Jan 25, 2022

The Power of Personality in Picture Books: MASHA MUNCHING

Quick. Name an unforgettable picture book character. 

Go ahead.


I suspect there's more than one, but I'll bet that the first one(few) who popped into your head were of the larger-than-life variety.  Fancy Nancy or Clifford or Pigeon and friends

Amalia Hoffman and Sasha

Talented author/artist/creator Amalia Hoffman brings a new candidate to the scene in March with MASHA MUNCHING, a picture book with a story and central character that leaps off the page, "literally" and visually. Masha, the curious, clever, and ravenous goat, has an appetite for something new. She's in search of new faces, new places, and new tastes to please her ravenous palate. Dressed in one of her delightful frocks, she heads to town and finds a glamorous restaurant with countless offerings. What she sees and samples, though, are table offerings that provide a hint of home, not consuming the breads or pastries, but the straw basket they were served in. Or table legs, even tastier than the twigs in her daily menu. 

The very proper (uptight) headwaiter penguin finds Masha's enthusiasm to be appalling, despite Masha's delight and lovely compliments to the cuisine. But her preferences, patterns of behavior, and unabated enthusiasm for consumption soon wear her welcome thin. She (and the establishment) recognize that they are not a good match, so she returns home to friends who missed her. But she does so with a fresh outlook, developing a new take on old favorites, bringing with her a new friend to share in the fun of a barnyard bistro. One that welcomes noisy, lively participants with the manners of animals! 


The robust colors, lively action-posed collage characters, and convention-busting choices of Masha and the other characters will have kids giggling or laughing aloud. The dimensional landscapes/scenes add a textured depth to the art, as do the themes of friendship, confidence, and openness to new people and experiences. The truth of the familiar phrase, "There's no place like home" doesn't diminish the parallel truth that "Home" can be as large and welcoming and evolving as your heart has the capacity to make it. 

Yeehoo Press,
Chinese & English versions 
March 2022
MASHA MUNCHING is  scheduled to release in March, 2022, and is available for preorder to share with kids for a vibrant virtual springtime at the farm!

Amalia Hoffman agreed to answer a few of my questions about her inspiration and creation of this new offering. With experience and understanding of just how busy an author can be in the weeks before a book launch, I'm especially grateful that she found time to join us.

SB: Amalia, your writing reaches out to many audiences and ages, on many topics. Can you share a bit about how MASHA MUNCHING first came into your mind and heart? 


Gefen Publishing House

I have another book, The Klezmer Bunch, with a goat character also named Masha so that means that I have a soft spot for goats.  One day, I just came up with this alliteration: Masha Munching. That kind of sat in my brain for a while, till I came up with the idea of a goat that longs for great food. In the beginning, Masha was alone but I always wanted to create a book about farm life so I added pigs and ducks.

SB: When young ones read/listen to your story, is there a theme or message you intended? I felt the presence of several, but you were careful to focus on the entertainment first, always a wise choice!


AH: Yes, I definitely feel that there’s a theme and message in the story: Masha is tired of eating the same boring farm food every day. She says goodbye to her beloved friends and sets off on her search to find something else to eat.

Along the way, Masha discovers a wonderful restaurant where the waiter welcomes her in.

But Masha’s choices of “delicious foods” and her behavior don’t seem to be appropriate for restaurant dining.   The message of the story is that everything is tastier when shared with good friends and the freedom to behave like who you are. Masha returns to the farm and delights her friends by using her experience at the restaurant to make new dishes for them.

The theme of the book is that sometimes, we need to explore outside of our own limited horizon, only to discover that home is where we feel the most comfortable and safe.

Masha is curious. She needs to find out what’s out there. Her journey is one of discoveries and struggles along the way.

At the end, she chooses to go back home but the story makes it clear that the journey was well worth it. Masha has gained knowledge that she can put to good use. Now, she can enrich her friends’ life by using her experiences at the restaurant and making new dishes from the basic ingredients—hay and tree branches!


SB: Your use of collage and paper cuts are both intriguing and have a very “kid-magnet” vibe. The three-dimensional quality feels like it might derive from your experiences with paper constructions and retail window-dressing in your earlier years. The scenes are so colorful and engaging. Would you share a bit about how that three-dimensional aspect of your art moved onto the pages of picture books, and why you considered it a good fit for Masha and her story? Did you consider any other approaches?


AH:  I’ve always loved paper cuts. When I was a kid, my mom used to get me paper cut dolls. They came with assortments of cloths and I could dress the dolls by assembling the paper outfits on them. My sisters and I had a puppet theater that we created ourselves from a mix of newspapers and flour that mom cooked over the stove. My dad brought over a huge box which we turned into a theater. I was always intrigued by how the puppets could be manipulated. When I started designing window displays in major stores in NYC, I created 3D displays to draw attention to the windows. In Masha Munching, I wanted to convey the feeling that things are in motion so I used paper cut technique. I cut and color the elements by hand. I cover the board surface with Liquitex modeling paste and add textures by scraping the surface while it’s wet. When dry, I paint the background on the board. Then I glue all the cut-up elements on the board. When satisfied, I photograph the image. Sometimes, I add more textures, details and color in Photoshop.


SB: I can’t resist this question… Goats have become more popular critters ub current culture, with their strong personalities and capacity to eat nearly anything! At any stage of your life have you had personal experiences ( or relationships!) with goats? I know readers here would enjoy learning about that.


AH: Growing up in Israel, we spent our summers in a small village where farmers raised cows, chickens and goats. We used to laugh as the goats tried to nibble on our cloths and shoes. Each goat had a name. I found out that goats can remember their names and are very friendly! 


SB: I really appreciate your time and responses, Amalia, helping us learn more about you and your memorable new picture book character, Masha. I wish you great success with this project and with future ones, too.

I look forward to sharing Masha with readers. When I do I'll probably share the story a young visiting friend who was proudly wearing sparkly scrunchy bands on her pigtails while we visited a petting zoo. In a flash, one was being snatched by a goat, but I caught it just in time. She kept her ribbons, the goat has handed an actual food pellet, and all was well. Quick reflexes are a must around goats! I suspect many among the listeners will have their own goat-stories to share!







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