A Valentine for Frankenstein Creators Leslie Kimmelman and Timothy Banks in Conversation

By Libby Stille, Publicist

Earlier this month, we released A Valentine for Frankenstein, written by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by Timothy Banks. This adorable picture book follows Frank as he attends the monsters’ Valentine’s Day Bash and receives a mysterious valentine from another monster.

Spread from A Valentine for Frankenstein

Today we welcome the author and illustrator to the blog for a conversation about Frankenstein, the artistic process, belching, and more. Take it away, Leslie and Timothy!

A conversation with Leslie Kimmelman and Timothy Banks

Timothy: Leslie, I seriously could have illustrated this book forever! There was so many more elements I wanted to explore and draw, and it was hard to not illustrate every tiny detail. I loved it!

First off, this story had me at “Banana Slug Pie Eating Contest.” There were so many gross elements beautifully described (which my kids also enjoyed immensely, thank you). How did you come up with the different combinations of gross contest items and was there any past inspiration for some of the situations our monsters found themselves in?

Leslie Kimmelman photo
Leslie Kimmelman

Leslie: It’s funny–I’ve worked for many years for Sesame Street, where we’re very careful to always model good behavior for kids. So writing this book was incredibly liberating. I got to be as revolting as I wanted–many years of repressed grossness!

I was thrilled that you illustrated it in the same spirit. I set the story at a dance, because, at least in my experience, there’s no place with more potential for utter humiliation. As for the specifics, we played a game in my family where we came up with “bad menu” items (like dead flies on pizza, for example), so some of the monster items came about that way.

Banana slugs were chosen simply on the basis of their name. I mean, banana slug?! (The only better creature name is screaming hairy armadillo, an animal I just learned about and plan to use in a future book.) I must give credit to my editor, however, for the snot-flavored bubble gum.

Which contest would you have the best chance of winning: repulsive cupcake contest; banana-slug pie-eating contest; or burping contest?

Timothy Banks photo
Timothy Banks

Timothy: Repulsive Cupcake Contest hands down would be my best shot. Although, winning would still be difficult. Ironically, I’m a bit of neat freak too, so getting my hands dirty to create a gross cupcake would be a real obstacle. Eating something slimy would never work, and I just don’t have the chops to make it in a belching contest.

The idea that Belcher was really good at, well, belching, really intrigued me. Even though she’s a monster, she is also a she, and I thought it was so cool to have the female character be so adept at a traditionally male dominated skill. How did you develop her character for the story and decide what traits would make her perfect for Frank?

Leslie: “Burp” and “belch” are such hilarious words. They’re just fun to use, and I don’t often get the chance. So Belcher was an easy name choice.

As for her proud feminism, I grew up in a house where, as one of four sisters (no brothers!), we were strongly encouraged to be independent and not follow the crowd and do whatever we wanted to do. I wanted Belcher to be that way, too. She, like Frankenstein, really owns who she is. What they have in common is that they are both total non-conformists, even in the monster world. Plus, they’re kind.

And can I admit that I keep wondering whether, when I do read-alouds of this book at schools or bookstores, it would be okay for me to burp?!

Frankenstein and Frank

Timothy: I love that Frank is always politely above the fray, and in control of each situation–until Belcher breaks into the picture and shakes up his world. Working with a character like Frank (and on his 200th birthday) who has such a rich pop culture history, did you find yourself influenced by past versions of this character and how did you decide to make him so excellent at being a proper monster?

Frankenstein cover sketch by Timothy Banks
The final cover sketch

Leslie: I have never read the book Frankenstein, though it’s now on my short list. But I LOVE the movies, both the “real” ones and the Mel Brooks version. My idea of who Belcher would be came right out of Bride of Frankenstein.

The first thing that I decided about Frankenstein–the first words I wrote, actually–was that he was “comfortable in his own skin.” That’s so crucial for kids, for everyone. So that was the core of the story. What many people forget is that the original monster (not called Frankenstein, of course; Frankenstein was the doctor who invented him) was actually kind and sensitive. He was just looking for a friend. I channeled that for my book.

And regarding his being calm until Belcher makes her appearance–that’s what love does to us all. It shakes up our world.

Have you ever read Frankenstein? Or seen any of the Frankenstein movies? Did they inspire you in any way as you worked on this book?

Timothy: I’ve read bits and pieces of the original story, but it’s always hard for me to finish something with such a well-known ending.

And there’s not one specific movie reference either, but I would definitely say the classic Hollywood depiction of Frankenstein’s monster is hard to get away from. Herman Munster from the old 60s TV show The Munsters is probably my earliest memory of a Frankenstein character. I watched reruns of the show as a kid, and loved it! Another spoof on the classic story, Young Frankenstein, sticks out in my mind too.

Leslie: How did you decide on the look of Frankenstein and the other monsters? Were they based on or inspired by anyone you know?

Timothy: There’s a little bit of the characters I referenced for the previous question in the creation of our Frankenstein. Also, there’s a shabby chic associated with his character too. Even though he might be very neat and somewhat type A, I like to think he’s still a little frayed at the edges compared to our normal human standards. So his character would not be surprised to have a handful of spiders in his pocket (designer spiders?), or carry an emergency monster essential like slime or toenails. He’s like a monster remake of a classic children’s book character.

Frankenstein character sketches by Timothy Banks
Character sketches

Timothy’s artistic process

Leslie: One thing that intrigues me is all the details in the backgrounds. Does that go in last? Do you plan everything before you begin, or just see where things take you?

Timothy: I start with a rough sketch–basically shapes and lines, no detail–to work out where the main action will exist for the pic. Once I’m happy with the position of everything, I’ll refine the sketch by tracing over top of the original 2 or 3 times. Then I’ll flesh out the characters and the details which surround them.

Frankenstein spread sketch by Timothy Banks
Spread sketch

I usually add the background details after I’ve got the main characters fully realized. It all starts with big concepts, and I work down to the tiny details. Especially at the final stage, I let things kind of happen and see where the sketch wanders off to once I have a good grasp on everything.

What would your monster name be?

Leslie: Probably something to do with my unruly and completely untamed hair. Maybe Big Hair–or Tangled Tess. How about yours?


Reviews and more

Thanks, Leslie and Timothy! Here’s what reviewers are saying about A Valentine for Frankenstein:

  • “A brightly colored, action-packed lesson in being yourself.”—Booklist
  • “Frankenstein models self-assurance and kindness, both of which are much needed.”—Kirkus Reviews

A Valentine for Frankenstein is available through lernerbooks.comBarnes & NobleAmazonIndieBound, and all major distributors. Plus, learn about Lerner’s other Frankenstein-related titles in this blog post celebrating Frankenstein‘s 200th anniversary.

Read more posts by Libby here.

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