Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Q&A with Helaine Becker



Helaine Becker is the author of the new children's picture book The Fabulous Tale of Fish & Chips.  She has written more than 90 other books, including A Porcupine in a Pine Tree.


Q: How did you first learn about Joseph Malin, inventor of fish and chips, and what inspired you to write this picture book?


A: I found the story of the first fish and chips shop in a cookbook! It was Claudia Roden’s Encyclopaedic compendium of Jewish recipes. It’s an incredible book full of not only great recipes but such amazing history and stories. As soon as I read it I knew it had to be a book for children.


Q: What did you see as the right blend of history and imagination as you worked on the book?


A: The bare bones of the story that are historically true are pretty bare indeed. So I had to create a plot out of thin air. The story is therefore fanciful and involves a happy collaboration.


The actual story is described in the author’s note at the back. And a very good recipe for fried fish in the Jewish fashion as well!


Q: What do you think Omer Hoffmann's illustrations add to the book?


A: Absolutely everything? A picture book simply does not exist without the pictures and when they’re done well, like these are, it brings an entirely unique vibe and beauty to the project. I love how the characters of Joseph and Annette show so much personality.


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


A: I hope the kids enjoy reading it, which to me is a good enough outcome all of its own.


But it would be nice also if kids come away with a sense of ingenuity and a can-do spirit that they learn from Joseph and Annette. The idea of collaboration versus competition.


And of course the surprising history that shows us something we thought we already knew about in a new light and makes it completely fresh again.


It gives a hint of the very large idea that not everything is exactly what it seems and you should dig a little deeper if you want to find out the actual story.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m always working on about 12 things at a time. At the top of the to do list is a manuscript on the surprising origins of the hamburger. Yes, it’s Jewish. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Fish is good for you. Go eat some! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Helaine Becker.

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