The Whole Megillah interviews here Laura Aron Milhander, author, and Inna Chernyak, illustrator of the new Kar-Ben picture book, Not for All the Hamantaschen in Town, a Purim story. Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman also participates. Here goes…
The Whole Megillah (TWM): Welcome, everyone and congratulations on such a fun book (I laughed out loud while reading). Laura, let’s start with you. What inspired you to write this book?
Laura Aron Milhander (LAM): One of my favorite books to read with my children was Leola and the Honeybears, by Melodye Benson Rosales. The subtitle of this book is “An African-American Retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” This really caught my eye, and I enjoy reading familiar stories with a cultural twist. I thought about what Jewish retellings of familiar tales, including “The Three Little Pigs,” would be like, and I began to write.
TWM: What made you think of the three little pigs? Did you worry at all about bringing to the market a Jewish story with pigs?
LAM: One of the most well-known tales is “The Three Little Pigs,” and in order to put a Jewish twist on it, I wanted to relate it to a Jewish holiday. I chose to focus on Purim, a holiday which includes dressing up and telling “shpiels” (comical stories). Since the traditional story is so familiar to young children and those reading to them, and since Purim includes expecting the unexpected, I felt that pigs would be accepted and would make the perfect main characters.
TWM: What was your writing process like?
LAM: I wrote many drafts, usually late at night when everyone was asleep. After I had written the basic story I wanted to tell, I set myself a goal of approximately 1000 words, which is standard for a children’s picture book. This was an excellent and challenging tool for focusing on how reasonably to tell the story. Then I revised the story to fit the goal. Because I was combining a familiar tale with a Jewish holiday, it was necessary to create parallels between the tale and the holiday: The houses built with varying effort, three Purim costume crowns made with varying effort, check. The wolf visits the three houses, the wolf visits three craft stations which reflect the celebration of Purim, check. The familiar refrain with a Purim twist, check… and so on.
TWM: Do you have a critique group?
TWM: What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
LAM: My greatest challenge was managing all the details I wanted to include within 1000 words while remaining focused on retelling the story of “The Three Little Pigs” in a “Jewish way” (vs. retelling Purim in a “Three Little Pigs” way).
TWM: The greatest satisfaction?
LAM: My greatest satisfaction has been writing what I feel is a really good story, and then having it accepted by a publisher and working with a very talented team to create an excellent final product. This experience has been a thrill!
TWM: What’s next for you?
LAM: I hope to follow Not For All the Hamantaschen in Town with other Jewish holiday retellings of traditional tales. I have more in the works! Additionally, I am always looking for ideas and inspiration for more stories with various themes.
TWM: Thanks so much, Laura. Joni, what attracted you to this manuscript?
Joni Sussman (JS): While Kar-Ben rarely publishes “take-offs” on existing stories, we felt this cute and funny version of “The Three Little Pigs” worked very well for a topsy-turvy Purim story. We liked the Big Bad Wolf turning out to just be a bully who could be reformed by kindness. We liked the idea of the different materials for Purim costume crowns instead of different materials for the types of piggie houses in the original story. We liked that our young readers could decide to make their own crowns for their Purim costumes—if the piggies can do it, so can they! Purim is a holiday of fun and silliness and we thought this story really fit the bill.
TWM: Why did you choose Inna as the illustrator?
JS: We loved Inna’s art with its cartoon-y bright colors and we thought it would be a good fit for this story. We liked that the animals in her portfolio had personality and she did a great job with our pigs in that sense. We also liked Inna’s attention to detail—the scenes in the town have lots of fun things to look at, great for our littlest readers. Reviewers have also liked this art a lot.
TWM: Thanks. Finally, Inna. How did you develop your illustration strategy for this book?
Inna Chernyak (IC): When I got this wonderful book to illustrate, at first I was thinking over the image of characters. While reading the book script, I was trying to make some drafts for the future characters. I really wanted to create lovely pigs, which have different look with some special features. The wolf is illustrated here as a positive character which isn’t traditionally threatening. So, I added moustaches and he is wearing a suit with a tie, which makes him appear just elegant and nice. After that I always choose suitable colour palette, as for me it’s extremely important. Nevertheless, it should bring much fun for readers.
TWM: How long did it take you to do the illustrations?
IC: The publishing house Kar-Ben provided me enough time to think over precisely on each detail.
TWM: What was your greatest challenge in illustrating this book? The greatest satisfaction?
IC: The challenge was to give peculiarities to each of the character in the book and make them look special in their own way. The greatest satisfaction is the feeling when you look at children enjoying the book.
TWM: What’s next for you?
IC: I would try my best to create more and give more fun for readers!
Laura Aron Milhander has a background in Jewish and secular education and has worked in a variety of classroom environments for over thirty years. She lives in Southern California with her husband, Rabbi Chaplain Kenneth Milhander, and their four children, a chinchilla, and the goldfish they won at a Purim carnival four years ago.
I live in Ukraine. Strangely enough, the first degree I received was in economics. However the great passion for art which I possessed for all my life brought me to Kharkov State Academy for Arts and Design which I graduated from with a diploma of a graphic designer. Now I have been working as an illustrator since 2008. It’s a privilege for me to be an illustrator and I view my job as the dearest and most precious of treasures.