Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Q&A with Leslie Kimmelman

Leslie Kimmelman is the author of the new children's picture book The Eight Knights of Hanukkah. Her many other books include Worse and Worse on Noah's Ark and Bat and Sloth Hang Around. 

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Eight Knights of Hanukkah?

A: I had been thinking about writing a Hanukkah story for a while. My book The Runaway Latkes had been published way back in 2000, and I was eager to do another—Hanukkah is such a simple and beautiful holiday.

But I wondered if I had anything new to say. (One of my first books, long ago, was also a Hanukkah title for the very young.) I kept discarding ideas.

Then one day the play on words of the book’s title occurred to me—I am probably the weakest link in a family that loves word play and punning. I was sure someone had already used the whole “eight knights” idea; to my surprise, no one had.

It was so much fun to write, with all the knightly (or faux knightly!) language. And of course, where there are knights, there must be a dragon. 

Q: How much do you think kids need to know about Hanukkah to appreciate the story?

A: I don’t think they need to know much about it, if anything. The story is easy to follow, and the Hanukkah traditions are easy to understand in context. There’s also a page at the back of the book with a straightforward explanation of the holiday.

But really the story is as much about putting kindness into the world and doing mitzvot as it is about Hanukkah. 

Q: What do you think Galia Bernstein's illustrations added to the book?

A: Obviously the words came first, but I can’t even remember the story without the illustrations. I think the art is magnificent and funny and sweet and just perfect. Galia has added so many superb touches, like the illuminated letters, and the dog, and the individual shield designs. She’s given each knight a distinctive personality. I could go on and on. 

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?

A: Without giving too much away, that dragons aren’t always what you think they are. That kindness can be practiced on a small scale. Even small kindnesses are heroic these days, and they’re definitely within a child’s reach.

And of course my other goal was to simply write a fun story—what’s more fun than knights?—that incorporated both the holiday and fundamental Jewish values. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a few things coming out next year—books 3 and 4 in an early reader series about Bat and Sloth, who share a branch in the rain forest and become friends. Books 1 and 2 came out in April, and I hope they didn’t get lost in the whirlwind that was spring this year.

I also have a book coming out called The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar, which I’m really excited about—I’m a total grammar nerd, plus all the monster illustrations are hilarious.

I am slowly making headway on my first middle grade novel. I am hopeful that it’s working, but it’s completely different from writing picture books, and a steep learning curve for me. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Guests who cometh to my kitchen at Hanukkah time will be treated to scrumptious latkes and sufganiyot, hot from the frying pan. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Leslie Kimmelman.

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