Local artist’s picture books tell uplifting stories of the pandemic

Deana Sobel Lederman has published a series of children's picture books.

Carmel Valley cartoonist and illustrator Deana Sobel Lederman has published her debut picture books, three stories that help children understand what they are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her books “Masks”, “The Sewing Lesson” and “Noah Henry: A Rainbow Story” have now been published in multiple languages by TBR Books, the publishing arm of the CALEC, the Center for the Advancement of Languages, Education and Community, a nonprofit that aims to to empower readers all around the world.

Sobel Lederman loved the idea that her stories would be multi-cultural, “I really wanted to get the story to as many families as possible.”

“I have more to say now than other times,” said Sobel Lederman. “I feel the need to give a voice to what’s going on in the world in a way that helps kids.”

Sobel Lederman grew up in Fairbanks Ranch, where her parents still live. She recently moved to Carmel Valley from the East Coast with her husband and two little boys.

Author and illustrator Deana Sobel Lederman

Sobel Lederman was always interested in art and grew up doing oil paintings with her grandma who lived in Carmel Valley. She started drawing cartoons at age eight and at Torrey Pines High School she did some illustrations for The Falconer. After graduating from Torrey Pines in 2000, she went on to UC Berkeley, where she again illustrated and cartooned for the student newspaper. In college, she was fortunate to count Pulitzer Prize-winning Union Tribune cartoonist Steve Breen among her mentors.

Armed with a 2008 law degree from UC Berkeley School of Law, she has worked as an attorney and in New York City, she worked for the New York City Department of Education doing communications—her illustrations were featured in the department newsletters. Her illustrations have been published in Business Insider, Barron’s, The Hairpin and featured at the Brooklyn Public Library. She also writes a webcomic, Philip the Sea Lion.

As she is a full-time caretaker for her children, she would doodle and work on art whenever she found a spare moment, typically weekends, evenings and naptimes. She mostly doodles in pen and ink but she also paints in watercolors and oils and works digitally on an iPad using Apple Pencil and Procreate, where she drew all her stories.

The lockdown provided a lot more time for creativity. The writing of the three books was fast—she had stories in her head that she needed to get out. She is not the type of artist to sit at a painting for years and years, “Cartoons, if drawn very quickly, are a really beautiful expression,” she said, capturing a feeling and movement in moment. “I think I bring that into my books.”

She wrote the first book quickly, while her baby was falling asleep.

“Noah Henry” was inspired by friends in Brooklyn, where she used to live. She was uplifted to hear that children in the neighborhood were placing their handmade rainbows in their windows during the quarantine. In the book, as Noah Henry is unable to go to school or the park with his friends, he and his family walk their dog on the quiet Brooklyn streets and spot the rainbows in the windows of his friends’ homes, “It was a concert of people, It was a parade of rainbows,” she writes, accompanied by her charming and colorful illustrations.

A page from "Noah Henry"

Sobel Lederman first posted the Noah Henry story to social media because she felt it was so timely. She soon heard from a social worker who requested that it be translated into Spanish. After fielding another request for the story to be translated into Italian, Sobel Lederman’s translator connected her with TBR.

TBR has now translated her three stories into Japanese, French, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic and Chinese with plans for a Hebrew translation.

With beautiful and warm illustrations, “The Sewing Lesson” tells the story of a single mother who begins making masks for all the people who are helping. Eventually, she gives her daughter a sewing lesson and the youngster is proud when she finishes a mask for her grandfather who is a doctor.

“Masks” features a young elephant, zebra, dog and bear who are learning from their families about the need to wear a mask and stand apart from their friends. After their masks get delivered, they all head out to get ice cream, seeing their friends and neighbors following the new rules and still being able to enjoy a nice treat.

An illustration from "The Sewing Lesson"

“Conceived during the ‘Great Pause’, Deana Sobel Lederman’s Rainbows, Masks, and Ice Cream trilogy brought us joy and a brilliant way to talk to our children about the virus,” wrote Dr. Fabrice Jaumont, an author and educator in his review of the books. “To be able to read these stories in our home language also meant they felt closer to our heart.”

Publishing a book is something that Sobel Lederman has always dreamed about and she wasn’t sure it would ever happen. While traditional school visits and author talks are not possible at this time, she did recently get to participate in an interview with students at an international school in Bangkok—through an app they posted questions and she recorded her responses that were translated. She also posted a read-aloud on the “Noah Henry: A Rainbow Story” Facebook page, with her three-year-old son Aiden making a guest appearance.

On the Facebook page, children of all ages and from all places have created their own parade of rainbows, posting a variety of unique, multi-colored masterpieces. It’s a good feeling for Sobel Lederman, that those early scribbles done while her baby snoozed are now allowing her to connect with people all over the world, apart yet together.

The books are available on Amazon.com but books ordered through the TBR website will support CALEC’s mission to promote dual language in schools and other community programs. Learn more at tbr-books.org.

For more on Sobel Lederman, visit www.deanasobel.com.