Today I get to share another picture book with you from another debut author.
Sita Singh was born and raised in India, and moved to the United States in 1999. She currently lives in South Florida with her husband, three children, and an immensely cute and curious dog. An architect in the past, Sita now enjoys writing heartwarming picture books with a South Asian backdrop. When Sita isn’t reading or writing, she can be found trying new recipes in the kitchen, experimenting with food photography, walking with the dog, or movie marathoning with the family. Find out more about Sita on her website and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.
Her debut picture book, “Birds of a Feather,” is a sweet story with peacocks! The main character isn’t your typical peacock though. There are no beautiful blues in Mo’s feathers. Instead, ALL of his feathers are white! (Interesting fact: white peacocks are rarer, but not the same thing as albino peacocks.) Mo understandably struggles with his identity amongst his beautiful siblings. I love some of the nonfiction matter snuck into the story. I love how the other peacocks never once mock Mo. And I absolutely love the ending (which I will leave as a surprise). There’s a LOT to love about this picture book.
Me: You have traveled the world, have multiple hobbies and interests, and a career as an architect. What is it then that drew you to writing picture books?
Sita: Growing up in India, I enjoyed reading fables and mythological tales in the form of illustrated stories. Those were my favorite type of books to read as a child. In the US, while raising my own children, I searched for similar books and was pleasantly surprised to discover the magical genre of picture books. I’d say the seed to becoming a picture book writer was planted early, but I didn’t take up writing until my children were much older and I felt the need to have a creative pursuit of my own. I think, my hobbies and interests in the creative arts, training in architecture, and experience of living in both, the East and West, collectively and naturally drew me to the creative process of writing picture books.
Me: I love that. This story is both touching AND informative. That’s creative nonfiction at its best! What gave you the idea for this story?
Sita: Thank you, Jena! I’m so happy to hear that! My childhood memories of watching peacocks and a lack of picture books with this majestic bird as a protagonist, is what provoked me to write a story with peacocks. The story itself was inspired from my daughter’s experience of standing out in school, because of her ethnicity. I wanted to write a story that empowers children to find strength in their differences, and this one has come about from a fusion of ideas.
Me: This is your debut picture book (yay!). What does your writing process look like?
Sita: When I have an idea, I let it brew in my head until I figure out the heart of the story. Studying mentor texts is a big part of my writing process. As words and lines come to me, a story slowly begins to take shape. I initially write without inhibitions about word count or page turns. It’s more like a story I’m telling myself. Then, with the process of elimination, I turn it into a picture book manuscript. I let it simmer for days and after a few revisions, I read it to my critique group. With their feedback, I revise, and once I’m happy with the story, I feel confident to share it with my agent.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Sita: I am surprised by how the essence of the story didn’t change from the first draft in 2016, to the last, in 2019! Even some of the original sentences and paragraphs stayed as is, in spite of the manuscript going through hundreds (at least!) of revisions.
Me: I love that you have a character who struggles with his identity from within himself, not because others bully him. I adored how loving his friends and family were in the story. Is self-acceptance an important subject to you? Why is this something you want young readers to see and hear about?
Sita: Absolutely! As an immigrant and a mother to three first generation Indian American children, I believe accepting who you are is an extremely important first step in molding a confident self.
Often, children struggle with self-acceptance issues, maybe arising from identity, fitting in, or self-doubt. It is important that children see and hear stories that’d help them know their strengths and understand their uniqueness. My hope with this story is to empower every child to realize that there is no one else like them, and that it’s great to be unique. I hope it sparks a discussion about knowing and loving who you are.
I also hope the story helps young readers understand the importance of being kind and accepting of others who are different.
Me: The illustrations by Stephanie Fizer Colman are perfect. The colors are SO vibrant that I really felt the glow of your white peacock. Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Sita: I totally agree! Not only did I fall in love with the colors and textures Stephanie has used, I was blown away by her depiction of the colorless peacock. She took the story to a visual level that was way beyond my imagination. Through its entire journey to self-discovery, I love how Stephanie has let the white peacock glow and shine on every page.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers?
Sita: I’d like to share this quote which says it all:
“Whenever I’m asked what advice I have for young writers, I always say that the first thing is to read, and to read a lot. The second thing is to write. And the third thing, which I think is absolutely vital, is to tell stories and listen closely to the stories you’re being told.” -John Green
A great quote with great advice. Thank you for stopping by Sita.
Sita: Thanks Jena for having me here, and for asking such fun questions. I really enjoyed this interview!
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to check out this book, you absolutely should. The art work is stunning and the story is deceptively simple. Quite frankly, I’m surprised that a story like this hasn’t been told before, but then again, this book is very much Sita’s. Only she could tell it with her experience, her children’s experiences, and the heart she has woven within it.