That's a good question. I've been trying to figure it out myself, spending most of my life crossing borders.
I was born Mitali Bose in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, and always tried to live up to my name—which means “friendly” in the Bangla language. I had to! Because my family moved so much, it was the only way I could make new friends.
By the time I was 11, I'd lived in Ghana, Cameroon, London, New York and Mexico before settling in California just in time for middle school. Yep, I was the new kid again, in seventh grade, the year everybody barely makes it through.
My biggest lifeline during those early years was story. Books were my rock, my stability, my safe place as I navigated the border between California suburbia and the Bengali culture of my traditional home.
After studying political science at Stanford and public policy at U.C. Berkeley, I taught in middle school, high school and college. When I began to write fiction, my protagonists were often—not surprisingly—strong female characters trying to bridge different cultures.
Open Mic: Ten Authors Riff About Growing Up Between Cultures, an anthology of fiction, poetry, and memoir edited by me, will release from Candlewick September 10, 2013, and a middle-grade novel, Tiger Boy, will be published in 2014 by Charlesbridge.
My newest is Bamboo People (Charlesbridge), a Junior Library Guild selection, an ALA Top Ten YA Fiction pick, and an ABA Indie's Choice Honor Book. This novel actually featured boys on the cover—a first for me, and I had to watch a lot of video game action to write it.
My first novel, The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen (Little Brown), is the story of a California middle-schooler whose traditional Indian grandparents visit for a year, completely upending her typical teenage world. Wonder where I got that idea? Try asking my parents. :) I'm so delighted that it was an ALA Book for Reluctant Readers and the winner of the Christian School’s Association’s Lamplighter Award.
Next came Monsoon Summer (Random House), featuring a biracial teen who goes back to India for a life-changing summer of romance and realizations. This novel was an ALA Quick Pick, a Bank Street Best Book, a New York Library Book for the Teen Age, and a Texas Library Association TAYSHAS Best Book for Young Adults. Hooray!
The First Daughter novels (Dutton), two fast, light reads for teens, explore the campaign experience through the eyes of a candidate’s adopted Pakistani-American daughter. These were fun to write during an election year.
I also published Rickshaw Girl (Charlesbridge), a story for younger readers about a young Bangladeshi girl who challenges the traditional female roles in her village. I was thrillled when the book won the Jane Addams Honor Award, the Maine Lupine Honor Award, and the Julia Ward Howe Honor Award.
Secret Keeper (Random House) is a novel for teens set in 1970s India that's an IRA Notable Book for a Global Society and made the ALA's Amelia Bloomer list of great titles that empower girls.
After stints in Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Malibu, and Newton (in the Boston area), we're finally settling down in Orinda, California, where my husband will be the pastor of Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church. (If you want to find out how I ended up as a minister's wife, you'll find the start of the story here.)
I spend a lot of time in schools and libraries talking about growing up between cultures and the life-changing power of story. I also love it when guests stop by my virtual “fire escape,” a.k.a., my blog, which is mostly about books between cultures (mitaliblog.com). You may also contact me via Facebook or Twitter if you need more information about my books or life, as I'm a bit of a social media freak.
Here are some interviews where you'll probably find out more about me than you ever wanted to know:
2. Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
3. Hip Writer Mama
4. School Library Journal
5. Big A little a
6. Paper Tiger
7. India New England
8. Mother Reader
9. Books in 140 via Twitter
10. The Life Uncommon