A Lover of Words

My father died last month, at age 93. I've been going through his papers, and one of the treasures I discovered is a smallish sampling of the huge collection of 3 x 5 word cards he kept his entire life. When I was a little girl, I remember him carrying them around, testing himself--and my sisters and me--on vocabulary. Ironically, though his vocabulary was huge, his spelling was atrocious. He once asked me how to spell "bus," and he wasn't joking. The file cards are crammed with words he bumped into while reading or talking, along with their definition and usage, or quotes that tickled him. He had a deep appreciation for good writing, and committed a daunting number of his favorite speeches, plays, and poems to memory: to name just a few, Shakespeare, Milton, Tennyson, Poe, Lincoln, and Churchill. For humor, he liked Yogi Berra, but nothing beat a good Mark Twain quip.

Reading the cards brings him back in a visceral and very welcome way. I don't have any 3 x 5 cards, but it is obvious to me that my path in life is, in no small measure, a gift from my dad.

October 2019

Julia Update

So much continues to happen with Julia, I'm happy to report. She is now an established character on Sesame Street. A book about her family, Family Forever, previously available only from Sesame Workshop, is now also available in hardcover from Barnes & Noble. Julia's brother, Samuel, as well as her mom and dad, all of whom I created for Family Forever, are now also bona fide Muppets. So, too, is Julia's adorable dog, Rose. And now there's a third book devoted to Julia. This one, Circle of Friends, presents an important message about bullying and about the importance of having a supportive community. You can access it on sesamestreet.org/autism.

Yay, Julia! I hope she continues to make friends, increase understanding of autism, and spread the message that all of us are amazing.

May 2019

People of the Book

I just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime--and actually, first-in-a-lifetime!--trip to Israel. The trip was courtesy of PJ Library, a fantastic nonprofit run by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation that distributes free books with Jewish content every month to children all over the U.S. and in a number of other countries as well.  Eighteen children's book authors and artists (a wonderfully talented and generous group) traveled around Israel and were treated to one fantastic experience after another:  kayaking on the Dead Sea; star-gazing in the desert; walking on a two-thousand-year-old pilgrimage road under Jerusalem not yet opened to the public; listening to prize-winning Israeli authors; lunch and discussion with Jews who came from Ethiopia. And, possibly my favorite: a behind-the-scenes look at the Dead Sea Scrolls and the restoration process.  All told, I have a new appreciation for and understanding of the expression "People of the Book." 

February 2019


Trick Arrr Treat

As a kid, I was obsessed with Halloween. Like most kids, I guess. I mean, free candy! Candy was extremely rare in our house, so each year on October 31, I’d amass as much of it as possible, come back to the house for the sister swap (I had three sisters, we each had different preferences, and usually at least one of us had braces that made some treats taboo), and then put my final collection in a shoe box. Showing willpower that I can only dream about today, I strictly rationed my stash so that it lasted as long as possible. My record was the year I stretched it till Valentine’s Day.

So it’s fitting that I now have books that bookend Halloween and Valentine's Day. Trick Arrr Treat, published a couple of years ago, started with the piratical wordplay of the title, and then I just went along for the ride. Pirates were a big deal to my son when he was little. When we went to the beach, we’d bring along his pirate hat and flag, and we’d bury some kind of treasure for him to dig up. This year, I have a new book, called A Valentine for Frankenstein. It's kind of a Halloween-Valentine's Day mash-up, and a story about feeling comfortable in your own (green) skin.

In both of these stories, one of the best parts of the writing process was coming up with the characters’ names. I think everyone should have a pirate name and/or a monster name. What’s yours?

Leslie Kimmelman

trickarrrtreat ValentineFrankenstein

Distress? De-Stress!

I have two board books out this year--actually my first books ever to be published originally in board book editions. Both of them, I hope, are books that are particularly helpful in these tumultuous times. See what you think!

The first, which just came out in May, is called Here Come the Helpers. When there are emergencies, when things go wrong, follow Mister Rogers's advice and "look for the helpers." On each page, uh-oh, there's another emergency, and young kids can see everyone working together to make things right again--to put out the fire, to helicopter people to safety, to tow the car, and so on. It doesn't hurt that the helpers are adorable animals of all species. The illustrator, Barbara Bakos, is magnificent.

The second book, Belly Breathe, will be available on October 1. I don't know about anyone else, but I've been doing a lot of belly breathing this year. It totally works to get me down off the ledge. This book also has an array of charming animals (by illustrator Lindsey Dale-Scott), as well as people, who belly breathe, jelly breathe, furry breathe, and purry breathe their way to perfect calm and tranquility.

July 2018