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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lesléa Newman

Lesléa (pronounced “Lez-LEE-uh”) Newman was born in Brooklyn, NY and grew up there and on Long Island. She now lives in western Massachusetts, and from 2008-2010 served as the poet laureate of Northampton, MA. Currently she teaches writing for children and young adults at the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University.

Head shot of Leslea Newman

She is the author of 35 picture books, 2 middle grade novels, and 4 young adult novels, in addition to a number of poems and magazine articles. Her most recent books include:

Composite image of all 12 covers of Leslea's most recent releases.

The Fairest in the Land by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Joshua Heinsz (5/2/2023); I Can Be... Me, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez (3/20/2023); Alicia and the Hurricane / Alicia Y El Huracán: A Story of Puerto Rico / Un Cuento De Puerto Rico, illustrated by Elizabeth Erazo Baez (2022); How to Sleep Tight through the Night: Bedtime Tricks (That Really Work!) for Kids, written with co-author Tzivia Gover, illustrated by Vivian Mineker (2022); As Babies Dream, illustrated by Taia Morley (2021); A-B-C Cats: An Alpha-Cat Book, illustrated by Isabella Kung (2021); 1-2-3 Cats: A Cat Counting Book, illustrated by Isabella Kung (2021); Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale With A Tail, illustrated by Susan Gal (2020); Remembering Ethan, illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop (2020); Gittel's Journey: An Ellis Island Story, by Amy June Bates (2019); Baby's Blessings, illustrated by Hiroe Nakata (2019); and Sparkle Boy, illustrated by Maria Mola (2017).

For further information, see our earlier interview (here) and (here).

Her newest picture book, The Babka Sisters, was released on May 2nd.

Welcome back Lesléa!

It’s always a pleasure to chat with you!

What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?

I wrote a picture book manuscript called Song of the Dead Sea Scrolls on an overnight flight from Israel to New York. And the book has been accepted and will be published sometime in the next few years!

What a great way to spend some of an 11 hour flight. Before we get to The Babka Sisters, do you want to take a moment to tell us a little bit about I Can Be... Me, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, which was released in March?

Cover- torsos & heads or six diverse kids encircling the title.

Absolutely! The book is an invitation for young readers to enter a space where creativity and acceptance are enjoyed by all without any expectations. The question I had in mind when I was writing the book was: “If I had nothing to conform to and nothing to rebel against, who would I be?” Maya’s joyous, vivid, gender-bending illustrations knocked me out! It’s a really fun book.

It sounds like it and that is a fun cover. What was the inspiration or spark of curiosity for The Babka Sisters?

Cover - the Babka sister each carrying a babka to a door with their pet cat and dog following them.

In a word, babka! It’s so delicious and such a unique food. Is it bread? Is it cake? Whatever it is, it is certainly worth writing a book about. I love the word—it’s so much fun to say—and I am all about language. When the characters Hester and Esther with their pets Lester and Chester and their neighbor Sylvester appeared in my mind, I just ran with it. And when I remembered that the Yiddish word for “sister” is “shvester” I was just over the moon. I love playing with language. I hope that joy comes through in the story.

I think it does. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for The Babka Sisters?

I started the book in 2018, so that makes 5 years. Which is pretty typical for a picture book. I had one book that came out a year and a half after I wrote it (very rare) and one book that took ten years from first draft to finished book. There are so many factors: how long it takes to write a book, how long it takes to sell a book, how long it takes to find an illustrator, how long the illustrator takes to create the artwork….. One must be very patient in this business!

No kidding! What was the toughest aspect of writing The Babka Sisters?

The question of the book is: which sister really does make the best babka in the world? It took me a while to solve that problem. (You’ll have to read the book to find out how I solved it!)

Intriguing! Is there something you want your readers to know about The Babka Sisters?

There is a recipe for babka in the back of the book, created by my very talented friend, the baker and writer Aaron Hamburger. It is truly the best babka in the world. It’s a bit complicated to make, but well worth the effort!

I'm so glad you included a recipe, especially for readers who've never eaten or made babka. Did anything surprise or delight you when you first saw Tika and Tata Bobokhidze’s illustrations for the first time? Which is your favorite spread?

Left image - Babka Sisters challenging each other from their patios. Right  side 4 circles showing the sisters making babka in their kitchens.

Text © Lesléa Newman, 2023. Image © Tika and Tata Bobokhidze, 2023.

Everything about the artwork surprised and delighted me. I am not very good at visualizing illustrations since I am basically a word person, so I had no expectations. I love the folksy aspect of the art. And the colors are wonderful. I don’t really have a favorite spread, though I do love the half-title page that contains all the cooking images: eggs flour, a rolling pin, milk, butter, chocolate, etc. And I love the back cover which shows the Babka Sisters sitting at a table with plates of babka, a challah, and lit Shabbat candles (and their pets looking up hoping for a crumb or two).

Back cover - the Babka Sisters sitting at a table with plates of babka, a challah, lit Shabbat candles, and their pets looking up hoping for a crumb or two.

Text © Lesléa Newman, 2023. Image © Tika and Tata Bobokhidze, 2023.

This is such a fun back cover! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Cover image of two kids wearing crowns and holding a princess gown.

I have many projects in the works, including Joyful Song which is about a little boy and his two moms welcoming a new baby into their family (2024); The Fairest in the Land which is about two best friends, Annabelle and Benjamin, both of whom want to be the princess; and, as mentioned before, I Can Be….ME! which is a celebration of kids being their authentic selves. And more to come!

Wow. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Arial photo of Central Park in New Yoprk's skyline.

My favorite park is Central Park, since I grew up in New York. It’s a spectacular place.

One I hope to visit someday. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing, publishing, or not?

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde

“Don’t fill up the bread.” –Florence Newman (my mom)

I love that first quote. I've had it posted in my study for a while. Thank you, Lesléa for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.

To find out more about Lesléa Newman, or contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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