This is my second year participating in the Multicultural Children’s Book Day event and I was able to do a Simply 7 this year with the author.
First let me note that I was gifted a copy of the book “A Gift for Amma” written by Meera Sriram and illustrated by Mariona Cabassa (published by Barefoot Books) to review here on my blog. The opinions expressed here are purely my own. This is not ordinarily how I go about finding my Simply 7 authors and illustrators to share here. I also love the idea of this day, but it’s about more than a day to me.
It’s important to me that every child should be able to see themselves in a book at any point in time and I try to share that with my love of ALL picture books on my blog all throughout the year. There is nothing I love more than connecting kids to a book they will treasure. That being said, I’m very happy to be participating again this year to share a book with you that you might not have heard of before AND for the chance to find a book that I might have missed. There are also a lot of free resources for teachers (like the amazing poster by Nat Iwata this year) and a Twitter party using the hashtag #ReadYourWorld (see the end of this blog post for more info on that).
Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S in 1999. An electrical engineer in the past, she now enjoys writing for children, leading early literacy initiatives, and advocating for diverse bookshelves. Meera is the author of picture books, THE YELLOW SUITCASE, A GIFT FOR AMMA, and the upcoming titles, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS and DUMPLING DAY. She has also co-authored several kids’ books in India. Meera believes in the transformative power of stories and likes to write about people, places, and experiences less visible in children’s literature. You can learn more about her at her website.
Today I get to talk with her about her beautiful book, “A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India.” This book is simply stunning. The book takes you on a journey to a place far away and unfamiliar, but it makes it feel like an ordinary day in a neighborhood a block away. And the colors are gorgeous! There are so many vibrant shades in the pages of this book that I couldn’t wait to turn the page and see what would be next. It really could be just a concept book alone because of those colors. But as a classroom teacher, this is a book I could also see myself reading every year with my first grade students when we get to the unit about commerce and markets around the world. There are SO many things to love here that’s hard for me to pick just one. This is a book you won’t want to miss.
Me: You have been an engineer in the past. What is it then that drew you to writing picture books?
Meera: Reading picture books! Growing up (in India), I did not read picture books. So, when I started reading them as a parent raising kids in the U.S, I was blown away by the power of the medium. I fell in love with everything about picture books. At the same time, I noticed the disturbing void when it came to representation of people, places, and experiences in stories and felt compelled to tell my own stories.
Me: I absolutely adore this book. What a great way to introduce young readers to market places around the world. I can see myself reading this in my classroom along with our current curriculum. What gave you the idea for this story?
Meera: Thank you! I’m so happy you like it and I hope your class enjoys it too. When my children were little, we actively searched for books that opened up the world for us. We read stories set in countries outside the U.S, folktales and holidays in many different cultures, and bilingual books. When I started writing, I wanted to take readers to faraway places and offer windows into newer experiences. The vibrant street life with its bustling outdoor markets in my own hometown in India was a natural choice for a colors concept book for young children. One day, while revising, it suddenly occurred to me that many market items also did double-duty as names of colors. This idea really helped elevate and enrich the basic concept.
Me: What does your writing process look like?
Meera: Well, I usually let an idea marinate in my head for weeks. And I typically get very obsessed when I start writing the story. I run it by my critique partners several times and revise and revise until I believe it is submission ready. I don’t work on multiple stories at a time. Instead, I aim for one solid project to go out. So far, this process has worked out well for me.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Meera: I think I was surprised by how much could be told in so few words. This goes back to what fascinated me about picture books in the first place. While working on A GIFT FOR AMMA, I discovered that in a few hundred words I could describe a place, tell a mom-child story, and introduce new vocabulary for the age group by harnessing the power of verse. I also learned that word choices are critical in telling a story effectively and beautifully.
Me: The illustrations by Mariona Cabassa are perfect. The colors are SO vibrant and I was delighted to see in your photos at the end of the book, that those colors are really in the market place in India. Were those pictures for research? Did you communicate with the illustrator at all during her creation process? Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Meera: I traveled to Chennai every summer to visit family (except, of course, this past summer!). Since this story was inspired by my hometown, my editor and I had talked about my involvement in the illustration process. I clicked those pictures on my 2019 trip specifically for this purpose, so we get the cultural nuances and details right in the art work. I was very happy to be involved in the process through my absolutely wonderful editor, Lisa Rosinsky, at Barefoot Books.
The surprise element was how dynamic the illustrations turned out – I’d sort of imagined the rich colors and details, but there was also so much movement in Mariona’s art –she had captured the action and the bustle so well!
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers?
Meera: I often remind myself to write a story because I believe in its importance, for whatever reason it might be, humor or representation or theme. This helps the words come straight from the heart and to fight for the story till the end.
Me: I know you moved to the US from India in 1999, but have taken trips back. What is one thing you miss the most from India that isn’t easy to find in the US where you live now?
Meera: My amma (mom) 🙂 I really do miss her here, every day. I also miss all the items in the book. A market item that’s not in the book that I particularly miss is the roadside coconut water (from a real tender coconut, not a carton 🙂 )!
I loved that you put so much thought into your questions. I thoroughly enjoyed answering them. Thank you for having me and celebrating A GIFT FOR AMMA!
Thank you for stopping by Meera, and you’re welcome! Dear readers, I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s a delightful window to a world far away when travel isn’t really happening. I love learning about new places like this and I’m sure you will too. If you’re not familiar with the Multicultural Children’s Book Day and want to learn more, then the following information will help with that.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.
Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues. Read about our Mission & History HERE.
MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!
Bronze Sponsors: Agatha Rodi and AMELIE is IMPRESSED!, Barnes Brothers Books, Create and Educate Solutions, LLC, Dreambuilt Books, Dyesha and Triesha McCants/McCants Squared, Redfin Real Estate, Snowflake Stories, Star Bright Books, TimTimTom Bilingual Personalized Books, Author Vivian Kirkfield, Wisdom Tales Press, My Well Read Child
MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Author Sponsors!
Poster Artist: Nat Iwata
Authors: Author Afsaneh Moradian, Author Alva Sachs & Three Wishes Publishing Company, Author Angeliki Stamatopoulou-Pedersen, Author Anna Olswanger, Author Casey Bell , Author Claudine Norden, Author Debbie Dadey, Author Diana Huang & Intrepids, Author Eugenia Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Green Kids Club, Author Gwen Jackson, Author Janet Balletta, Author Josh Funk, Author Julia Inserro, Karter Johnson & Popcorn and Books, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, Author Keila Dawson, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Author Mia Wenjen, Michael Genhart, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Natalie Murray, Natalie McDonald-Perkins, Author Natasha Yim, Author Phe Lang and Me On The Page Publishing, Sandra Elaine Scott, Author Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher, Tales of the Five Enchanted Mermaids, Author Theresa Mackiewicz, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Author Toshia Stelivan, Valerie Williams-Sanchez & The Cocoa Kids Collection Books©, Author Vanessa Womack, MBA, Author Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series
MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by our CoHosts and Global CoHosts!
MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by these Media Partners!
Check out MCBD’s Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board!
FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day
TWITTER PARTY! Register here!
Join us on Friday, Jan 29, 2021, at 9 pm EST for the 8th annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day Twitter Party!
This epically fun and fast-paced hour includes multicultural book discussions, addressing timely issues, diverse book recommendations, & reading ideas.
We will be giving away an 8-Book Bundle every 5 minutes plus Bonus Prizes as well! *** US and Global participants welcome. **
Follow the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to join the conversation, connect with like-minded parts, authors, publishers, educators, organizations, and librarians. See you all very soon on Twitter!
Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.