On The Avenue

Karen Lefrak on Her New Kid’s Book

Thursday, January 10, 2019


Karen Lefrak does it all, from composing music to writing childrens books. Avenue sat down with this renaissance woman to talk about her latest, Sleepover at the Museum.


How did the idea for Sleepover at the Museum come about?

When our own children were young, my husband and I brought them to the American Museum of Natural History often. My sons in turn, took their own children to the museum and passed along a love for learning about the world we inhabit. When I discovered one could have a sleepover there, I thought a book about a birthday party with a scavenger hunt and sleepover would be the perfect vehicle to introduce youngsters to the museum. In my previous books, I featured many of my interests like classical music, ballet, and dog shows一why not the world of natural history as well?


 


In Sleepover at the Museum, Mason and his friends get to choose one room of the museum in which to spend the night. Where would you choose to stay?

The Butterfly Pavilion, of course! Although Mason didn’t choose it as his sleepover spot, it’s always been my favorite room.


 


You have written several children’s books. How does communicating to children differ from communicating for adults? Do you find that you use different language?

My spirit changes when I’m talking to children; my eyes are more expressive, my voice becomes gentler and more demonstrative. I try to convey enthusiasm for the places or events I’m interested in. When I’m talking to children, I don’t necessarily use different language, but I’ll always try to explain a word or concept that’s more mature than what they might be familiar with. With children, you have to put things in context and be prepared to answer questions. I try to use terms children of all ages will be able to understand, which is why many of my books have had glossaries in the past. I think children want to learn, and all we have to do is find a way to show them.


 


You’re something of a renaissance woman—a children’s book writer, a classical composer, and a dog breeder as well. How are you able to do so much?

And let’s not forget grandmother of four! I was blessed with high energy and a mind that works overtime. I’ve been lucky enough to need very little sleep and have productive early hours. Mostly though, my passion motivates me, because I’m doing what I love. It never feels like work because it’s what makes me happiest.



Do you find that your interests inform one another? Or do you think of them as distinct?

My passion for classical music and writing definitely go together. As a matter of fact, I was asked to compose the score for Sleepover at the Museum, which will be premiered in Miami by The Miami Symphony Orchestra on February 24th, 2019, and performed again at Festival Napa Valley on July 15th, 2019. And, the New York Philharmonic will perform it at a family benefit concert on March 7th, 2020. Composing music has been an interest of mine since childhood and I like writing. With dogs, it’s more of an escape from the daily stress of Manhattan living. Animals in general have the ability to take away our stress and provide pure love and comfort.


 


You’re also well-known as a dedicated philanthropist. What is a cause that you are particularly excited about?

I’ve been associated with the New York Philharmonic since 1971, and have been on the board for 31 years. I was President of the Volunteer Council, and now sit on the Executive Committee and serve as the chair of the Music Policy Committee. Classical music has always been one of my passions and I have many roles there. I’ve even served as archivist assistant, curating exhibits and answering questions about the history of the orchestra.


I was previously President of the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy—who doesn’t love Central Park? Additionally, The Society of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is an organization that I am interested in supporting.


Animals are a huge part of my life, which is what inspired me to start the pet therapy program at Mount Sinai Hospital. I formerly took my retired show dogs to administer animal-assisted therapy to medically fragile children and adults. During that time, I also visited Child Life Services at NYU, New Alternatives for Children, and took the dogs to the pier a few times during the aftermath of 9/11. Show dogs are already trained to be obedient, so animal therapy was the perfect transition for them. I’m also an honorary member of Pet Partners, the organization that serves veterans with PTSD, Alzheimer’s patients, students with literacy challenges, people with intellectual disabilities, and anyone else who can benefit from animal therapy.


 


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