Green Bean Books

Q&A with Ann D Kofsky for Sheep Says Shalom

1. Sheep Says Shalom is a lovely, simple board book. Can you say anything about how you came up with the idea?
I think this inspired by the format. I wanted to experiment with creating a story that would best be told using the accordion book format, and as I brainstormed ideas, I realized that the word ‘shalom’, with its triple meaning of ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘peace’, could be showcased beautifully in a format that had split sides, so to speak.

2. How do you feel when you look at the final artwork of Sheep Says Shalom, and other books you have done? Are you happy or is there anything you would change?
I think this always depends on the mood that I am in. Sometimes I look at my illustrations and I think: ‘Wow, that came out AWESOME!’ And other times I think, ‘Oh no, there’s a smudge in the left corner– what was I thinking?’

3. When you draw animals you probably don’t base anything on anyone you know (unless you have pets!), but when you illustrate books with humans, do you ever include people you know?
Sometimes! I definitely use myself and a mirror as a model, because I am always around. I also often have my husband and kids pose for me. They are used to me saying strange things to them by now, like, ‘Hold this broom—pretend it’s a sword!’ And stuff like that.

4. When did you realize you were a talented writer and illustrator, and where did you learn?
I remember loving to draw and write as early as grade school. I was always the one writing too many pages for creative writing assignments, or painting the colour war banner. I majored in Art at Stern College and took additional courses at the School of Visual Arts … and I am STILL learning.

5. How do you think, or hope, children – and their parents – will react to your illustrations?
Of course, I hope they engage and entertain! I hope it captures them and makes them smile.

6. Do you have a favourite illustration, or part of an illustration, in Sheep Says Shalom or another book of yours?
I really like the paper collage approach that I used for Sheep Says Shalom. It feels very tactile, and I think it’s perfect for these young readers.

8. Who do you regard as the greatest Jewish illustrators of our time – living or dead?
Trina Schart Hyman, Paula Martin Cohen, Marc Chagall, Maurice Sendak, Arthur Szyk – to name just a few!

9. You are a Jewish author and illustrator working on a book about Shabbat – do you think it matters that you are Jewish? Would it be right for a non-Jewish Spanish or Korean illustrator to tackle this sort of story if they did enough research?
I think it matters because I live it and understand the content. And because of that, it allows me to know how to play with the content, and where to be funny with things, and where to be reverent about them. I know that if, say, someone asked me to illustrate a Buddhist tradition, I’d be lost. And very concerned that I’d get it wrong. By the same token, I do think a non-Jewish author or illustrator can write Jewish stories or illustrate them. So long as they really do the work and the research, and also consult with Jewish people so they can make sure they’re getting things ‘right’ and not missing some details by accident or being offensive by accident—I think it can be done. But it takes a certain humbleness and willingness to explore deeply what you don’t know.

10. What would you like to work on next?
More stories! More illustration! I love doing this, and I can’t wait to think of my next idea. Sheep Says Shalom is a lovely book – thank you!