Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour: Interview with Illustrator Shahar Kober

Welcome to the last stop on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour!

Every year, the American Association of Jewish Libraries recognizes the best in Jewish children's literature by giving the Sydney Taylor Book Awards to books that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.

This year, one of the Sydney Taylor Honor Awards in the Younger Readers Category goes to Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen, with illustrations by Shahar Kober (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2008).

Using simple yet effective drawings, a light palette that is fresh and elegant, and balanced use of space, illustrator Shahar Kober shows us Engineer Ari's train ride to Jerusalem. During his journey across Israel, Engineer Ari collects goodies to celebrate the Jewish New Year and learns an important lesson about friendship and forgiveness. Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride is based on the true story of the first historic train ride from Jaffa to Jerusalem in 1892.

For the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour, I had the honor of interviewing Shahar about illustrating children's books and working on Engineer Ari. I am so excited to now present my interview with Shahar, along with some illustrations from Engineer Ari and their rough drafts!

Shahar on Shahar:

I'm a graduate of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design (2005), with a B.Des degree in illustration and graphic design. I work as a freelance illustrator for children’s books, advertising, newspapers, magazines, television and the Internet.

I am currently illustrating two weekly columns in Yedioth Aharonot, Israel's most read newspaper, on a regular basis.

My first three children's books were published in 2008. (Engineer Ari in the USA, and the other two in Israel.)

I'm now working on a new picture book in Israel and will soon begin working on a sequel to Engineer Ari.

I'm married to a beautiful redhead who is about to give birth to our first baby very soon. We have a very demanding cat and a very energetic dog. We live in a small town near Tel-Aviv, Israel.

What was your road to publication as a children's book illustrator?

I graduated from college four years ago. My final project was an illustrated children's book, which got great reviews but no one wanted to publish it! So, finding no work illustrating for children, I found my way to some of the leading newspapers in the country and started doing freelance editorial illustrations. After a year or so I tried my luck again, and after several attempts I managed to get a freelance job illustrating for a children's TV channel. That opened the door to other jobs, which led to other jobs, which led to other jobs (and so on). I keep on working for newspapers.

What motivates you to illustrate for children?

Most of all - I'm looking to have some fun. I have other illustration projects for adults - editorials for newspapers and magazines, illustrating for advertisements and other media, which all provide a good income, but in most cases they are not as fun as illustrating for children. I have the liberty to go a bit more wild when it comes to children's books, an opportunity I cannot miss.

What are the challenges and rewards of illustrating children's books?

The main challenge is doing something new. I like to do something new in every book I work on. Try new techniques, new angles, new colors, new things I never had to draw. I also find it a challenge to develop new exciting characters which won't resemble characters I drew in the past.

The biggest reward of illustrating a book is watching it come out of the press, to hold the first bound book in your hand, and to smell the fresh pages.

Who are your favorite children's book illustrators? Why are they your favorites?

My favorite children's book illustrators are:

1. David Polonsky - He's an Israeli illustrator. I envy his ability to excel in every illustration he does, and his ability to master so many styles.

2. Wolf Erlbruch - A German illustrator. I love his style, his colors and his compositions.

3. Maurice Sendak - For nostalgic reasons.

What did you think of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride when you first read the story?

Well, I immediately thought it would be great fun to draw the red engine! I like trains. I was also very happy with the chance to investigate the period, how people looked and dressed, how local architecture looked like, how trains looked like back then, etc. The visual research prior to the sketches stage is always my favorite part, especially in such a book which is based on history.

What exactly was your process when you were working on Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride? How much research did you do? Did you use models/source pictures or did you draw from your memory/imagination?

As I just mentioned, I began the work doing visual research on the period. I checked how people dressed at the time, how buildings looked like, how the views looked like, etc., etc. Most research was done using simple image searches on the Internet. The next stage was doing a sketch of Ari, the main character in the book, and once it was approved by the publisher I went on with the rough drafts for the whole book. I first draw everything using a soft pencil. Once I'm happy with the general layout I do another set of roughs with more details of the whole book. After sending these to the publisher and getting some comments I continue to final black and white images, using a soft pencil and a technical pen. I scan these and start colouring using Adobe Photoshop.

How do you feel about Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride winning a Sydney Taylor Honor in the Younger Readers Category?

I'm very honored to win the award. When I think about it, this is actually the first award I ever won in my life. Even as a child I never won a thing! So, I'm very happy about this.

Shahar, thank you so much for kindly answering all my questions and sharing your images for the book. And whoa, I look forward to seeing your art for the sequel!

Dear readers, click here to view Shahar's portfolio. Click here to read Becky Laney's interview with Engineer Ari author Deborah Bodin Cohen. And click here for a list of all the other stops on the blog tour. :D



Heidi Estrin said…
What a fun interview! I especially liked seeing all the rough sketches compared with the final illustrations.
Tarie said…
Hi, Heidi! I also especially like the rough sketches compared with the final illustrations. I'm so glad Shahar sent them. :D

Heidi, thank you so much for doing such a lovely and wonderful job organizing this blog tour.
Marie said…
GREAT interview! I loved the juxtaposition of sketches and finished illustrations. Awesome!
Marie said…
ooops, okay that wasn't a very original comment- but I still meant it! very fun.
Tarie said…
Hi, Marie! LOL. I am so glad you enjoyed the interview. :D

You know, it was Shahar who offered the rough sketches. I only asked for finished illustrations but he was like, "Here, I've noticed people really like seeing the roughs." :D
Jessica Horwitz said…
Thanks for the great interview, Tarie! And congrats to Shahar! I can't wait for the next Engineer Ari adventures about Sukkot and Hanukkah.
Tarie said…
Hi, Jessica! :o) I was thrilled when I found out about the sequels from Shahar and Becky Laney's interview with Deborah Bodin Cohen.
Nymeth said…
Great interview, and I love the art too!
Anonymous said…

What a lovely interview! Like your other readers,I was delighted to see the pencil drawings. It's like reading a writer's first draft.

Tarie said…
Nymeth and Barbara, hi! I am so happy that you enjoyed the interview and the art. :D
lovely interview and share very nice thoughts for children books ,the art of showing new is always challenging.