Saturday, November 4, 2023

Q&A with Ruth Behar and Gabriel Frye-Behar



Ruth Behar and Gabriel Frye-Behar are the mother-son authors of the new children's picture book Pepita Meets Bebita. Ruth Behar's other books include Tía Fortuna's New Home. She teaches at the University of Michigan. Gabriel Frye-Behar, who is also a filmmaker and photographer, teaches in the drama department of NYU Tisch.


Q: What inspired the two of you to collaborate on Pepita Meets Bebita, and what was your collaboration process like for this book?


A: Gabriel’s daughter and Ruth’s granddaughter was born in late December 2020, and we started writing the book in early January 2021, in the midst of the Covid lockdown.


It had been a saga for Ruth to travel from Michigan to New York to meet the baby, and she knew she wanted to celebrate that miracle in a special way. She had been toying with the idea of writing a picture book as she waited for the baby to be born.


Gabriel Frye-Behar

Once she met the baby and realized how much had changed for both her and Gabriel, she asked Gabriel if he’d collaborate with her.


Gabriel comes from a background in film and creative writing, and is used to thinking about the relationship between words and images. Ruth comes from a background in anthropology and understanding vulnerability and empathy.


Together we felt we were a good team and could support each other and be open to the vision we had for the book and not fret when we revised, cut, rewrote each other’s words.


We passed the manuscript back and forth to each other until we felt we had a version we were both happy with. Then our editor also offered comments and we revised some more.


A moment finally came when we realized that it was time to let the story go and find its own path in the world.


Q: What do you think Maribel Lechuga’s illustrations add to the story?


A: We love Maribel Lechuga’s illustrations and think her representation of Pepita is adorable and so akin to the real dog she’s based on.


We think she did a great job of showing the familia of Mami and Papi and Pepita, and how they and Abuela and Abuelo respond to the arrival of the baby, the bebita, and the struggle to calm her and make her feel at home.


The color palette Maribel chose, with soft beiges and pinks and greens, creates a beautiful glow as Pepita and the family transition to a new stage of their lives.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book called it a “heartwarming reminder to embrace change.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: We think that’s a very apt description of our book. Pepita, like an older sibling, has to accept that her role in the family has changed, while coming to realize that she is still loved and cared for and appreciated.


She has not lost the cariño – the love – of her familia; rather, she comes to see that the heart is big and there is room to love all the members of a growing family, both human and animal. We hope kids will take away that message.


Q: How did you create the character of Pepita?


A: Pepita is inspired by a rescue dog that Gabriel and his wife adopted in New York six years ago when she was 10 weeks old and who they named Eloise. When their older daughter was born, they’d had Eloise for three years and she had been their first baby.


Ruth also knew Eloise very well and was close to her, because she’d been in New York when they adopted her.


And so when Gabriel became a dad and Ruth a grandmother, we noticed that our sweet Eloise was looking very confused as to why she wasn’t being given all the attention she was accustomed to.


We started to wonder what she was feeling as a dog losing her special place in the family. That’s how the character of Pepita was born.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: We have another picture book completed that we also co-wrote and that we look forward to announcing soon. It has found a publisher and we are very excited to have worked together again.


Ruth has a new middle-grade novel, Across So Many Seas, coming out on February 6, 2024. Gabriel is at work on a novel based on his MFA thesis.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Pepita Meets Bebita is also available in a Spanish edition, under the title Pepita y Bebita.


Thanks so much for the interview. We appreciated your thoughtful questions.


For further information about Pepita Meets Bebita and upcoming events, our websites are & and you can find us on Instagram -- @ruthbeharauthor & @gabrielfryebehar.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ruth Behar. 

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