Welcome back, Rebecca Klempner! In Rebecca’s upcoming picture book HOW TO WELCOME AN ALIEN (Kalaniot, 2023) illustrated by Shirley Waisman, a young girl named Dina Abraham and her family are shocked when an alien spaceship crash lands on their lawn. It’s Shabbat, and the Abrahams want to be hospitable to the unexpected guests. Despite the language barrier, the Abrahams practice Jewish values as they aim to connect and communicate. Through quirky, humourous details, HOW TO WELCOME AN ALIEN emphasizes the importance of Jewish hospitality, connecting with others, and extending a welcome to newcomers.
When welcoming their unexpected guests, Dina and her parents demonstrate the important Jewish value of welcoming guests. What inspired you to juxtapose this important value with humorous, out-of-this-world characters?
In several passages of the Torah, when the text discusses the mitzvah of taking care of people who are not born into your community, the word used is “ger.” That word is usually translated as “stranger,” but once I came across an older translation which used the word “alien,” and immediately my brain went to that funny situation where things are taken literally which are meant idiomatically.
What do you hope young readers take away from the story?
I want kids to reach out with lovingkindness towards those who are newcomers, refugees, and people who for whatever reason feel left out. And I want them to know that doing hachnassat orchim–the mitzvah of hosting guests–isn’t so much about inviting over friends but about inviting over less familiar people who really need food, drink, a place to crash, or just friendship.
What were your thoughts when you first saw Shirley Waisman’s illustrations?
I was surprised! While some writers have no opinions about artwork, I’ve always had strong ones. Even though I lack the skill to implement my ideas, I tend to picture the adventures of my characters in my head. Shirley’s illustrations add a whole new dimension to my story, very different from my initial ideas. For example, the pets are totally Shirley’s conception. The setting–well, I had thought of the story taking place in the Pacific Northwest. (Spoiler alert: that’s the inspiration for the last page twist.) And she uses a variety of “camera angles” to capture events from delightful POVs. There’s an aerial image from the alien’s spacecraft that I particularly adore.
What the reader sees is truly a meld between my ideas and Shirley’s, and based on what the early reviews are saying, the reader benefits from that.
Do you have an interest in outer space exploration that contributed to the story?
I have always been interested in space. One of my earliest memories is of watching Star Trek in the common room of a ma’on olim in Israel. My sister and I brought our Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock action figures to our childhood tea parties. I also lived as a teen in Vegas during an alien panic–but that’s a story for another time.
Thank you, Rebecca.
Rebecca Klempner’s writing includes several books (most notably A Dozen Daisies for Raizy, Adina at Her Best, and Glixman in a Fix) and 100+ shorter works for all ages in print and online in publications such as The Wisdom Daily, Tablet, Hevria, The Jewish Review of Books, The Layers Project Magazine, Kveller, Hamodia, Binah, Mishpacha, Ami, Jew in the City, The Jewish Press, and The Jewish Home. Her middle grade novel Adina at Her Best was selected as a PJ Our Way title in November 2021. Rebecca’s next book, How to Welcome an Alien, is due out in August 2023 with Kalaniot Books. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she currently lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband, kids, and stacks of hopefully-not-overdue library books.