Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Q&A with Iris Argaman

Iris Argaman, photo by Reuven Kapuchinsky
Iris Argaman is the author of the children's picture book Bear and Fred: A World War II Story, now available in an English translation by Annette Appel. Argaman has written many other books for children, and she lives in Israel.

Q: You note that you first learned about Fred Lessing and his bear from an exhibit in the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem. Why did you decide to tell their story, and why did you write it from the bear’s perspective?

A: The first time I read about Bear was in a newspaper article about an exhibit at the Yad Vashem Museum. I was very curious to discover Bear’s story and to know more about Fred Lessing’s childhood during the Second World War. I felt that there was something unique and different in that bear.

I decided to write the story from Bear’s perspective because Bear is a hero; it protected Fred Lessing while he was apart from his parents.

The second reason I wrote the story this way is that it tells the reader about Fred Lessing’s character through the touching journey of the bear. 

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: I researched the book with the help of my dear and loving friend Fred Lessing, who generously and patiently shared his memories and thoughts with me. I also had help from Yehudit Inbar, the curator at Yad Vashem, a special woman who helped to connect me with Fred. She sent me all the materials in the archive.

The thing that surprised me most of all is the power of a “small” story to touch so many hearts—children and adult alike.

Q: What do you think Avi Ofer’s illustrations add to the book?

A; I chose Avi Ofer as the book’s illustrator. I thought he was the right artist for the story. His illustrations are very gentle and sensitive, but most of all, his work is brilliant. He knows how to give a special interpretation to the text with a simple touch.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from Bear and Fred?

A: I wish and hope kids have an understanding of the value of true friendship. I hope they will enjoy the book, and most of all, when they grow up, they will research and be curious about history and the Second World War.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have written a book titled The Wonder Room of Grandma Masha, a children’s book about Yiddish, the language of the Jewish people.

Another book is coming out in a few months, titled The Hats Store of Amelia.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The last thing to say is the greatest gift I received in this process is my friendship with Fred Lessing. We have never met, but he is in my heart.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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