A pillar of the picture book world since 1965, when she published her debut title, Sven’s Bridge, Anita Lobel has created dozens of illustrated works for children. These include 1981’s On Market Street, written by her former husband, the late Arnold Lobel, and named a Caldecott Honor Book. Lobel, who began her artistic career as a textile designer, has also made her mark penning nonfiction based on her own life, beginning with 1998’s No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War, a National Book Award finalist. Lobel, born Anita Kempler in 1934 into a Jewish family in Kraków, described her childhood memoir as “a child’s tale of surviving Hitler’s Poland, a rescue by the Swedish Red Cross in 1945, and ending with school years in Stockholm.”

More than 20 years later, Lobel continues her life story in the autofiction Stone Soup: Morsels of an Unsettled Life. After opening with harrowing flashbacks to the Nazis’ arrival in Poland during World War II, Stone Soup chronicles the author’s relocation to New York City with her family. There, the initially unhappy teenager found a sense of freedom and fulfillment in art school; lived as a newlywed and young mother in socially swirling Park Slope; enjoyed critical and financial publishing success; endured the sudden, deeply unsettling dissolution of her marriage; and found long-eluded contentment with her true love, Billy Giles. Speaking by phone from her Tribeca home, this warm, frank, and funny picture-book legend shared nuggets of her life story.

Why, more than two decades after publishing No Pretty Pictures, did you decide to continue chronicling your own life in Stone Soup?

I have had a very interesting life, and a good life, and I learn from both the high and the low points. I wanted to convey that in Stone Soup, and also to emphasize the importance to me, as a writer, of the rhythm learned from music and progression of scenes in a theater performance, and to do with words that which I am used to doing with pictures.

In February, Simon & Schuster’s Paula Wiseman Books published your latest picture book, Good Morning, Good Night. Would you say writing about your own life is a different challenge than writing stories for children?

Pictures in picture books often substitute for words. Not having pictures to lean on when I write about my own life, I have to recreate them. So much in life is visual—walking down the street, looking at people, window shopping, glancing at the sky—and when I’m writing about my life, my writing wants to be visual.

You open Stone Soup with the words, “The moment you put pen to paper, autobiographical writing becomes autofiction.” How do you distinguish the two?

To me, autofiction signifies that none of it is a lie, but it is not moment-to-moment truth. It’s partly made-up—you start with your personal experience and embroider on it. And just because the story is personal doesn’t mean it is a confessional piece of journal writing.

Why did you opt to relay your story as autofiction rather than write a straightforward autobiography?

Autofiction is not a lie, but it is more than the truth. And sometimes less. In Stone Soup, I chose to strike quite a few things. I could have said many more bad things about Arnold and the way he ended our marriage—it was a terrible, terrible shock. But in the book, I treaded lightly, and ultimately, I was gentle on him.

Why did you decide to self-publish Stone Soup?

This is a small piece of literature, and none of the editors who read it wanted to pick it up—probably they didn’t want [Arnold Lobel’s] Frog and Toad books to be dishonored! I resisted the idea of self-publishing at first, and asked myself, “After all this time, do I want to go into self-publishing?” It was not the way I imagined myself publishing a book, but I thought, “What is more important to me, being embarrassed to self-publish or—at almost 90 years old—getting a book that I want to see out there out there?” And I knew the answer.

After focusing on some of the tumultuous and traumatic segments of your life, you end Stone Soup on a peaceful, resonant note, as you and Billy Giles climb into a car to head back to New York after spending a quiet Christmas in New Hampshire with his aunt. Was it important to you to wrap up the book with this comforting scene?

Billy was my great and real love and, though many years passed before we were both free to begin a romance, we were together for almost 34 years. He died in 2021, and I miss him terribly. I decided that I didn’t want to end the book with “The End,” but with the sentence, “Billy and I were going home.” Those were the exact words I wanted to use, and to me that is a very happy ending.