by Michal Hoschan­der Malen

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.

MHM: Please tell us about your new excit­ing pub­lish­ing venture.

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​.annkoff​sky​.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​.behrman​house​.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 Bar​ne​sand​No​bles​.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.

Relat­ed Content:

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.