The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Amalia Hoffman
Amalia Hoffman grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. Her first drawing was black crayon smeared over the entire page. My mom asked me what it was and I said, "that's a chicken coop."
"Where are the chickens?" she asked.
I said, "They are all asleep and it's dark." Since then, Amalia has been drawing, painting, sculpting and cutting paper constructions. After graduating from Pratt Institute and NYU, she began showing artwork in galleries & museums. When Gene Moore, display director for Tiffany & Co., loved her paper constructions and invited Amalia to create displays for all his windows in New York. I started creating innovative displays for many prominent store windows and I was thrilled to see kids with their nose stuck to the glass, as they gazed at the scene in the window. Writing and illustrating children's books is, again, a window into a child's fantasy and imagination. It's also a wonderful way for me to connect with my own childhood and early memories.
Amalia is the author/illustrator of All Colors (2019), Astro Pea (2019), The Klezmer Bunch (2019), Dreidel Day (2018), and Purim Goodies (2007); the author of The Brave Cyclist: The True Story Of A Holocaust Hero (2019); and the illustrator of Friday Night With The Pope (2014).
Her newest picture book, My Monsterpiece, releases March 2nd.
Welcome Amalia, tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I write and illustrate in my studio in Larchmont NY. I’ve been writing all my life, starting when I was keeping a diary where I wrote every night as a child. I wrote stories and essays in high school. I started writing picture books about 15 years ago. I was creating window displays for many of Manhattan stores, and in each one, I created a theme. I noticed that children loved starring at them and that gave me an idea to write for children. I don’t really have a favorite book to write. I write for all genres, from board books to nonfiction for older kids.
That's a cool way to get started writing for children. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Apparently, I was a very temperamental child. When I got angry with my mom and dad, I used to punish them by tearing up the greeting cards I created for their birthdays and anniversaries. Years later, when I visited my parents who lived in Jerusalem, I found an envelope with all the bits of torn art that my father saved. When I created My Monsterpiece, I showed the kid’s frustration by creating one spread that features the kid’s torn monsters.
I remember that when I was about 7, I entered a contest, sponsored by a children’s magazine, to draw a scary witch. Apparently, just like the kid in my book, mine didn’t scare anyone and I didn’t win.
I love the interconnection of your childhood and this story. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or what was your favorite book as a child?
I grew up in Israel, my books were all by Israeli authors, written in Hebrew so I’m not sure people here will recognize them. My favorite author was Sholom Aleichem who actually wrote Fiddler on the Roof. I also loved the stories of Haim Nachman Bialik, and Nathan Alterman. I also loved books that were illustrated by Lea Goldberg.
What was your inspiration for My Monsterpiece?
My inspiration for My Monsterpiece was the many years I worked with young children. I noticed that kids love to experiment with art. They explore many media and like to paint on paper plates, scraps of paper, and even grocery bags. This inspired me to create the illustrations for the book using kid-friendly art techniques and supplies. In some illustrations, I glued on yarn, glitter, buttons and even fruit loops. Kids love to get their hands messy. So I dipped my fingers in gooey blobs of paint. It was very therapeutic. A lot of the art in the book was painted with my fingers, rather than with brushes. I also spritzed paint with a toothbrush, letting the bits of color drop where they may. At the end of the day, my studio was a mess but I felt liberated!
This sounds like such a fun book to illustrate. Is there something you want your readers to know about My Monsterpiece?
I was inspired to create a book that will be funny and entertaining but will have a non-preachy message that when we free ourselves from bias and stereotyping, our world is more colorful and we can befriend each other even if we don’t look or behave in the same way.
I think that comes through. But so does remembering that art is messy and should be fun. How long did it take My Monsterpiece to go from idea to publication?
You’ve been the author, the illustrator, and the author/illustrator of books. Do you prefer one over the other? Which is harder the writing or the illustrating? Which comes first?
It depends, sometimes the writing is easier, and sometimes the illustrating is easier.
Sounds like life. Do you have a favorite medium? Or maybe one you’d like to try? Which is your favorite spread in My Monsterpiece?
In My Monsterpiece, I collaged many different items. I love collage and incorporating photographs. My favorite medium is tissue paper that I glue to the board and layer, like I did in the spread about a monster that loves to build sand castles.
© Amalia Hoffman, 2021.
My favorite spread is the one where the kid gets frustrated with his monsters and tears them all to bits and pieces.
I think many of us have either done this or felt like doing it. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave a story throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in My Monsterpiece? If so, could you share one or more with us?
Yes! In the illustrations, I also incorporated photographs. The reader finds out that Mom wasn’t scared of a monster picture and can see the chocolate chip cookies she was munching on while she looked at the picture. Dad isn’t scared of another monster; in fact, he wants to hang it in his office and the reader can see the popcorn Dad was gobbling. Later, the child imagines a monster that loves chocolate chip cookie, just like Mom & another who loves popcorn, just like Dad. On another page, the monster visits the library and the readers can see his library card. Also, the readers are introduced to many art supplies and are invited to create their own monsterpiece.
