Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh regularly writes for National Geographic KIDS. Her many books include Hard Hat Cat, Kol Hakavod: Way to Go!, A Hoopoe says Oop!, Rah! Rah! Mujadara, Can You Hear a Coo, Coo? and Listen! Israel’s All Around. She is also a lyricist for pop songs, advertisements and motion pictures. She lives in Burbank, California.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
There were two: Peter Lippman’s One and Only Wacky Word Book and The Witch’s Catalog by Norman Bridwell. I read them over and over, then wrote and illustrated my own versions of each of them. The humor in each book was intellectually demanding even though they were both written for children.
What’s your favorite line from a book?
“This is Sam, sack of potatoes.” From Richard Scarry’s Busytown Pop-Up Book
That line cracked me up every time I read it as a kid, and it still does. It was the deadpan presentation of a detective in disguise.
Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
It’s hard to name only three. I love Isaac Bashevis Singer, Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss, Anna Dewdney, Diane De Groat, Ruth Krauss, and I could go on!
Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
I have wanted to be an author for as long as I could listen to stories. When I was five, I wrote a story called “The King Who Loved Brown Rice,” and I read it to my kindergarten class. I was embarrassed when teachers made a fuss about that. I just loved books and wanted to write one as soon as I could.
I remember thinking that the only way to live forever is to create something that people will continue to enjoy long after I’m gone. It’s not modest, but immortality has always been important to me.
I am also fascinated by the idea of communicating a vision to another person. How can words conjure the same emotion or picture that’s in the author’s head? A single word can make all the difference. To me, that’s one of the most interesting parts of writing.
Today, I’m especially focused on sound and rhythm. Writer Viktor Shklovsky wanted to “make language strange.” He could twist and bend and reinvent words to give them new meanings. I love that idea, and I think it’s especially suited to books for young readers.
Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
If you have the passion to create, then you just need the energy to do the work. And although there are “rules” for getting published, those rules can be broken. Also, think hard about where you have a unique niche, and seek out publishers who seek work from people with your special experience. We are all special, and we all have something to say!