Green Bean Books

Q&A with Maya Shleifer, for Lights in the Night

1. Lights in the Night is based around a family’s movements as Shabbat comes in by sea. Do you have any similar experiences or memories?

I was born in the former USSR and heard about Shabbat for the first time when I was 15. After emigrating, I came to know Jewish traditions. Today, I love the feeling of preparation for Shabbat. Going to the sea on Shabbat’s evening is my favourite way to celebrate this day. 

2. Are the three main characters based on anyone you know or remember?

Not somebody specifically, but they are inspired by the strangers that I meet. 

3. How long does each illustration take you to plan, sketch and complete?

It varies: from four of five working days to fifteen or twenty … In the last few years, I have found myself redrawing illustrations several times until they preserve the feeling of lightness and flow.

4. Do you display all your illustrations on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook? Or do you give your followers sneak previews? 

I show some of my works on Instagram.

5. Are there any books or particular illustrations that you are particularly proud to have completed?

I’m pleased that I illustrated It’s Not Easy to be a Superhero by Ronit Rokkas, The Golden Thread by Shira Geffen and a book that I have written myself (I hope it will be published soon). The process of creating those books was fascinating for me, but I have never felt proud about my illustrations.

6. Which books about Jewish stories do you remember from your own childhood?

There were no books except those that were allowed by the Communist Party in my childhood. There were no Jewish stories.

7. What would be your dream illustration project? 

Everything that I illustrate right now is a dream come true.

8. What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book illustrators?

To live the process of creating and not to try to make beautiful illustrations.

9. There’s an ongoing ‘Own Voices’ debate – for a Jewish folktale, do you think it’s important to have a Jewish illustrator? Similarly, for a Buddhist tale, do you need a Buddhist illustrator? Do you need an intrinsic understanding of the topic, or can you research everything?

I think that the subject matter should be important to the illustrator. It’s less important whether I’m Jewish or Buddhist; what is much more important is that the book’s theme touches me deeply. 

10. There’s also a lot of debate about diversity in text and illustrations of children’s books. Do you think there’s enough diversity at the moment?

I don’t think there can ever be enough. In most cases, the real people who go through difficult or non-standard experiences don’t write stories about themselves. 

Lights in the Night is a lovely story that celebrates the magic of Shabbat. Thank you!