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Interview with Amalia Hoffman, author of MY MONSTERPIECE
November 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.


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