Green Bean Books

Q&A with Maya Ish Shalom for Dandelion Snow

1. Why was this book a project you were excited to take on?
When I read Rinat Primo’s story Dandelion Snow I immediately connected with it, recalling a similar childhood experience: a field of dandelions that I used to cross on my way back from school, and the feeling when one day tractors arrived and turned the field into a construction site. The disappointment of the children in the story when the field was taken from them resonated with me. I connected with the bittersweet feeling that the story conveys. Despite the seemingly optimistic ending, when a new harmony is formed between the dandelions and the neighbourhood, there is something sombre in the story. The optimism of the ending comes from the internal perspective and reflection, rather than what actually happened. In reality, they were deprived of the last piece of nature they had in the neighbourhood. Many times in my illustrations, whether for children or adults, whether consciously or not, there is also something poignant – something that is a little joyful and a little sad – and each person sees in the story the feeling they connect with more at the time. I felt that this is a story that would be interesting for me to illustrate, and that it would suit me from this perspective.
2. How long did each illustration take you to plan, sketch and complete? What is the process like?
It was a pretty tight schedule. The entire process took approximately four months to complete. After dividing the text into spreads, I started by creating an inspiration board and determining the setting of the story, along with the appearance and personalities of the characters. I then proceeded to make general sketches for the visual and conceptual direction of each spread, carefully deciding which aspects of the story to emphasize and showcase. Moving on to the digital work, I began creating the final illustrations. My approach involves working on the book horizontally, meaning I don’t finalize individual compositions at once; rather, I work on multiple spreads simultaneously and gradually refine them. Throughout the process, I constantly consider the overall picture and the experience of flipping through the book as a whole.
As I put the book together, I aimed for a diverse and balanced presentation, taking into consideration elements such as storytelling, colourfulness, composition, angles, the number of characters, sizes, details, emphases and additions. I balanced the depiction of the city and nature carefully, as well as the interaction between nature and the children. To ensure the book’s quality, I was in constant touch with Rinat Primo, the author and editor, and Michal Magen, the designer of the book, providing them with work-in-progress updates every few weeks. Their feedback was invaluable in shaping the final result, and it was wonderful to discuss ideas together.
3. What was your path to becoming an artist/illustrator like? Can you offer tips or words of wisdom for aspiring illustrators?
From a young age, I’ve had a deep passion for drawing and creating art. I studied art in high school and later on studied visual communication at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, where I developed my creative skills. After completing my education, I moved to New York, where I worked as a graphic designer while taking on freelance illustration projects. Gradually, I shifted my focus solely to illustration, and for the past six years, I’ve been a full-time freelance illustrator working on editorial commissions, children’s books, ad campaigns and branding projects.
For aspiring illustrators, my advice is to embrace opportunities, view rejections as learning experiences, pursue personal projects and share your work extensively. Persistence, experimentation and patience are so important for success in this field. Keep honing your skills, explore different styles and stay dedicated to your passion.
4. In what ways do you hope this story inspires children?
I hope this story inspires children to seek out their own piece of nature, whether it’s within the city or outside it. At a deeper level, the book explores themes of wholeness, acceptance, understanding and coping with changes. I would be delighted if the book encourages children to reflect on and find positive aspects to the changes in their own lives. Moreover, it provides a great opportunity for parents or those who read the book to children to share their own experiences of changes during their childhood and how they adapted.
5. Where do you stand on the ‘Own Voices’ debate? For a Jewish story, do you think it’s important to have a Jewish author/illustrator? Could this story have been written/illustrated just as well by a non-Jewish author?
I believe having a deep understanding of the subject as an author or illustrator is a great advantage when working on a story like this. I do believe it’s important to have Jewish stories authentically told by Jewish authors and illustrators, as it brings a genuine and meaningful perspective to the narrative. However, I also think that stories can be explored and shared by individuals from different backgrounds. Representation is essential, not only for Jewish narratives but also for stories from other minorities, races, ethnicities, sexualities and gender identities. Dandelion Snow has a distinct Israeli essence, but I can imagine it being told in various ways around the world, offering unique and interesting perspectives.
6. Which Jewish stories, or secular children’s books, did you love as a child?
Some of the books I grew up with appear in Dandelion Snow in the library in the kindergarten on the page about the rainy day. Most of them are very classic books that I still read to my children today, like Yael’s House (Miriam Roth, illustrated by Ora Ayal),  ”ויהי ערב (Pnina Bergstein, illustrated by Chaim Ha’Ozman), Kisses (Ruthie Kagan, illustrated by Ora Ayal, and  והילד הזה הוא אני  (Yehuda Atlas, illustrated by Danny Kerman).
7. The art on the first page of the book is quite gripping, with a greyscale background and colourful people in the foreground. Why did you choose to colour the first page this way and why/how does this thematic colouring carry on throughout the book?
I felt that one of the prominent aspects of the book is the portrayal of the field as a corner of utopia and happiness for the children. I tried to create a certain tension throughout the book between nature and the children on one hand and the city on the other. I felt that the best way to emphasize this would be through visual division. I had various ideas on how to achieve this. Initially, I considered using different textures or styles, like making the city more geometric and the nature feel more organic. In the end, I felt that the division into greyscale versus vibrant colours was the best way to convey this feeling, and the connection between them on the last page creates a sense of hope that the integration is possible. I love living in the city, but I do believe that people need their piece of nature to find tranquillity and peace, to breathe. I believe that this separation throughout the book (in buildings, signage, pathways, and streets) highlights this aspect.