Martin Lemelman has illustrated over thirty children’s books and is the author-illustrator of the graphic memoirs Two Cents Plain (Bloomsbury) and Mendel’s Daughter: A Memoir (Free Press). He hopes that The Miracle Seed inspires his granddaughters and other young women to ask hard questions about the world and persevere in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Martin lives in Florida, where he is a certified Florida Master Gardener.

EBYR: What made you decide to become an author and illustrator?

Martin Lemelman (ML): Ever since I was little and living in the back of my father’s candy store, I drew and painted pictures that told stories. But I didn’t know the term “illustration.” It was only in college, where I was studying painting, that someone recommended I become an illustrator. For many years I illustrated children’s books. Then in 1989, when my mother finally told me the story of how she survived the Holocaust, I turned my attention to writing. I created the story of her life in the graphic memoir, Mendel’s Daughter.

EBYR: What makes you most passionate about this job?

ML: I don’t view writing and illustrating books as a job. For me it’s a journey into the unknown. How does one create something out of nothing? How do you fill a blank page with words and art? It’s a challenge that I love. I’ve been creating books for many years, and I’m still excited, though a bit anxious when I begin the long journey of bringing a book to life.  It’s daunting, but the process is what I love! And there’s no better feeling than seeing my books on shelves in homes, schools, and libraries around the world. It’s more than a job.

EBYR: What’s a typical workday like?

ML: I taught illustration and graphic design for 30 years at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. As professors, we were encouraged to work outside of the classroom, and my children remind me about the long hours I spent in my basement studio, surrounded by piles of papers and art supplies, blasting music. They would often draw or read next to me. I retired from teaching in 2009 and now I get to focus 100% on new projects. Most days, I’m at my drawing table or computer from 9:00am until 12:30pm.  But I usually start and end each day in my garden. Being outside and active in nature is where the ideas marinate.  I always keep a notebook to jot down dialog or scenes that come to me while I’m out. I even have a notebook on my night table just in case I get an idea in middle of the night. That happens more than you think!

EBYR: Where do the ideas for your books come from? 

ML: We all have a million ideas! Some are great and some, not so great. I really can’t pinpoint the magic formula on how to choose which project to pursue.  Mostly, I select stories that I’m most passionate about.  My parents were Holocaust survivors, and that influenced everything inside of me. So it’s natural that Mendel’s Daughter and Two Cents Plain were my first graphic memoirs.  Even my love of nature stems from growing up in Brooklyn where the sidewalks and busy streets were my environment—and nature was sparse. When I finally moved to a house of my own, I decided to grow a garden, and my fascination with nature flourished from there. I still get excited when I see a plant grow from a tiny seed, or when fruits grow from a tiny flower. Some people have pets; I have my garden—it’s tough to explain. Plants are my therapy. My love of nature led me to a few different projects, and The Miracle Seed is one that I’m especially proud of.

EBYR: How much research do you do before you begin a book? 

ML: I do lots of research when I’m writing a true story like The Miracle Seed. I read articles, books, scientific abstracts, and watch interviews.  While creating The Miracle Seed, I even grew medjool date seeds to study how date seeds form into plants. My research doesn’t end when I start a book. In the course of writing The Miracle Seed I emailed Dr. Elaine Solowey many times with questions about her methods of reviving the ancient seed. I don’t look at research as tedious or boring, but a chance to learn something new. Although much of the research I do never appears in a book, I believe the book is better because of it.

EBYR: Where do you find your inspiration for new stories and characters? 

ML: I read everyday—fiction, nonfiction, comics, news. I also observe. I have always been curious. The way people talk. The way people hold their hands. The way a plant bends toward the light. Everything is a story. You just have to find it.

EBYR: What inspired you to create The Miracle Seed?

ML: One of my favorite Yiddish sayings is “God created a world filled with little worlds.” When I wrote The Miracle Seed I decided to enter the little world of that tiny ancient seed.
It’s a true story of sadness, hope, and rebirth. It’s also a tale filled with all the elements of an adventure story–mystery, conflict, and surprise. Who doesn’t love an adventure story?

EBYR: What do you hope young readers will take away from The Miracle Seed?

ML: I hope young readers will be inspired to find the next miracle! To use the study of history and science to make our world a better place. The Miracle Seed tells the true and miraculous story of two women scientists who did the impossible. What can we do next? My intention for creating this book is to instill a sense of wonder and excitement about the world around us. In two thousand years, what will people try to recreate from our generation? Can we prevent another species from extinction?

EBYR: Do you have a favorite spread?

ML: Tough question! These pages are my babies. I can tell you that this book took me three years from concept to publication. It has gone through hundreds of iterations and changes before ending up as the printed pages you see today.  I have an amazing support team around me that helps me through this process, especially my wife, Monica. I’m sure she can tell you her favorite—she doesn’t hold back! I love you.

EBYR: Is there anything else you feel we should know about The Miracle Seed or yourself?

ML: Nature is a miracle. A few years ago, I became a Florida Master Gardener and volunteered at a local butterfly garden. It’s inspiring to see a monarch caterpillar devour milkweed plant leaves, zip itself up in a chrysalis, and magically turn into a beautiful monarch butterfly ten days later.

Martin Lemelman
Ages 8-14

HARDCOVER; Releases: 3/27/2023

Order this book from: | IndieBound | Barnes and Noble | Amazon

Thousands of years ago, in a time of rebellion, the Jewish people fought against their Roman rulers. The brutal Emperor Titus ordered the destruction of everything precious to the Jews: towns, villages, even their beloved Judean date palm trees. Centuries passed. The Jewish people were scattered, and the Judean date palm faded into extinction. Then, in 1963, a team of archaeologists uncovered two-thousand-year-old date palm seeds at the ruined fortress of Masada. For another forty years the seeds waited—until 2004, when Israeli scientist Dr. Sarah Sallon had a big, courageous idea. What if those ancient seeds could bring the Judean date palm back to life? Dr. Sallon recruited her friend Dr. Elaine Solowey, and their amazing experiment began…