MEET THE MATZAH – Interview with Alan Silberberg

Alan Silberberg is a super talented author and illustrator I met at the TENT program. Alan’s books are playful and funny, but always with a lot of heart. I am so excited to help Alan celebrate his newest book, MEET THE MATZAH – A Passover Story (Viking, 2021).  It’s a perfect follow-up to his recent Hanukkah book, MEET THE LATKES. With vibrant, graphic illustrations, a lot of fun wordplay, and perfectly unique characters, MEET THE MATZAH is a perfectly delightful Passover tale for all ages. 

MEET THE MATZAH is a fun, sometimes silly story about Passover. You have created a world, in this case, a classroom full of relatable characters reflecting diverse backgrounds, but all forms of bread. Readers will meet Naan-cy, Burnie Toast, Cornelius Tortilla, our hero, Alfie Komen, and his nemesis, Loaf the sourdough. What inspired this cast of characters?

After writing and illustrating MEET THE LATKES I really had no intention to do a follow-up (even though the last line of that book comes from the tall-tale telling Grandpa, “Now, who wants to hear about Passover!” Still, the idea was rustling around my mind. I kept telling myself that IF I did do a Passover book it would have to be different from the Latke setup, which was a FAMILY-based story. I didn’t want to just have a Matzah family be the focus. And then one day… as dumb as it sounds… the name Alfie Koman popped into my head. And I instantly knew he was a kid who really liked to HIDE. Then I asked myself, WHY does he hide – and I saw him in a school setting – hiding from a big bully. Suddenly I had the idea and had to do another book: Alfie Koman in a school setting dealing with a big bully (Loaf, the Sourdough). I had already established a world of anthropomorphic story-tellers with the first book so I knew I could create a school where “bread” kids go. Then I started looking for funny names and different types of bread-based products to create a diverse classroom.

Alan Silberberg

All of the “students” in Mrs. Crust’s class want to share their stories. Alfie’s Passover story gets derailed by Loaf.  Alfie must find his strength and stand up to Loaf. There is a depth to this story that juxtaposes the fun wordplay and silly antics of the characters. Can you tell me a bit about this?

Sure, I knew the character Alfie Koman would deal with his bully problem by hiding. I wanted to show his ability to be able to accept that he must share his telling of the Passover story with Loaf’s over-the-top version.  But when the story gets really crazy I needed Alfie to accept that he can also make other choices and stand up for himself. The truth is, when I started the book I loved the school bully idea – but didn’t immediately realize that I could use that to show how the Pharaoh (or Phablets-Roach) was sort of a bully to the Jewish people he enslaved. It was a nice “A-HA” moment in my process.

What do you hope young readers come away with after reading MEET THE MATZAH? 

I think that in all my books (middle grade novels and picture books) I want kids to laugh. Humor is such a perfect way to tell all stories – and whether kids are already familiar with the Passover story or learning about it for the first time… they can be part of the story learning the “real” story by laughing at the absurd version.

Do you think of yourself as an author/illustrator or illustrator/author? What comes to you first, the story or the art

Hmm…. I think I am a doodler first and a story-teller second. I do love words and telling stories – but have been doodling in the margins of my life since grade school!

MEET THE MATZAH by Alan Silberberg

Thanks, Alan!

Alan Silberberg is the author and illustrator of 3 Viking picture books MEET THE LATKES and MEET THE MATZAH (March 2021). MEET THE HAMANTASHEN will be published in 2022. Alan’s cartoon-filled MG novel MILO: STICKY NOTES & BRAIN FREEZE (Aladdin/S&S) won the SCBWI Sid Fleischman Humor Award. The book was partially written and illustrated while he was the James Thurber Children’s Author in Residence living in the attic of Thurber’s boyhood home in Columbus, Ohio. His other MG novels are POND SCUM (Hyperion) and THE ALMOST 100% TRUE ADVENTURES OF MATT & CRAZ (Aladdin/S&S). In a former life Alan has written and created TV shows for Nickelodeon, Disney and a bunch of companies not named until the checks clear. The only (known) person with a B.A. in “Cartoon-Communication-Education”, Alan also has an M.Ed from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Alan moved (escaped?) to Montreal and is happy to be there with his wife and dog, Zeus.

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