Friday, March 31, 2023

Q&A with Martin Lemelman



Martin Lemelman is the author and illustrator of the new middle grade graphic novel The Miracle Seed. It focuses on ancient date palms that were rediscovered in recent years. His many other books include Mendel's Daughter. He lives in Florida.


Q: What inspired you to write and illustrate The Miracle Seed


A: I read every day– fiction, nonfiction, comics, the news.


I'm also fascinated by nature; so much so, that I took a course to become a Florida Master Gardener. When I came across an article about two scientists bringing the long-lost Judean Date Palm back from extinction, I was hooked.


With further research, I discovered this true story contains elements of hope, sadness, and rebirth. It's also a story filled with mystery, conflict, and surprise– a true-life Jurassic Park!  


Q: How did you research the book, and what did you find that surprised you most?


A: I do lots of research when I‘m writing a true story like The Miracle Seed. I read articles, books, scientific abstracts, and watched interviews. I even grew medjool date seeds to study how date seeds form into plants.


However, my research doesn't end when I begin writing and drawing a book. In the course of writing this book, I emailed Dr. Elaine Solowey many times with questions about her methods of reviving the ancient seed. For me, research is exciting and a chance to learn something new. I don't think of it as tedious or boring.


I taught illustration and graphic design at Kutztown University for over 30 years. Mostly, I tried to instill in my students a sense of creativity and problem-solving. When it came to The Miracle Seed, I was a bit surprised when I learned about how creative these scientists needed to be. Creativity truly exists in all fields! It pushes us forward.


Q: The Kirkus review of the book said, in part, that it “Restores hope in the idea that all things are possible; especially empowering for young women interested in STEM subjects.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: I think the review is spot on. I hope young readers will be inspired to find the next miracle! I hope they will use their study of history and science to make our world a better place.


The Miracle Seed tells the true and miraculous story of two women scientists who did the impossible. I hope young women will be encouraged to ask, “What can we do next?” It's my intention to instill a sense of wonder and excitement about the world around us.


Q: How are the date palms faring today?


A: I just wrote to Dr. Solowey and she kindly responded that they’re flowering and in good health. She’s pollinating the female palms but so far only Hannah seems to be fertile and producing dates.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm currently working on a graphic novel for young readers that’s very dear to me. It's called Goldie’s Forest. It tells the true story of my mother’s life before World War II and how she survived the Holocaust with her sister and two of her brothers. 


My son asks me every day, "How many pages did you finish today?" I tell him it's not a race. These books take time. And I just love the process. Hopefully, one day someone will read it, but for now it's just for me.

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Coincidently, my 7-year-old granddaughter Hannah shares the same name as the palm that produced the first dates. She’s very proud of that! Also note, her younger sister Abby likes my book, but she absolutely LOVES dates!  Both girls are sweet as dates!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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