Today’s picture book is NOT a holiday picture book. And yet, it feels perfect to share this week when so many people are thinking of their favorite foods and family traditions.
Sarah Lynne Reul is an author, illustrator and award-winning animator who likes science, tiny things and drawing on photos. Originally from Brooklyn, she now lives near Boston with her family. Her books include THE BREAKING NEWS, ALLIE ALL ALONG, PET THE PETS and NERP! You can learn more about her at her website.
BUBBIE AND RIVKA’S BEST EVER CHALLAH (SO FAR!) is a very sweet story about starting new traditions. Rivka and her Bubbie are determined to learn how to make Challah. Neither one of them have done it before, but they want it to be great. This is a story about traditions, family, and surprisingly also about perseverance. I certainly never thought of putting baking and perseverance together into the same story! These are characters I loved immediately. I suspect this is a story that will inspire future bakers, as well as get kiddos thinking about traditions they can start themselves.
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing or painting? How did that bring you to writing and illustrating this book?
Sarah: Thanks so much for this interview, I’m honored to take part. I’ve come to the winding path of writing & illustration in sort of a roundabout way, as so many people do. I loved drawing as a kid, but as I got older, I felt more inhibited and created less. Around middle school, I felt like my work wasn’t “good enough”, and so I stopped trying for a long time.
As I grew up, I focused on lots of other things – science education, field biology, and nonprofit administration, until I decided, in my 30’s, to go back to school to get a Masters’ in hand-drawn animation. When I graduated and found the local work prospects less robust than I’d hoped (several local animation companies went out of business in a 6-month span), I pivoted to picture books. To me, a good picture book is like a short film, and I had developed lots of transferable skills from my degree.
BUBBIE & RIVKA’S BEST-EVER CHALLAH (SO FAR!) is my 6th published book, although I’ve drafted at least a couple dozen more that haven’t made it to publication (at least . . . not yet!).
Me: Is Challah bread one of your favorite treats? Why create a story all about it?
Sarah: I love all kinds of bread! I started thinking about this early in the pandemic, when yeast and flour were hard to find, and everyone had more time at home than they knew what to do with. I started noticing the beautiful home-baked loaves all over my social media, from friends who had never really cooked before. I thought about how my family is culturally Jewish, but not very religious – and how my mom and I have been trying to re-ignite some kind of traditions with my daughters (mostly revolving around food!), and that combination evolved into this book.
Me: Your book is a wonderful story about making new traditions from old traditions. It’s also about trying to make something perfect, while being okay with mistakes. That’s a lot to squeeze into one story, but you do it so effortlessly! What do you want young readers to take away from this story?
Sarah: My own process of making a book (or making anything, really!) usually involves lots of false starts and “failures” that end up being stepping stones to whatever it becomes later on. I don’t really ever get to “perfect”, but I try to get to “good enough”! I hope readers come away from the book with a feeling that it’s ok if things don’t go perfectly – and that they usually WON’T go perfectly – but the whole process of creating can still be fun, and we can enjoy whatever ends up coming out of it.
Me: Can you talk about your art process? Do you use traditional media or digital? Or a blend of both? What made you decide to use this as your illustration medium?
Sarah: I tend to create most of my book illustrations digitally, as I feel it gives me a lot of flexibility to try different approaches and re-work different parts of each image that I might want to improve. I do nearly all of my sketching on plain typing paper with pencil, since I can lay it out all over my table, and the supplies are cheap enough that I don’t get worried about “wasting” them. Then I’ll scan them in, along with pencil textures, and I’ll redraw the lines in Photoshop, refining & adjusting as I go. I’d like to use some more traditional illustration techniques in the future – collage, dioramas, painting, etc – but I have to keep working to let go of perfectionism, as traditional media are less forgiving than digital.
Me: The illustrations are absolutely wonderful. I love the photos of the family in generations and developing. How long did it take for you to figure out what the characters would look like and how this family dynamic was built? Was it based on anyone you really knew?
Sarah: Thank you! I love looking at old photographs, especially of families changing over time – I like to notice what changes, and what stays the same. The characters themselves weren’t based on anyone that I knew, but I did a lot of character studies while I was designing them – I think I drew a dozen different Bubbies before I landed on the one that would be in this book!
Me: You are both the author and the illustrator of this story. What was harder, the writing or the illustrating of it? Why?
Sarah: I usually start with writing, but there’s a ton of back & forth once I start sketching. For me, writing and illustrating are really intertwined, so I wouldn’t say either is harder than the other. I develop them both from really rough stages, and as I re-draw and re-write, I’m constantly switching from words to pictures.
Me: Any advice for new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Sarah: Read lots and lots of current books, and try to notice what it is you like about your favorites.
Also, creating a picture book takes lots of iterations. It can feel like a project is “done” long before it’s at the final stage, and it can be hard to go back in and revise.
Once you have a draft or a dummy, try to find some other authors/illustrators with whom you can share your work. The critique process will help you get better over time, to make your story the best-ever story (so far!).
That is great advice Sarah. Thank you for stopping by my blog today.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read this book, you simply must track it down. It’s a sweet story of family, traditions, perseverance, being okay with mistakes and having fun while making them. That’s a lot to wrap into one story, but this one does it excellently. Don’t miss it!