That library card is adorable! What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)
I have to say that now as a writer/illustrator Maurice Sendak is still the greatest source of inspiration. Also Chris Van Allsburg.
Great sources of inspiration. You’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. Which was the hardest of your fiction picture books to write? Why? Do you find fiction or nonfiction harder to write?
Each book has its own challenge so it’s hard to tell which one is the hardest. I can say for sure, that I’ve struggled with issues in each book whether it was in writing, researching, revising, or creating the illustrations.
Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’m working on a board book and also on a nonfiction picture book, I’ve also been working on a YA, but since all these have been under consideration, I can’t share tidbits.
We'll just have to keep our eyes peeled. How are you staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well”?
Mostly, I take long walk and end up at the park on the Long Island Sound where I can stretch on a bench & dream.
That sounds divine. Last question, what is your favorite animal? Why?
I love rabbits. I see many of them when I walk in the neighborhood. They are so cute & sometimes they stand still & I can photograph them. My son had an adorable pet bunny, called Boots.
Thank you so much for coming by to talk with me Amalia. It was a pleasure getting to know you.
To find out more about Amalia Hoffman, or get in touch with her:
Review of My Monsterpiece
When I first saw the cover announcement for this book, I was most intrigued by the title. The word play on "masterpiece" combined with the colorful kid-like drawings really caught my attention. This book lives up to its promise of being filled with child friendly, imaginative art and an encouragement to play with art. While also providing a soft underpinning of acceptance and friendship.
Author/Illustrator: Amalia Hoffman
Publisher: Yeehoo Press
Art, creativity, prejudice, acceptance, and friendship.
A kid-artist wants to frighten family members and friends by creating the scariest, meanest, most terrible monsters ever. A green tongue, pointy horns, sharp teeth, and terrible claws are sure to make everyone scream!
But what happens when rather than running away in fright, they smile, laugh, and absolutely LOVE the monsters?
Join the frustrated artist on this hilariously hair-raising journey where the scary and not scary meet and mingle, embarking on an adventure that reveals that overcoming fear and prejudice can lead to a wonderful friendship.
I want to make the scariest monster ever!
It’s going to have a long, green tongue.
It will be a monster masterpiece -
What I Liked about this book:
The collage effects and multimedia which Amalia Hoffman uses in the book are stunning and sure to inspire kids to create their own monsters and more. Especially since she employs common items that many kids would have at home - paint, crayons, markers, paper bags, cereal, beads, and buttons.
© Amalia Hoffman, 2021.
The story is told in the 1st person, by an unseen narrator; a child who desperately wants to make "a monster masterpiece," a "Monsterpiece!" Even though we learn a bit about the child's family - it has a mother, father, and sister - the only thing we learn about the main character is that it (gender neutral) is persistent, creative, and imaginative. Though not beyond frustration - notice the colorful "GRRRR"s as each monsterpiece fails to be scary. When the child paints a monster with a long, green tongue, mom sees a "chubby kitty" and dad thinks a collage monster with horns is an owl. Worst yet, the child's sister draws purple wings on a sharp toothed monster declaring it "so cute!"
© Amalia Hoffman, 2021.
After the last monster not only fails to scare the child's friend, but elicits laughter, the child tears apart the monsters. Staring at the remnants of ripped up monsters, the child wonders if "Maybe monsters don’t have to be scary!" And proceeds to create four wonderfully, silly collage monsters. Then in an interesting twist, the child wonders if a monster could be doing the same thing - trying to create a picture of a scary child. And then . . . well you know the drill.
Under all the art and creative fun is an undercurrent of not judging others by appearances or differences. A call (or reminder) to resist profiling and fearing things that are different. Overall, it is a wonderful book sure to inspire creative drawings, collages, or maybe even puppets. And a good book for opening a discussion on acceptance of differences, friendship, and/or perfectionism.
- make a paper plate or flat collage monster of your own. What kind of kid would your monster find scary? Make a collage of that kid. Now, tell, write, or draw a story of their first meeting.
- make a paper bag puppet. What would be its favorite food? (https://craftulate.com/paper-bag-monsters/).
- watch Amalia and her monster puppet discuss the story and fears (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kdkzv_MziTs&ab_channel=amaliahoffman).
- write a story, or draw a picture, of something you thought was scary, but found out really wasn't.
- check out Amalia's Monsterpiece activities (http://www.amaliahoffman.com/MyMonsterColoringPage.htm) and teacher's guide (http://www.amaliahoffman.com/MyMonsterpieceTeachersGuide.pdf).