If there is a picture book about tea, you know I have to read it. After all, there are instantly two of my favorite things: tea and picture books!
Rajani LaRocca has visited my blog several times before. I never cease to be amazed at the variety of stories (and genres) found in her writing. She was born in Bangalore, India, and immigrated to the US when she was a baby. She grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, graduated from Harvard with both a BA and an MD, and has worked as a primary care physician since 2001. She is the author of several books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor Book Red, White, and Whole and many more. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her family. You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
MASALA CHAI, FAST AND SLOW is a story about young Aarav, who is always in a hurry. His thatha (or grandfather) walks slowly, but he loves to race around. There is a great love between these two, yet Aarav’s impatience is most visibly seen around his thatha’s afternoon ritual of slowly making a pot of masala chai. Aarav marvels at his thatha’s patience, but one day thatha is hurt and cannot make the chai. Aarav decides to try it himself and has to learn exactly how to make masala chai. This is a sweet story of tea and family woven together that will appeal to many young readers.
Welcome back Rajani!
Me: I love a good cup of tea and chai is one of my favorites (though I’m not sure I’ve ever had a Masala Chai!). So I have to ask first, are you a daily coffee or tea drinker?
Rajani: I drink one cup of coffee in the morning every day. If I’m lucky, I get a cup of tea in the afternoon, but that’s not every day.
Me: This story pulled at my heart strings, especially as I had leg surgery at the end of July and I’m moving slow myself these days as I heal. What gave you the idea for this story?
Rajani: My father has been the chai maker in my family for years, so he was very much the inspiration for this story. He is a kind, generous, and thoughtful dad and grandpa, and, like many older Indian people, is always reminding us to go “slowly, slowly” as the rest of us rush around.
When I started this story, I knew I wanted to write about a grandson and grandfather, and I thought it might be fun to write about a fast-paced boy and his thatha who likes to take things slow. Masala chai made on the stove in the traditional way is not a quick process — it takes time. I wove that theme into the story.
Me: Once again, the characters in this story are so well developed they feel like real people! Were any of these characters inspired by anyone you know?
Rajani: See above!
As I kid, I loved the idea of names that start with “A” so that person was always first in line alphabetically. And “AA” names were even cooler. So I was delighted to name the fast little boy in my story “Aarav.”
Me: Ha! I see what you did there. The illustrations by Neha Rawat are perfect for this book. I love all the textures she included, as well as the color palette. Were there any illustration surprises for you? Any favorite illustrations?
Rajani: I love Neha’s work so much! I love the sweetness of her characters, Aarav’s frenetic energy, and Thatha’s calm presence. I love that she included a dog! My favorite illustration is where Aarav looks into the pot of tea and remembers what his grandfather says about slowing down and making something carefully and with love.
Me: In the book, it looked like three generations lived together under the same roof. Several of your books revolve around family. Why is family an important theme to you in your writing?
Rajani: Family is the most important thing in my life. In India, most families include three (or more!) generations all living under one roof. Growing up in the US, I didn’t have that as a child—my extended family was tens of thousands away across the world. But I am so fortunate to have my parents living with us for the past 20+ years, so my children grew up with their grandparents in the house. It has been such a joy for us all.
Me: I love that! This book feels simple and like it might’ve been easy to write. Yet we all know that is quite deceptive when it comes to picture books. Were there any difficulties in writing this manuscript? Any surprises as you wrote the story?
Rajani: I wouldn’t say this book was easy to write, but I did know what the story problem and theme would be from the first draft. I worked on it for about 6 months before sending it to my agent. I had originally put in a lot more interaction between all the family members (Aarav’s little sister is named Aarti, by the way—another “AA” name), but through revision I narrowed down the action of the story to focus on Aarav and Thatha.
Me: You mention drinking Chai with your own family every afternoon. You even include a recipe for Masala Chai in the book. Do you prefer your own chai with black or rooibos tea? Any other special touches for your cup of chai that you enjoy?
Rajani: I am a HUGE fan of masala chai, although I don’t have it every day. I always make it with black tea, milk, and sugar. Grating fresh ginger into the chai makes a huge difference, and I love chai with cardamom and black peppercorns. When I don’t feel like adding all the spices myself, I brew chai from specialty companies, including Curio Spice (their Uncommon Chai has black pepper and is amazing!) and Kolkata Chai Company (their Signature Masala Chai is divine!).
Ohhh! More tea to add to my cabinet. Thank you for that recommendation and thank you for stopping by my blog again today.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to read this book yet (just released into the world last week), I highly recommend it. It’s another sweet story with family at the center, delicious tea, traditions, and a great reminder to slow down.