: I love the title for this novel. Did you come up with it or was it a suggestion from someone else? From what I’ve read, it fits perfectly for your book. How does being a “fish out of water” fit your main character?  

Answer: Thank you! I love the title too, though I have to admit it came about in a pretty boring way. I didn’t have a set title when I pitched the story to my editor but my working title was ‘The Mitzvah Project’ though he book was about more than that and I wasn’t at all sure the title would stick. My pitch did include the phrase ‘fish out of water’ sort of as a joke in reference to the character. My editor said she quite liked it. As did I and it felt right, so there it is.  I think readers will figure out very quickly that Fish–the main character–feels exactly like a fish out of water and why. He knows that in some ways he’s not like other boys in the activities he enjoys and the ones he definitely doesn’t. He’s a little afraid of admitting it and it becomes clear that his fears are justified. 

Question: Share with us some book secrets, things that no one would know about this book just from picking it up and reading it.

Answer: I love giving characters unique/meaningful names and Fish was no exception. I often search baby naming websites for HOURS just trying to find the perfect name for a character. Fishel popped out at me and I loved it immediately. I thought it would be so fun to have a kid named Fish in a book. It also feels vindicating because I once wrote a book where there was a kid (nick)named Cabbage and I’m still sad that the book never sold and thus Cabbage never saw the light of day. But alas, now we have Fish. Also, the character of Fish was inspired in part by the son of a good friend of mine. He is SUCH a character and I love his clever and unique way of looking at the world. I didn’t quite do him justice in this short plot-driven book, but I dedicated it to him so he knows that he had a hand in it. Also, his mom is a fabulous knitter and I think her talent (of which I am in awe) was another (albeit unconscious) inspiration for the book. 


Question: Fish Out of Water is your fourth novel and you have two more coming out next year. What have you learned through this process that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

Hmm. I’m not the type of person to look back. Everything I’ve done, even the mistakes, are learning moments. I feel like I should say: Don’t be in a rush to publish. But the truth is, I still struggle with this – I’m so impatient! But if you send out books that aren’t ready, you may be hurting yourself and your potential for a great career. We all need practice and time for our work to mature and percolate. No one writes perfect books out of the gate. No one. We need time and distance to see our writing objectively and putting it out too early can come back to bite you in the butt. You never want to have regrets or be embarassed about your early work because when it’s out there, it’s out there potentially forever. Get lots of help – a critique group or beta readers who aren’t related to you and who will be honest – to make your work sparkle and shine before you start sending it out. Can someone please remind me of this when I finish my next draft, though?  

Bonus Round:

What do you prefer?
Books to read: romance, thrillers, historical fiction, picture books, YA, MG, sci-fi, non-fiction, fantasy, horror, fiction, biography, other?

ROMANCE. I do read a lot of kidlit books because: author of kidlit, but my go-to for pleasure reading is always romance. Historical particularly because I look at screens all day and I like my romances to be far away from modern themes like online dating, or texting or blech, anything computer-related.  

Winter, spring, summer, or fall?

Two part answer: 40% Summer/60% Fall – Summer because I love our pool and just being while I float out in there (again, getting away from screens) but on its own, I love how Fall appeals to all my senses. Plus: sweater weather and being able to sleep.

French fries, onion rings, potato chips, popcorn, rice cakes, sweet potato fries, other?

ALL (except rice cakes). I don’t actually eat much in the way of carbs anymore for dietary reasons, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them. They ALL have their place in my fantasy meals. In fact, just a giant platter of all of the above, thank you very much.

Chanukah, Sukkot, Rosh Hashana, Passover, Simchat Torah, other?

Chanukah, or, as it’s spelled in my home, Hanukkah. And mostly because of latkes (you mentioned fried things above, so…). 😉 Truthfully, I like all the holidays that bring my family together. As I get older, I realize that’s more important than anything, so I’m not fussy about what holiday it is, as long as it’s filled with the people I love (food is a given at pretty much all of them, so…).  

About Joanne Levy:

Joanne Levy’s love of books began at a very early age. Being the youngest and the only female among four children, she was often left to her own devices and could frequently be found sitting in a quiet corner with her nose in a book.

Since she left the corporate world in 2013, Joanne spends her non-writing time helping other authors with their administrative needs as a virtual author assistant. 

Joanne can usually be found at her computer, either creating spreadsheets (sometimes just for fun) or channeling her younger self into books. She lives in rural Ontario, Canada with her husband and kids of the furred and feathered variety. You can follow Joanne on Instagram or find her on Facebook

In her non-writing time (ha!) Joanne enjoys working with wool to make felt creatures. Check out her Esty store to see some of her current items for sale.

Find more information on Joanne’s website!


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