WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
Those of you who know me well know that I love the writing and revising that is part of this kid lit journey. But what I love even more are the people! And every time I meet someone new, I’m filled with joy! I was lucky enough to connect with today’s guest when I participated in a Zoom for authors who had been interviewed by the host of You’ve Got Mel, Mel Rosenberg. The lovely and talented Miri Leshem-Pelly was one of that group – and I’m so thrilled that she agreed to stop by today to chat with us. Her newest book, PENNY AND THE PLAIN PIECE OF PAPER, was the featured Perfect Picture Book Friday selection last week.
Miri Leshem-Pelly’s publications include 15 picture books as author-illustrator, plus 16 picture books as an illustrator. Her latest book, Penny and the Plain Piece of Paper (Philomel/Penguin Random House) is translated to Korean, and her book Scribble & Author (Kane Miller/EDC Publishing) is translated to 8 languages.
Miri does more than 100 school visits per year. She is an SCBWI RAE (Regional Advisor Emerita) after serving more than ten years as a regional advisor of SCBWI in Israel and she is represented by literary agent Anna Olswanger.
ME: Welcome, Miri! We are so thrilled to have you here today. I know everyone wants to find out more about you, so let’s get to the Q&A.
. Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
MIRI: Thank you so much for having me, Vivian. I live in Israel, and that’s where I grew up, so many of my favorite childhood authors and illustrators are probably unknown to the American audience. But I loved some international classic books too. One of my favorites was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, who truly inspired me as a child. I loved reading about this little mischievous, courageous and powerful girl who does whatever she likes and doesn’t listen to grownups. I even dressed up like her on Purim when I was 5 years old.
I also loved reading Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne and illustrated by E. H. Shepard.I found this book to be full of heart and charm, funny and silly with some unforgettable relationships and scenes.
As a teenager my favorite author was the naturalist Gerald Durrell. I read his book My Family and Other Animals and fell in love with his writing, his humor and his deep love for nature and animals. I started reading all of his books, some of them several times. Today I have a whole shelf in my studio with his books. He is the one who inspired me to start creating my own nature books (most of them published in Hebrew) and one of them I dedicated in his honor.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
MIRI: I learned so much about the challenges in a writer’s life over the years. For example, the patience you need and the durability to face the numerous rejections along the path to publication, for each and every book.
But one of the things that really surprised me is how much marketing you need to do, even when you are traditionally published. When I started writing, I trusted my publishers to do all the marketing for my books and didn’t want to take any part in it. But that was a mistake. No one can do this better than you, and the trick is to find the kind of marketing that you feel comfortable with or even enjoy.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
MIRI: My creative place is my new studio. We moved to a new apartment three years ago, after many years that I spent in a workspace that was uncomfortable and crowded. I knew that in the new apartment I’m going to create my dream studio, and that’s what I did. This room is in a separate floor from the rest of the apartment, with great view, lots of light, and all the storage room I need for my art supplies and drawings. I have a very long desk with room both for my computer and for hand drawing. Every morning when I go up the stairs, I feel I’m entering my special kingdom, a place to enjoy the creative process.
ME: As an author-illustrator, what comes first when you create a new picture book? Your writing or your illustrations?
MIRI: I see the process of creating a picture book as one thing, combining words and pictures. Usually I start with the words, but even as I’m writing them, I already see the pictures in my mind. When I start working on the sketches, I often go back to the writing and make changes because of the illustrations. During the creation process I go back and forth many times, between the text and the images and allow them to influence one another.
ME: Why do you write and illustrate for children?
MIRI: Children are curious, they want to know all about the world. They are excited to discover new things and they are passionate. I love spending time with children in my school visits, virtual visits and creative workshops. They always surprise me with their imagination and fresh ideas.
Also, writing picture books for children gives me the opportunity to illustrate them! As I said earlier, my favorite creation is combining words and pictures.
ME: Oh wow! I love these answers, Miri. Did you know that PIppa Longstocking was one of my favorite books as a kid? Thanks you so much for sharing some of your process. And now, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
MIRI: Writing is hard, takes a lot of time, and usually doesn’t give you much money. The publishing journey is paved with tons of rejections. And yet I see this as the best job in the world. Go figure. But it is true. I wouldn’t choose any other job in the world.
Some of the things that helped me most on my writing career are:
- Join a critique group. I learned so much from my wonderful critique group and got a lot of support too. It takes some effort to critique the stories of the other members, but it is worth every minute.
- Join SCBWI. If you write for children or teens – you should join this wonderful organization. I’m a member of SCBWI for many years, and I’m a Regional Advisor Emerita, after volunteering more than ten years as the Regional Advisor of the Israeli chapter. SCBWI is a community, you get a lot of information about the craft and business of children books, and you get many opportunities to help you grow.
- Never stop learning. Go to writing conferences, participate in online courses and workshops. It will keep you fresh and inspired. There is always some more to learn.
ME: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! These are awesome tips, Miri. I know that everyone is very grateful to you for sharing your heart. And now I know you are going to share a recipe for something very yummy!!!
Just mix all the ingredients together, form balls and into the oven!
INGREDIENTS (for around 40 cookies):
1 stick butter
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup raw tahini
2+1/2 cups flour
1+3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Take the butter out of the fridge around 15 minutes before you start making the cookies.
In the mixer bowl beat together butter and sugar for two minutes (using the flat beater), then add the olive oil and mix for another minute, then add the tahini and mix for a few more seconds, followed by the flour and baking powder.
Form small balls and arrange on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Flatten the balls.
Bake for 15 minutes until cracks form in the cookies and the bottoms go golden. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Dear friends…please remember that the best way to thank a favorite author or illustrator is to buy their book, review their book, tell friends about their book, and ask your local library to purchase copies of their book.
To find out more about Miri and her fabulous books:
Buy Penny and the Plain Piece of Paper: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/600384/penny-and-the-plain-piece-of-paper-by-miri-leshem-pelly-illustrated-by-miri-leshem-pelly/
Free Teacher’s Guide: https://penguinclassroom.com/books/penny-and-the-plain-piece-of-paper/
Miri’s website: http://mirileshembooks.com/
And make sure to leave a comment below to be entered in the giveaway of a PB written critique or Zoom consult of 40 min. for an author or illustrator on the journey to publication. The winner will get to choose his/her favorite giveaway.
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. I fly to Chicago on Sunday to visit with my son and his family. My 8-year-old granddaughter came home from her first day of school last week and, when I asked her how it was, she said: FANTASTIC!