Green Bean Books

Q&A with Eden Spivak

1. Why was this book a project you were excited to take on? 

Zahava and Maayan’s story introduced me to a beautiful Jewish tradition from the Beta Israel Jewish community in Ethiopia, that I was previously unfamiliar with. Every year, Jewish Ethiopian families break their clay dishes and create them anew, ensuring that the dishes are Kosher for Passover. I learned a lot when working on the book, and I was honoured to help give voice to this piece of Jewish history.

 

I was especially drawn to the book’s themes, such as the joy and appreciation for handmade crafts and the comforting continuity found in periodical and seasonal events. I was curious to explore these in my illustrations.

2. In what ways do you hope this story inspires children? 

Some of the hardest struggles children face seem silly to adults. We grow to overlook so much of our daily routines, and children remind us to pause and reconsider them from their perspective.

 

Most children reading Workitu’s Passover would probably never be required to shatter their favourite cup with a rock and craft a new one from its clay. Yet they do face their own restrictions set by adults, and much like Workitu, these may appear arbitrary and insurmountable through their eyes. 

 

I hope this book provides a safe framework for children to explore both contrasting experiences: the need to carve their own path and trust their instincts on the one hand, and the courage to face their fears while finding comfort in the guidance and wisdom of adults on the other.

3. Why do you think it’s important to tell a multicultural Jewish tale?

The more voices we hear and the more stories we tell, the better we are for it. 

Judaism specifically is often seen as homogeneous, when in fact Jewish communities have long existed all over the world, all with their own cultures and ethnicities. There are so many ways to be Jewish and so many identities that fall under the wider term of Judaism – they all deserve to be recognised and celebrated.

As a Jewish person who is not of Ethiopian descent, Workitu’s story allowed me to expand my own understanding of Judaism and uncover new beauty within a familiar tradition. In my family, observing Kosher for Passover means setting aside a completely separate set of dishes—often two sets—exclusively for that one week a year. In Zahava and Maayan’s telling, I saw the Beta Israel Passover tradition as an opportunity for profound transformation, mirroring nature’s renewal in spring. This struck a chord with me and added to my appreciation of the holiday.

4. How long did each illustration take you to plan, sketch, and complete? What is the process like? 

Originally published in Hebrew by Asia Publishers and Sifriyat Pijama, this was a quick turnaround project. I worked hard towards a six-month deadline, alongside my own personal timeline, as I was expected to give birth shortly before the deadline. My son arrived almost a month early, and I completed my work on the book during his new-born naps.

The process began with character design and a rough storyboard. Then, I drew each spread in pencil, including textures, shadows, and other line details. After that, I scanned the pencil illustrations and coloured them digitally.

Much of my work process for the book involved researching the Beta Israel community, both visually and historically. Zahava was a kind and generous mentor, sharing photos of Ethiopian dishes, decor, and furniture that added to the authenticity of the illustrations, and offered guidance for historical accuracy. 

5. Why did you choose to colour the first page this way and why/how does this thematic colouring carry on throughout the book? 

The book’s colour palette is a nod to the earthy tones of clay and the rich colors of Ethiopian landscapes. The story follows a day in the life of Workitu, from morning to nightfall. I highlighted this mini storyline through color, showing the rhythmic transitions of day-to-night as a way of punctuating the book’s theme of renewal. 

The book’s opening spread begins with sunrise hues and progresses towards festive sunset pinks and deep yellows, marking a subtle passage of time. The final scene takes place at night, where the moon shining through the window reminds Workitu of both clay and the upcoming holiday. With the Jewish calendar being lunar, I extended this motif on the cover by drawing a visual parallel between the moon phases and the shaping of clay.

 

6. Who are your artistic inspirations? 

 

There are so many! My favourite classic illustrators are Maurice Sendak, Edward Gorey, and Tove Jansson. I absolutely adore anything Carson Ellis does, and my university professors Rutu Modan and David Polonsky are also great inspirations. 

Seeing beautiful artwork makes me wish I could just sit and draw all day long.

7. What was your path to becoming an illustrator like? Can you offer tips or words of wisdom for aspiring illustrators? 

 

I studied at Bezalel, Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem. I joined the animation department before realizing I preferred to tell stories through still images, and switched to the visual communication department. 

Since graduating in 2015, I’ve balanced illustration with a day job, mostly writing for tech. 

As far as advice goes, I still feel like an aspiring illustrator myself most days. My two cents would be to trust your own path, even if it’s different from everyone else’s. For me, illustration takes the shape of a side hustle, coming in second after my main job that pays the bills. This means I don’t get to illustrate as much as I’d like and that I do everything a little slower. But it also means that I get to be picky with my projects and clients, because I’m not financially dependent on my art. Figure out what works best for you and what keeps you most excited about your work. 

8. What does Israel mean to you? What place does it hold in your heart? 

I was born and raised in Israel, so for me, it’s first and foremost my home. It’s a land of sand, almond blossoms, and cyclamens. It’s the place that runs truest in my soul. It’s also extremely politically charged, full of pain and heartache. 

I recently moved to New York and I am currently working on a Hebrew Alphabet poster from my Manhattan apartment, hoping for my son to grow up with the language here, too. 

I so very much hope for a better reality for everyone in the region – for people of all faiths, nationalities, and languages. We all deserve better. 

 

9. Which Jewish stories, or secular children’s books, did you love as a child? 

I’ve always loved books. There was one particular book I loved so much that my mom had a print of one of its spreads framed, but I haven’t been able to locate it since. It was about a boy named Tom celebrating his birthday, and the spread was a tiered dessert stand, with each tier presenting a different natural landscape filled with illustrated details for me to explore. 

When I first learned to read, my mom and I took the bus so I could choose my first big-kid book all on my own. I picked a hardcover Heidi by Johanna Spyri, and I was so very proud of myself. I was convinced that everyone on the bus was impressed by the little girl holding such a big book.