Given recent events, today’s picture book takes on the importance in preserving a culture’s traditions more than ever.
Astrid Kamalyan comes from a big, happy family and is the oldest of five. She spent most of her childhood in Armenia. As a child, she wished she could one day paint the beautiful mountains of Artsakh. Now she paints with words and writes for the most important people in the world—kids. Astrid holds an MBA degree from the American University of Armenia. She currently shares her time between Chicago and Yerevan, Armenia. You can learn more about her at her website, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
BABO: A TALE OF ARMENIAN RUG-WASHING DAY is a book so full of light and joy. Here we follow young Tato who is excited to help her grandma in the annual tradition of washing the rugs with her siblings. In this story, it isn’t a chore, but a tradition celebrated with food and laughter. There are hijinks and problems that only Tato can solve. This is a delightful look at Armenian tradition and culture.
Me: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey? When did you start writing picture books? What brought you to this book?
Astrid: I started writing creatively as soon as I discovered for myself what reading is. But it was only after my son was born, in 2017, that I started writing picture books.
Me: I love that there’s a whole summer day devoted to something as common as washing a rug and it’s turned into a celebration of such joy. What made you think of that idea as a picture book?
Astrid: My happy childhood spent in Armenia is a constant source of inspiration. It was just a sunshiny memory that sparked in my mind, and I instantly knew I wanted to share it.
Me: I understand that this is the first time in more than 30 years that a children’s book about Armenia is traditionally published in the US AND it’s the first time ever to feature Artsakh dialogue. What an amazing accomplishment! Was that dialogue always part of your original manuscript or was this the suggestion of an agent, editor, or critique group? What made you decide to include that?
Astrid: Artsakh dialect is the language my precious babo spoke to us. I grew up hearing it, and the only authentic way to represent my experience was to use the language most dear to me. Karen Boss, being the terrific editor she is, encouraged me to add even more sentences in Artsakh dialect, and I am so grateful for this! It was such a pleasure weaving in those delicious, bouncy words into the text.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Astrid: The amount of joy it brought to my community. It is such a powerful reminder that what we do isn’t about ourselves, it’s very much about who we serve. And when we keep this in mind, it gets much easier to overcome any ups and downs of the publishing journey.
Me: Anait Semirdzhyan’s illustrations in this book are perfect. They fit the book so wonderfully and bring such joy to each page. Were there any illustration surprises for you? Any favorites?
Astrid: Every single illustration in this book is the sun shining straight at you. I love all of it, because how can one not love seeing happy, smiling kids, kind and caring grandma, dogs, and chickens, and gorgeous rugs? But if I have to pick a favorite spread it would be the one where Anait shows Tato, swirling in the bubbles on the left, and the Khndzoresk dragon rug on the right. The way she uses perspective on this spread is absolutely stunning.
Me: I love the back matter you included with this book. Yet my favorite part was learning about the sweets you talked about in the book (and all the jars of apricot jam your mom would make). What was your favorite Armenian sweet growing up? Was that included in the book as part of the story?
Astrid: I had such a delicious childhood, how do I even pick just one! The apricot pie in the book is inspired by a shortbread cake my babo would bake, which she topped with apricot jam. We recently compared our recipes for this cake with my mom, and because my babo and I would spend hours talking about cooking, it turned out that my version of the recipe was much more detailed. The most wonderful part is that I wrote it down in her words, woven with her warm Artsakh dialect.
Me: Do you have any advice for other new picture book writers?
Astrid: Do not give up on what matters to your heart.
Thank you for stopping by my blog today Astrid. I’m going to break my “only 7” questions rule today because I know you are heartbroken over recent events in your home country. Would you like to add anything else about that?
Astrid: Yes. On September 19th, 2023, Azerbaijan (10 mln population) attacked the indigenous Armenian population of Artsakh (120,000 total population). That after months of starving them through an illegal blockade of the region. Civilians were attacked by cluster bombs and drones. There are hundreds of victims, including children. Thousands are missing, mostly kids. Currently, the civilians are being held hostage–the road for evacuation is blocked, while Azeri forces continue killing and kidnapping people, in the situation of an unstable ceasefire. What is happening in Artsakh is a genocide organized by the dictatorial regime of Azerbaijan, backed by countries such as Turkey and Russia. If you want to help, please check out this link for action steps: https://anca.org/
Also, if you order my book via Abril Bookstore, part of the proceeds will be donated to help the forcibly displaced families from Artsakh.
I’m so sorry Astrid. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had the chance to read this book yet, Astrid has agreed to giveaway one copy of the book to a lucky winner. You can enter the Rafflecopter here. Good luck!