Name: Shoumi Sen
Book: Celebrate Holi With Me!, Celebrate Durga Puja With Me!
What is your ethnicity? Asian American
Where are you from? Were you exposed to other cultures?
I was born in India and was fortunate to have spent my childhood in a few different places — Paris, Bombay and Dubai and get a taste for different cultures, customs and foods when I was a child. One of my earliest memories is playing in the rain with my classmates in my pre-school in Paris…I remember being the only Indian kid in my class and my French classmates were so welcoming. Children have an inherent ability to look beyond race, beyond color and as parents we should try to make sure they don’t lose it.
How did you get your start as a children’s author? What was the inspiration for writing your book?
Writing originated as one of my ways to have my daughter appreciate a connection with her Indian roots, while growing up in America. While living in Bombay and Dubai, my sister and I found ourselves surrounded by the magic of Indian festivals. I still remember the excitement during Durga Puja, Holi, Diwali and Christmas from my childhood! I searched for books which would help me paint these magical cultural experiences for my daughter and eventually decided to write one.
Is there anything from your personal life that influenced the characters in the book?
My daughter is the inspiration for “From The Toddler Diaries”; my first book, Celebrate Durga Puja With Me! started off as a poem about Durga Puja. This festival is celebrated widely in India and I wanted to share my childhood memories with my then 2-year-old so she would understand why she got to wear gorgeous Indian dresses on a certain weekend in October and eat delicious Indian sweets.
I also wanted my books to have an easy connection with kids and wanted them to see themselves in these books. I therefore took the approach of a child being the storyteller. In Celebrate Durga Puja With Me!, we learn about Durga Puja and how it is celebrated…through the eyes of 3 year old Riya. Similarly, Holi, the Festival of Colors, comes to life as told by Riya in Celebrate Holi With Me! The delicate balance between poetry and illustration connected well with my daughter and listening to Riya’s experiences made her feel like she was a part of it.
Why do you think exposure to other cultures is important for young children?
The world is getting flatter and there is a larger need for us all to be more appreciative of each other — no matter our race, religion or color of skin. This can only happen when we are exposed to different cultures; and the sooner, the better…understanding that there are differences and appreciating diversity needs to start at a young age so that it becomes a part of life.
What do you want children to get from reading this book?
During the festivals of Holi and Durga Puja, everyone comes together and it is heartwarming to see entire neighborhoods, celebrating together, creating memories that last a lifetime. As kids read and gain an appreciation of these two major Indian festivals, I’d love for them to remember the underlying theme, which is the victory of good over evil.