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Remembering Paula Cohen Martin

Many of us were saddened to hear of the sudden and untimely passing of fellow KidLit Author / Illustrator and Friend, Paula Cohen Martin.

Today, on what should have been the launch of her first book, her family, friends and fans are instead attending her funeral. While this is sadder than sad, we encourage anyone and everyone to celebrate Paula's bright light, share her legacy and spread her joy by buying and/or gifting her debut picture book, Big Dreams Small Fish (Levine Querido 2022).

May she live on in the hearts of her family and friends and in her art and inspiration!

And now, here's a personal tribute to Paula by Amalia Hoffman. Feel free to share your tribute in the comments so that her family and might one day find some solace in reading how she left her mark on others.

A Tribute to Paula Cohen Martin

The sudden death of my colleague and friend, Paula Cohen Martin brought back so many memories I have of her.

I met Paula many years ago at a NJ SCBWI Conference. This was one of my favorite conference and a place where I met incredible talented and ambitious people.

It was her humor, wit and vivacious personality that immediately drew me and I believe, other attendees, to her.

As she described herself on social media, “She grew up to the astonishing height of 4’10”. But this 4’10” was as tall as a mountain of energy, talent, and ambition.

As she walked around the room where illustrators exhibited their portfolios, she was enthusiastic about other member’s art and kept inquiring about their techniques, media and styles. I stopped by her portfolio and was blown away by her expressive depictions of people and animals. It seems so authentic and her line work, so effortless. I told her that her characters reminded me of Maurice Sendak’s illustrations. Paula was too humble to accept compliments.

She didn’t win an award at that conference nor the next one but she persisted, working, re working, revising. Eventually, she landed an agent and a contract for her debut picture book as author/illustrator Big Dreams, Small Fish. She was a tremendous inspiration to other authors and illustrators who struggle to get their career going.

When I read the book I was stunned! From cover to cover, it is, well...Paula!

As she wrote on social media, “I try to bring human and love of family (be it human or animal or both) to my stories and art. “ How true! Paula adored her sons, Joshua and Julian and her dog that she described as “A temperamental schnauzer.” She adored her “Polar Bear” husband, Paul. She described herself as a “towel holder”, which means that she sketches her husband and his fellow Polar Bears that bravely dip into Coney Island freezing water in the winter while “she herself is warm and dry.”

Her debut book is filled with cherished family memories of her grandparent’s small grocery store. These memories are so alive that one can picture the people in the neighborhood and smell the foods in the store.

Paula was the perfect person to write about gefilte fish, one of those Jewish delicacies that struggled for centuries to make a big splash. Like gefilte fish Paula was small but delicious!

Paula was a foodie. We talked about Jewish foods and her love for knishes and gefilte fish. But she also made “Mean Chili.”

On January 5th, 2022, I posted a review for Big Dreams, Small Fish on Goodreads and B&N:

Shirley lives above the family’s store. She longs to help Mama and Papa sell Mama’s delicious gefilte fish, but no one seems to buy them. One day, when Aunt Ida is having a baby, Shirley finds herself in the store with just sleepy Mrs. Gottlieb. That is the perfect time to show her mother and father what this ambitious and industrious little girl can do.

Shirley comes up with a plan that works!

I won’t tell you what the plan is but I will tell you that this is the kind of book kids will love because it proves that they can be smarter than the adults.

Besides, I have a soft spot for this food, gefilte fish because I remember my mother and father making it every week for Shabbat dinner.

While the protagonist and her family are obviously Jewish, the story also introduces adults and children from other racial groups in the neighborhood and so the book will resonate with diverse readers.

The illustrations are adorable. Paula Cohen’s skill in depicting facial expressions with just a few lines is superb!

The book includes a glossary for Yiddish words in the story, information about gefilte fish and the Russ family recipe for salmon and whitefish gefilte fish.

Highly recommended for schools, libraries and kids with big dreams.

I meant every word I wrote!

PAULA'S BIO: Paula earned a degree in Illustration from Parsons School of Design.

While juggling family and career, she worked as a free-lance illustrator, providing art for magazine articles, Scholastic and other publications as well as for books. Later, Paula expended her artistic talents, working to launch a career as children’s book writer and illustrator.

Paula shone a bright light everywhere she went. Her appetite for life and the smallest things it offers will inspire us forever.

Her 2nd illustrated book, The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom, by Michal Babay, is forthcoming from Charlesbridge on July 22, 2022. Please continue the celebration of Paula's life by buying/gifting that book.



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