Sydney Taylor Blog Tour: A Moon for Moe and Mo Creators Jane Breskin Zalben and Mehrdokht
It’s the second day of the Sydney Taylor Book Award 2019 Blog Tour (click here for the full schedule) and I’m honored to talk with the creators of Sydney Taylor Honor winner A Moon for Moe and Mo: author Jane Breskin Zalben and illustrator Mehrdokht Amini.
Travis: Congratulations on the Sydney Taylor Honor! How did you find out about it? What was your reaction?
Mehrdokht: I was contacted by Susan Kusel, the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee chair, almost week before the public announcement. It was a secret that I had to guard for a week before sharing it with others! Naturally, I was very happy to know that by getting this honour we could spread the massage of interfaith friendship and similarity to a wider audience.
Jane: I was reserved because when the committee chair shared it on the phone, I actually didn’t make the connection why she was calling me. I had just come home from helping my husband with some plumbing, and I was cooking dinner for friends who were coming over, so my mind was elsewhere. Once it sunk in, it was nice, because this is my 4th time winning a silver and the first time I ever received a phone call, or had any attention on this award. The first time I didn’t even know and found out a year later when someone saw the write up in a journal he was reading and showed me. Although the 3rd time, my publisher did send me alone to Cleveland to receive it.
Travis: Jane – What inspired this story about an interfaith friendship?
Jane: I was food shopping with my toddler granddaughter at the famous store, Sahadi’s, in Brooklyn, which I often do before Jewish holidays. There are spices, teas, coffees, and many things to explore for someone who loves to invent recipes – I have done two children’s cookbooks. The neighborhood also has various Arabic places, which I love. There was a mother wearing a chador – covered – on line next to me at the check-out counter with a very young child. Both children began to interact and so there was this moment – Aha, that is a book.
In addition, I have done three peace books, and over the years in my varied career of writing and illustrating around 50 books for many different age groups, I was invited to speak at international schools. In those countries, of Ethiopia, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Spain, and others, I got to visit old mosques and synagogues. I remember sitting on a floor in the still, silent, humid air of Cairo in a mosque, seeing one of the oldest synagogues there, too, where no Jews were left to worship, being awakened from sleep at four in the morning by an iman calling worshippers to prayer, and enjoying the call once on a rooftop in Addis Ababa after school, enjoying the rhythm of the musical sounds of those chants, just like I would in Hebrew. These are the moments that brought me to this interfaith book. They grew slowly over the years and simmered inside of me.
Travis: Mehrdokht – how do you usually approach a picture book text? How was working on A Moon for Moe and Mo the same and/or different?
Mehrdokht: It depends on the nature of each project and the storyline but the first step for me is usually doing research and exploring the ideas. It is a crucial stage because everything that follows is based on this stage of the work. The more the story is rooted in reality the more important the research stage is. As the story of A Moon for Moe and Mo happens in real locations, it was a bit challenging for me because I didn’t have direct access to the places mentioned in the book. So I spent lots of time virtually walking up and down on Google map through Flatbush Ave to get a sense of the place in which the story happens.
Conversely I worked on another project some years ago about a garden elf that simply introduces in each spread a few vegetables that he grows in his garden. This project didn’t need that much research because it was a fantastical creature and I could give free rein to my imagination.
Travis: What do you wish more people knew about children’s publishing or making picture books?
Mehrdokht: It was great if people knew more about the process of making books and children’s publishing but more than I wish people knew more about the positive impact reading books has on cognitive development of the children. I think period of childhood is a flourishing stage for imagination because children still don’t know about the laws of nature and fantasizing about their surrounding often satisfies their curiosity. In a child’s mind it is easy to make a ladder and go to the moon, get into a serious discussion with a toy, and wait for the arrival of Santa. Sadly we lose this ability gradually when we start to learn about the facts of life and the law of causality. In my view this period of imagination and fantasy is vital for a child mental development because the richer and more colourful it is the more creative the child becomes later in life. The books play a pivotal role in enriching this period of life for children.
Jane: It is very hard work. You are alone in a room for hours and hours – which for me is actually the good part. But it is not easy to get a book published. It used to be where my editor read the book, turned around in his or her chair and said, “I’ll do it!” Or asked me, “What should we do next?” Over the years, there are so many cooks in this stew of publishing it simply is not that straight forward. It is a big business with PR, production, and many departments, and other divisions within the company, or other publishers who are also under the umbrella of the corporation who are in this mix. But once the journey begins and it becomes a project, the act of creating is joyful. It is creative. It is fulfilling. It is where I want to be. How I want to spend my time. Live my life. Words and pictures are satisfying. And the best part is the other people in the world who appreciate it. And get it.
Not everyone does.
Travis: What snack puts you in peak creativity mode?
Mehrdokht: Well, a piece of dark chocolate with a cup of coffee and I don’t need anything else!
Jane: When I am working, I do not eat. And I do not snack. I am in the world of the book, the character, the painting. But, I love food. I love to cook. So when I need a break, definitely a coffee ice cream soda – even if it is winter. And if my husband has gotten to it first, and there is none left – then ice cold glass of whole milk and a cookie. Oatmeal raisin or chocolate chunk. Pretzels and ice cream are pretty good. But in the end, I am really a food person and I rather have a super elaborate meal of healthy stuff or fun stuff – depending on my mood or sense of guilt.
Travis: Thank you Jane and Mehrdokht!
Filed under: Authors
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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