The Picture Book Buzz - Interview With Leslea 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 Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program.
She is the author of 31 picture books, 2 middle grade novels, and 4 young adult novels, in addition to a number of poems and magazine articles. Including the picture books, ABC Cats: An Alpha-Cat Book (2021), 123 Cats: A Cat Counting Book (2021), Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale With A Tail (2020), Remembering Ethan (2020), Gittel's Journey: An Ellis Island Story (2019), Baby's Blessings(2019), Sparkle Boy (2017), Heather Has Two Mommies (2016), Hanukkah Delight! (2016), My Name is Aviva (2015), Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed (2015), and Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays (2014).
For further information, see our earlier interview (here).
Her newest picture book, As Babies Dream, released September 14th.
Lesléa, thank-you so much for stopping back to talk about your newest book and writing.
It’s always a pleasure!
What was the inspiration for As Babies Dream?
The book actually began as a poem written for my mother. I wrote the poem to put into the words the depth of a mother’s love for her child, and then I expanded that to include all parents.
What a sweet way for a book to start. Was your experience writing As Babies Dream, especially given it’s written in rhyme, easier or harder than, many of your other books? Was nailing the rhyme the hardest part?
Poetry is my first love and I have been writing it for more than fifty years (!) so it is actually easier for me to write in verse than it is to write in prose. I settle down into the rhythm and really enjoy myself. There’s nothing I like better than revising a poem over and over and over. Rhyming isn’t the hardest part; it’s the meter and rhythm that is the most challenging. I read the text aloud—to my cat, who loves poetry!—and that helps me get it right.
I love your choice of editor! What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child, now as a writer, or both.)
It’s hard to pick just one. I grew up on Broadway show tunes and learned a lot about perfect rhyme from listening to those songs over and over and over. I learned about inventive language from Dr. Seuss. I am currently gobsmacked by the poetry of Patricia Smith. There is nothing she cannot do.
Is there something you want your readers to know about As Babies Dream?
I want to particularly point out the representation of diverse families on the front cover of the book. That is very important to me and I thank Taia Morley for doing such a great job
I agree. Taia's cover is gorgeous and so inclusive. Since you write so many other genres, what is the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing picture books?
Keeping them short! That’s why I find it easier to write in verse than to write in prose when it comes to creating picture book texts. There is so little space, and yet the author has to say so much. It’s very challenging to create an entire world in 500 words or fewer. It has taken me a long time to learn how to leave room for the illustrator to add visual storytelling to the project, which makes the text really come alive.
You did a good job of leaving that room with this text. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Taia Morley’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?
Text © Lesléa Newman, 2021. Image © Taia Morley, 2021.
Everything about the illustrations surprised, amazed, and delighted me. I am not a visual person (I work in words!) so I never know what to expect when my text is illustrated. I don’t think I have a favorite spread. What I love most about the illustrations is the way they so skillfully depict the obvious love between the adult animals and people and their offspring.
It's a wonderful book for sharing with a little one. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Yes! I have just put the finishing touches on Alicia and the Hurricane/Alicia y el huracán, a book that takes place in Puerto Rico and focuses on Alicia, who worries about the beloved coquís of Puerto Rico during a terrible hurricane. The coquís are tree frogs native to the island and every night they sing Alicia to sleep. But as the storm rages, the coquís remain silent. Will Alicia ever hear them sing again? This is my first bilingual book and it was written for my beloved who hails from Puerto Rico and was distraught when Hurricane Maria devastated the island. It is a book of hope. It will be out in 2022 from The Children’s Press (a division of Lee & Low).
I look forward to this one coming out. Congrats. How are you, or have you been, staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well”?
Reading! For me, reading the work of others, especially poetry is always inspiring. And yes, I am staying creative. It is as important to me as food. As water. As air.
Whether it's the genre you write or not, reading is such a wonderful way to decompress and recharge. If you could meet anyone (real, imaginary, deceased, etc.) who would that be? Why?
I would love to meet my maternal grandfather who died three months before I was born and after whom I am named. I am sure he has many stories to tell.
Thank you, Lesléa for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you again.
Be sure to stop by Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF review of As Babies Dream.
To find out more about Lesléa Newman, or contact her: