Alan Silberberg is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Meet the Latkes, which focuses on a family of potato pancakes getting ready for the holiday of Chanukah. His other books include Milo and Pond Scum, and he's written for the children's cartoon programs Double Dare and The All-New Mickey Mouse Club. He lives in Montreal.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for the Latke family?
A: Meet the Latkes was born from a silly holiday animation that I created years ago for family and friends. It was just a fun procrastination project I did using Flash animation and featured a family of latkes wishing everyone “Happy Holidays.”
I’d post the cartoon every year and send it to my agent and other publishing pals and after the third year receiving it, my agent Jill Grinberg said, “You know what? This would make a fun picture book.”
Honestly I’d never thought about that. At the time I was working strictly in middle grade and though I love to doodle never considered I was a “picture book” guy. But the seed was planted and I started working on a manuscript and creating sample artwork based on the characters in the cartoon.
Q: Did you work on the illustrations and the text simultaneously, or focus more on one and then turn to the other?
A: Great question because I am the kind of creative person who needs more than one thing going on so I can switch back and forth when I get stuck or bored. I wrote the text for the story while also doing sample artwork.
But here’s the thing: The story I wrote that got sent to publishers was pretty much rejected by EVERYONE! The biggest note we got back was that in the original text I had the Latke Family preparing for Hanukkah and they were making latkes. Editors were like, “So it’s about cannibal potato pancakes?”…
Lucky for my Latkes, Leila Sales, who was still with Penguin/Viking, loved the sense of humor and style and asked if I would be willing to edit the text and work with her before she could commit to the book.
In publishing the doors sometimes open in funny ways and I jumped at the chance to collaborate with Leila, who is brilliant. She helped balance the silliness of Grandpa’s far-out story with some of the more “accurate” story from the voice of Applesauce, the dog. Her input was invaluable to making it a better book and ultimately in getting it published!
Oh, and once the book was officially being published I worked with Denise Cronin (art director extraordinaire) to create characters that were a little less buffoonish than my originals… and no teeth!
Q: How much do you assume kids reading the book know about Chanukah?
A: I think that most of the kids who gravitate to my book will know anywhere from a little to a lot about CHHHH-anukah! (as Grandpa would say). By making the story an exaggeration and misunderstanding of the holiday’s origins - some kids will get that immediately.
For any kid who is unfamiliar or just a little bit informed about the holiday the humor and “tall-tale” serves the purpose of bringing them into the book, and Applesauce, the straight man, debunks the silly with more facts.
So no matter how little or how much you know before opening the book, I think you close it with a smile and at the very least an understanding of the Hanukkah symbols.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: One of my goals in creating the book is that I really wanted to tell the Chanukah story with humor. If readers get anything from my book, I hope it is that Hanukkah stories, like Christmas stories, can be told in many, many ways.
I know of holiday books that are somber and holiday books that are incredible silly and though every one of these books imparts some sort of message about the holiday I like knowing that I am adding my silly-goofy voice to the mix.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently working on several projects - a middle grade novel that is a collaboration with Erica Perl, who I met last spring when we both participated in the PJ Library Author Trip to Israel.
I am also finishing my own middle grade book that is part graphic novel and part magical adventure.
And because I still have a foot in the TV world, I’m busy developing my novel Milo into an animated TV series.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Hmm…. I make really great latkes without eggs because my wife is allergic!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb