In our ongoing efforts to inform your thinking about multicultural picture books and book selection, the Diverse BookFinder now provides author/illustrator interviews on select book pages. We hope this is helpful for our users!
Meenal Patel is an illustrator, designer and children’s book author. She loves to draw moments of childhood wonder, strong women, and textures in nature. Making art is her happy place. It’s the moment when she can look inward, find joy and then push that joy outward in the form of making something. She hopes that joy reaches someone else. She is the author and illustrator of Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala and Neela Goes to San Francisco. Visit www.meenalpatelstudio.com to learn more about her work.
How would you describe this book’s contribution to the multicultural picture book world?
This book offers a glimpse into a child's and adult's experience in a multi-cultural and multi-generational home. It's also about having pride in all the different pieces of your identity and the power of sharing all those pieces with others.
What do you see as the mission of this book? Is it meeting its mission?
My hope is that this book helps kids see themselves as heroes and that they have the power to make a difference in someone else's life through their actions and empathy. Kids need those opportunities to see themselves as heroes, to celebrate what makes them unique, and to feel connected to other people. I also hope that it gives kids with a similar lived experience an opportunity to have their experience acknowledged and celebrated. And of course, on the flip side, it's for kids who do not have these experiences so that they can gain some understanding.
Has this book (either through its creation or through its reading) changed how you see things? If so, how?
Making this book was an emotional process because I'm deeply connected to elements in the story. My family is from India but I was born and raised in the United States. I went to India with my parents a few years ago for the first time as an adult. I had always wanted to see the country where my family is from with my parents. India is a full-sensory place and I was so inspired by the people, colors, patterns, food, and sounds. I was also struck by how so much felt familiar to things in my life growing up, and at the same time, so many things felt foreign. After that trip, I knew I wanted to make a picture book with India as a part of it.
I stewed on what the story would be for about a year and a half on and off. Initially, I thought it would be something related to all the amazing sensory moments that make up that extraordinary place. I started coming up with ideas for the storyline and writing but nothing felt right. Ultimately, I scrapped everything and started over. I took some time to journal about that trip to India and what it meant to me. I wrote about all the things that felt familiar from my childhood. I had to dig really deep to find this story. But then as I wrote it, pieces of it fell out of me and felt really honest. It came from a really honest place and hopefully that means people will connect to it on an emotional level. This story became something really different from what I had set out to make and I think that’s for the best.
It's been nice to see kids connecting to the idea of using their keen observations skills to understand what someone else might be feeling and to try to do something nice for that person. I've been really surprised at the emotional response that I've gotten from adults, which makes me think that maybe the intense emotion I felt while making this book is coming through to them. There have been a number of adults who have told me the book made them tear up or cry because it struck a chord in their own experience, how they wish they had a book like this when they were growing up, how they are so happy that their child will grow up with a book like this. It has been really lovely to see kids and adults connect to the story in different ways.
What should people know before reading this book? Or what might readers be curious about after reading this book?
I think it's great to approach any book with curiosity. The opening and closing of this book are unconventional for a children's book but I think it works if the reader approaches it with openness.
Readers may wonder about the meaning of marigolds in the story. I included back matter that talks about marigolds and other elements in the story. Marigolds carry different meanings for cultures all around the world. The use of garlands and meanings of specific flowers vary throughout India and are used in ceremonies by different religions. In Gujarat and other regions, some people hang fresh marigold and mango leaf garlands at the entrance of homes, shops, and even on trucks for festive occasions. They are a symbol of honor and luck. Beyond that, the smell keeps bugs away!