Born on the West Coast and growing up in San Diego, California, Deana Sobel Ledeman may seem to have been far removed from a cozy, Upper West Side, Manhattan apartment, but that's exactly where this award-winning cartoonist and children's book author created some of her fondest childhood memories and developed a love for children's literature. During visits cross-coast to her parent's native New York City as a child, Lederman spent time at her grandmother's apartment, reading books such as the Madeline series (the children's classic by Ludwig Bemelmans) in a nook in the room where her own mother grew up. "In New York City, you just feel so alive," she recalled.
"That joyfulness that we experience in childhood, I still really enjoy that feeling. I've kept that with me as I grow older."
Indeed, New York City—and cities in general—have been a major source of inspiration in Lederman's work since she began penning comics as a student at UC-Berkeley and later professionally on the East Coast. This love of cities and the spirit of exploration and discovery they spark, especially in children, continues with the suite of three children's books this author and illustrator has recently published with TBR Books. The poignant yet whimsically rendered books provide a way for parents to talk to their kids about the Covid-19 pandemic and shutdown.
Now translated into three other languages, the trilogy of Masks!, The Sewing Lesson and Noah Henry: A Rainbow Story all take place in an urban setting. They deal, respectively, with kids experiencing the reopening; non-traditional families making sacrifices for essential workers; and a real-life quarantine phenomenon that took place in Brooklyn, NY. Noah Henry, whose protagonist is named after the two young sons of a friend of Lederman's residing in that New York City borough, chronicles a story of inspiration and hope coming from le confinement. In the book, a child sees rainbows drawn by other kids on their windows throughout the neighborhood, made as a sign of better times to come when everyone could all be together again.
Reported by the international press, the practice of kids placing rainbows on their windows actually began in Italy and Europe at the outset of school closures there, but soon spread to the U.S. and Canada. In Brooklyn, Lederman's friend experienced this happening through the eyes of her young boys. "Whenever we face times of adversity, there are really inspirational stories that come out of it," observes Lederman, writer and illustrator of this book trilogy. She spoke to me of inspiration from her own family history, where one set of her grandparents escaped Europe during World War II and her grandfather on the other side of her family served as an American fighter pilot.
Returning to the present, the author cites the importance of and difficulty faced by essential workers and "even people sitting at home and sewing masks for everyone," the central subject of The Sewing Lesson. Despite the crises so far in 2020, she states, "There's a lot of greatness—the right kind of greatness—happening." Lederman's trilogy, known as Rainbows, Masks and Ice Cream, is her latest artistic and literary contribution to the world, this one particularly for families, during the current moment of uncertainty. This trio was drawn not with pen and ink or oil paints (usually her media of choice), but on an iPad. This mother of two children, who is also a former member of the New York City Department of Education's communications team, noted that the digital device was ideal for sketching and creating while she was caring for her youngsters. Her older son, Aiden, even helped her do a read-aloud of Noah Henry in a YouTube video recorded soon after the book, the first written of the trilogy, was finished. The clip was later shared online by both the National Children's Museum and the Minnesota Children's Museum.
While all three are focused on life as lived by children and families throughout the world amidst a global pandemic, shutdown and calls for greater respect for people of color, Lederman's series of children's books seeks to fill a much-need role in contemporary literature and public discourse. The author, reflecting her stories and current times, wonders "if these stories are so timely, how long will they be relevant?" "And it seems, I'm starting to think, they might be relevant for longer than I originally thought. Because, even once things get better, we will probably want to remember what happened."
Finally, she hopes her books provide a means, later on, to look back on our present situation and come away with insights and understanding: "There will be things we learn from this time that we don't realize right now. We'll have much more perspective." For children and families the world over, in different languages, these stories offer a way to explore difficult themes while celebrating life and keeping alive the joyfulness that every child deserves.
Article written by Andrew Palmacci for NewYorkinFrench.net on July 1, 2020
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