An interview with author and illustrator Ann Koffksy, whose most recent book, Frogs in the Bed: My Passover Seder Activity Book (Behrman House), is now available.
Michal Hoschander Malen: Ann, you are an illustrator, author, designer of fabulous Judaic art, editor…an all around creative dynamo! Where do you find the inspiration for your many projects and how do you decide what comes next?
Ann Kofsky: Oooo. A dynamo. Never been called that before, thank you!
It’s trite but true: I get inspired by what’s going on in my life. When I was a lifeguard, I wrote and illustrated a book about a kid who learns to swim (Noah’s Swim-A-Thon, URJ Press). Being at the seder and hearing my kids sing the “Frog Song” lead to my new book Frogs in the Bed with Shirley Cohen-Steinberg. And so on…
MHM: You have authored and illustrated your own books and also illustrated books by other authors. What’s the difference in your approach to illustration when the writing is not your own?
AK: POWER and CONTROL!! Bet you didn’t know I was meglomaniac did you?
No seriously, though — if you are in charge of both, it means you are not locked in. So when I see that the pacing of my pictures calls for there to be more or less text, I can add or delete words. But when I am just the illustrator, the text is set in place, and I must make the pictures work around it — no adjustments allowed.
MHM: Tell us a bit about your illustration techniques. What kinds of media do you use? Do you have one or two that you gravitate toward most often?
AK: I have a painted style, which I create with acrylics and colored pencil. I like that style because it’s got a lot of vivid color, texture and brush stroke to it. When I want to be tighter and cleaner, I use a pen and ink style, and then add color digitally.
MHM: I know many authors and illustrators think of their books in some ways as their children so I hesitate to ask if you have any “favorites” but does anything stand out in your mind, any special experience or feeling regarding one of your books that you continue to carry with you?
AK: When I was working with Rick Recht on our book, “Thank You for Me” I got to meet him — I got to meet a real rock star! And I also had the opportunity to bring my daughter to one of his concerts. That was a really special experience.
MHM: Frogs in the Bed has a fascinating backstory about finding the author of the original song in order to properly credit her for her work. Would it be possible for you to briefly summarize at least a bit of this tale. It’s an interesting story that exemplifies integrity and attention to historical accuracy.
AK: Well, I knew I wanted to illustrate the “Frog Song” — it’s got so much fun in it and I knew it would make for some great images. But of course, I needed to find out who owns the rights to that song, so that I could get permission to move forward. This proved somewhat challenging, because I knew the name of the author — Shirley Cohen — but not much else. And when you google “Shirley Cohen” you get about a zillion hits…
I called all sorts of music experts, universities…To make a long story short, Ina Cohen, a librarian at the JTS library, saved the day, and she found Shirly for me.
Shirley Cohen Steinberg (the ‘Steinberg’ part helped make things complicated) originally wrote the song back in the 1950s to use in her Hebrew School classroom. She is now 87 years young, and is still writing great stories and songs.
AK: I have just joined Behrman House publishers as their newest editor. Behrman House has such a legacy, so I am really thrilled. Now I get to be a part of book making in a whole new way.
MHM: Are there any new Ann Koffsky books we can look forward to seeing in the near future? Any hints or teasers about what is to come?
AK: Right now I am working on a board book for Behrman House called Kayla & Kugel. It’s about a girl and her sometimes uncooperative, but always adorable, dog.
MHM: Thank you so much, Ann, for sharing your creativity with all of us.
Ann creates a monthly coloring page for kids and wants everyone to know that it can be gotten through email by signing up at her website www.annkoffsky.com. She also edits Tech Tuedays for Behrman House, which is a weekly newsletter of technology hints for the classroom. Folks can sign up for that at www.behrmanhouse.com. And she especially wants everyone to know that her new book, Frogs in the Bed, is available through the Behrman House website, Amazon, and BarnesandNobles.com.
Michal Hoschander Malen is a librarian and editor of reference books. She is the children’s and young adult section editor of Jewish Book World.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.