We had the opportunity to Interview Yevgenia Nayberg, an acclaimed illustrator and author of children’s books. Her latest books include Anya’s Secret Society (Charlesbridge) and Mona Lisa in New York (Prestel Junior). Her illustrations for Drop by Drop (Kar-Ben) received a Sydney Taylor Silver Medal. Originally from Ukraine, she now lives in New York, where she makes delicious borsch.
What made you decide to become an author and illustrator?
There was never a conscious decision to become an illustrator. I illustrated my first wordless picture book when I was four years old and have been illustrating ever since. I also had no plans to become an author. I had written short texts here and there, never really considering myself an author. I Hate Borsch! is my fourth book as an author and I’m still surprised that I’m a writer.
Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?
I studied classical drawing and painting at The National School of Arts in Kiev and went on to receive an MFA in theatre design.
Have you always loved to draw?
Yes, for as long as I remember.
Who has been one of your major artistic influences?
I’ve been influenced by different artists at different stages of my life, but my artistic affections are very broad: from the medieval manuscripts to traditional African art to New York graffiti.
What do you like more, writing or illustrating?
What’s a typical workday like?
Basically, I am my own secretary in the morning: I respond to emails, prepare files, fill out forms. After that, I draw all day, as long as it takes. I write in my head all the time, but mostly while doing dishes.
Which books from your own childhood really stand out?
I grew up mainly on Russian literature, but some of my international favorites included The Adventures of Cipollino by Gianni Rodari, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and The Moomins by Tove Jansson.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
From the inside and the outside.
Which area of children’s publishing excites you the most?
Sketching out spreads and combining them visually with the text. Finding the perfect last sentence.
What is the process of illustrating a book; how does it go from an idea to a finished work on sale in bookstores?
Every book is different. My best ideas form very slowly and then suddenly come together. I’ve learned not to rush them and distract myself with other projects.
What do you hope kids learn from I Hate Borsch?
Whoever you are now will probably change later. Also, how to make borsch!
When you are not drawing, what hobbies do you have?
I love salsa dancing.
Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
I remember everything people tell me about themselves.
All Ukrainians are supposed to love borsch—but what if you hate the red stuff? A young girl despises Eastern Europe’s most beloved soup, and not even the grandmothers of Kiev can persuade her to change her mind. But when she immigrates to the United States, American food leaves her feeling empty. One day she discovers borsch recipes in an old suitcase. Maybe that disgusting beet soup deserves another chance…
Imaginatively illustrated with splashes of borsch-bright red, this bookcaptures the complicated experience of rejecting and embracing one’s culture. A recipe and author’s note provide further ways to interact with the story. Witty and poignant, I Hate Borsch will encourage readers to ponder how history, heritage, and food can shape our identities.