Mama's Saris: Interview with Pooja Makhijani

Well, you can stop shopping right now because here's the perfect gift for Mother's Day: Mama's Saris, a new picture book by Pooja Makhijani from Little Brown, gloriously illustrated by Elena Gomez. Don't worry if the mother in your life doesn't know what a sari is — this is a story about every young girl's desire to be as glamorous as Mom, and the tender mother-daughter bond that transcends cultures.

Pooja herself sometimes comes out to chat on the Fire Escape, so I seized the moment to ask her some questions. Here's the scoop on the launch of this fabulous book, her first for kids (she's also the author of the anthology Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America -- read the introduction here.)

Tell us about the journey to getting the book published.

Such a long journey!

I finished a final draft of my manuscript in February 2004 and began the arduous process of writing query and cover letters. Because I used to work in publishing, I also pulled out my Rolodex. The latter approach worked well. My manuscript made it into the hands of Sangeeta Mehta (then at Little, Brown; now at Simon Pulse) who worked with me over several revisions.

Once Little, Brown bought the manuscript, I did several more revisions. All in all, I think I revised the manuscript over nine [9] times before the manuscript was passed onto Elena Gomez. (How Sangeeta and Little, Brown secured Elena I don't know, but I am over the moon with the results! See more below.)

Elena worked on the illustrations for well over a year and I had the opportunity to see her vision of the book from the sketch stage. Through Sangeeta, she was definitely open to suggestions regarding cultural appropriateness and cultural accuracy. She even asked for photographs of my wedding festivities for reference!

As you know, Mitali, producing and printing a book can take a while, and Little, Brown, wanted to time the release of Mama's Saris with Mother's Day, so it's taken some time for the book to hit bookshelves. And now, it's here. It feels great to share it with the world!

What was the biggest change you made in response to an editorial suggestion?

Mama's Saris
is a "quiet" book. ("Quiet" isn't necessarily a compliment in today's competitive picture book market). While the story didn't change much from draft to draft, Sangeeta had a number of wonderful suggestions for tightening the text and making it more active. A few weeks ago, I looked at the draft to I sent to Little, Brown for consideration for publication. It had definitely come a long way.

What is your favorite aspect of the art created by Elena Gomez?

Oh, where do I begin? When I was shown Elena's final art, I was struck that her visual interpretation of Nanima (the narrator's maternal grandmother) was identical to the vision of Nanima that I had in my head while I was writing. We were really on the same proverbial wavelength.

Describe a fear you have about this book that can keep you up at night.

That it will go out of print tomorrow!

Finish the sentence twice, first from an idealistic "literature changes lives" point of view and then give the savvy marketer's take.

1. Mama's Saris will be a successful picture book if ... little girls everywhere (regardless of age and ethnicity) connect with the universal experience of dressing up in their mother's (or mother figure's) clothes.

2. Mama's Saris will be a successful picture book if ... it earns out.

What did your mother say when she first saw the book in print?

My mother saw this book in so many incarnations--the manuscript (5 pages, 12pt Courier, double spaced); the jpgs of Elena's spreads, the F&G; the final book--and she's been supportive, curious, and encouraging through the whole process. She is thrilled that the book is dedicated to her; she gleefully pointed this out to my father when I gave them their copy :).

Thanks, Pooja. The Fire Escape gives Mama's Saris a five-star recommendation, and wishes you many blessings on the launch of this lovely story.

Other links and reviews: A teacher's guide for the book, Fuse No. 8's rave, Chicken Spaghetti's review.