Monday, November 21, 2022

Q&A with Leslie Kimmelman




Leslie Kimmelman is the author of the new children's picture book How to Be a Mensch. Her many other books include The Ghouls' Guide to Good Grammar. She lives in the New York City area.


Q: What inspired you to write How to Be a Mensch?


A: Lately, I keep returning to the theme of kindness. My recent The Eight Knights of Hanukkah focused on deeds of “awesome kindness." And my upcoming title, A Book About Bupkes, also centers on kindness.


It's because kindness seems to be in such short supply these days. Even worse, kids are being inundated with far too many examples of truly unkind behavior--which are often shrugged or laughed off. I think that if we want the world to work better than it's working now, nurturing kindness needs to be a huge priority for the adults in children's lives.


There's no age at which it doesn't feel incredibly good to be the giver or recipient of a menschy act; I'm hoping that my books convey that. And small acts of menschiness are within everyone's reach, no matter how young.


Regarding this title specifically: Saying "mensch,"" menschy," and "menschiness" is really fun! Though it’s a Yiddish word, and the concept is an important part of Judaism, acting like a mensch clearly transcends one religion; it applies to us all. 


Q: What do you think Sachiko Yoshikawa's illustrations add to the story?


A: A shout-out to Apples & Honey Press for choosing such a perfect illustrator. The characters in my book are monsters, yes, but they’re also snuggly and appealing and full of joy. And the vibrant colors the illustrator used make me feel so happy.


In picture books, the right pictures make all the difference; good text can never compensate for humdrum art. The text in this book is pretty spare, but the amount of detail in the art is amazing. Every time I page through, I find something else to laugh about. I absolutely adore Sachiko's illustrations. 


Q: You've written about monsters before--why did you decide on monsters as the main characters this time around?


A: Yes, monsters seem to be popping up all over the place in my books! A few years ago I wrote a story about Frankenstein and his pals (A Valentine for Frankenstein). It was so much fun that when I did my grammar book (The Ghouls' Guide to Good Grammar), I jumped right back in.


In How to Be a Mensch, it seemed a natural choice to use monsters, emphasizing the idea that anyone at all can be a mensch. Even monsters! I like funny books. And it's far easier to reach kids and avoid the trap of sounding preachy if you fill your book with adorable monsters. But no monsters coming up in future books--at least not yet.


Q: Can you say more about what you hope kids take away from the story?


A: I want kids to feel the joy of giving and getting kindness because without that, what is there really? Small menschy acts can actually have large and ever-expanding results. They're very empowering. I hope that maybe the small, easily doable menschy acts readers see illustrated in the book will trigger some ideas.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Besides A Book About Bupkes, I also have Ready, Set, Run! coming out in 2023. It’s a fantastic, fun, energy-filled picture book about the New York City marathon. I'm really proud of how it's turned out.  And of course, always, there are a number of not-yet-books percolating in various stages of writing and production.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I try hard to be a mensch every day. Sometimes I fail—but then there’s always the next day.


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

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