Green Bean Books

Q&A with Naama Benziman, for Lenny and Benny

1. Lenny and Benny is based on a Jewish story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza – can you remember when you first heard the story?
The Talmudic tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is well known in Israel. I am not sure when was the first time I heard it, but I feel that it brings up relevant questions that are important for our life and for our society nowadays.

2. Are any of the main characters based on anyone you know? They are animals, of course, but are they representations of people you have met?
I believe I am responsible for the childish and egocentric nature of both of the characters – Lenny and Benny. It is not flattering but it is true … furthermore, I believe many of us share this furious energy of anger, envy and competition, as children and even as adults.

3. The book was originally published in Hebrew – what has changed for the new English edition? The text has been translated into English, but has it changed in any other way?
Originally, the characters’ names are variations of one name: Noni and Noni-More. These names indicate the similarity and the strong connection between the two bunnies, as well as the competition between them.
I like to use hand lettering in my books. The text of the English edition is about 30 per cent longer than the original text in Hebrew. It was challenging to transform the ideas and movement I created for the Hebrew typography 

to the drawn typography of the English edition.

4. How long does each illustration take you to plan, sketch and complete?
It took a very long time to figure out the best way to make and produce the illustrations. I don’t want to say how long … I used an old printing method that looks like a screen print of two colours, so that the red and the blue function as separate channels of colours and no other colour is involved.

5. Do you display all your illustrations on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook? Do you give your followers sneak previews?
Yes, I put them on Facebook and Instagram. Yesterday I discovered them in the American Illustration Winners page on Instagram.

6. Are there any books, or particular illustrations in Lenny and Benny, that you are particularly proud to have completed?
Creating my own books has been a hard journey. Each one of them was demanding and interesting in its own way. When I start working on a new book, I am always looking for something new. In Lenny and Benny I used two spot colours, red and blue. This limitation derives from the binary concept of the book and in order to identify Lenny and Benny – two very similar bunnies. It led me to execute the book for two-colour printing – a process that I explored and learned during the creation of the book.

7. You have won several awards – can you please explain them little and which is the most important to you? Illustrating and writing is solitary work. I find it very encouraging and meaningful to receive positive feedback from readers as well as professional recognition and awards. This book recently received an Honourable Mention in the Israel Museum’s Ben-Yitzhak Award for Illustration, and due to the lockdown, the ceremony was a very special experience. We were asked to paint a self-portrait on the museum wall – this was fun but a bit scary, to place your one-time sketch on the museum’s wall! We were not able to order any food, everything was closed because of Coronavirus … Orna Granot, the curator of the exhibition, brought us homemade vegetable soup. It felt cosy and warm to find a way to celebrate our love for book illustration in these strange days.

8. What would be your dream illustration project? For a Jewish children’s book or something else. I am grateful for the artistic freedom I have. I hope to keep creating my books and keep looking for new ways of expression. I was lucky to run a few workshops with children and students abroad – these experiences were inspirational and fun and I hope to do more of them.

9. What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book illustrators or writers?
Dare to draw, write, create. Enjoy, be brave, be patient, be persistent.

10. 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?
It is important that the illustrator is involved and connected to the tale. This connection can be ethnic, religious or cultural, and can also emerge from the essence of the story. I believe that when the illustrator feels that story is touching, the artwork will be honest and will reach others. Of course, visual research is easy nowadays (thanks, Google!) and can be done almost everywhere. Nothing in Tel Aviv 2021 resembles the life, the landscape, the houses or the people of the Talmud period. Nevertheless, as we are still dealing with social conflicts and baseless hatred, I think we can learn something from the story of Kamtza and Bar- Kamtza in our search for peace.

Lenny and Benny is an incredible, moving book with lovely illustrations and an important message.

Thank you Naama.