Monday, May 16, 2011

Interview with Farhana Zia

I recently read a wonderful picture book called Hot Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F.Zia illus. by Ken Min. It's a beautiful debut for author and artist. I wanted the chance to ask both a few questions. Hannah Ehrlich and Lucy Amon from Lee and Low books were both kind enough to make it happen. Lee and Low Books is having a great sale this month. All books are 25% off and free standard USPS shipping on all orders just over $10.

I will be posting the interview with Ken Min soon, first Farhana Zia

Hi, Farhana, congratulations on a wonderful debut. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I immigrated to the US from Hyderabad, India in 1967. My husband and I live in Framingham, Mass. We have two children and three grandchildren. Ages 5, 3 and 2. I am an elementary school teacher. I've taught the fourth grade for the past 26 years. You could say that teaching is my first passion and writing, my second. Hot -Hot Roti is my first picture book.

It's very rare for authors and illustrators to have contact while working on a project. Though its not often they debut at the same time.

Did you two exchange emails?

I was able to submit illustration notes to my editor but that was the extent of it; the publisher didn't encourage communication with the illustrator. I did send Ken an email, just to say ‘hello’. It seemed to be the proper thing to do. I am grateful to him for doing such a marvelous job of interpreting the text. I had heard that he’d do serious research before embarking on this project and knowing that really eased my mind.

Have you had the opportunity to read Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji to a group of kids yet? If so what has the response been?

So far, I have read the book in my classroom, at the India Society of Worcester in Shrewsbury and to a children’s group at my local town library. I combined the reading with a roti demonstration and a craft. The reaction was very positive. Children love the story and are particularly interested in the lad’s fantastical powers.

Some wonder if drinking milk will make them just as strong! They love to roll the roti dough, north, south, east and west with me. We also have nice discussions about grandparents and grandchildren in general and practice saying, “Arre Wah!”

When I was writing the review, I almost wrote "Aneel's grandparents were coming for a visit." but they were coming to stay.

Did you always known the grandparents would be staying?

Yes. That is the basic premise of the story….multi generations living together, somewhat like a mini joint family system. A lot of inspiration for the story comes from just such settings in the US, where aging parents have come to live with their children and grandchildren, forming three, or even four generation households.

I believe there is a great value in such a set up where everyone learns something valuable from everyone else---the old get to impart their wisdom and the young get to impart their vivacity. Each generation operates as a safety net for the other and there is a lot of sharing and giving. In actuality, Hot ,Hot Roti for Dada-ji really means to highlight and honor inter-generational family bonds.

Hot Hot Roti for Dada-ji is the blending of two cultures. Making the story backdrop as essential as the two main characters.

Was there a particular character or scene you worked around ?

Roti was foremost in my mind and I used it as the common cultural element to bridge the past and present in the story. Actually, the idea of Roti was the first thing that came to mind when I was mulling over what to write about, in the first place.

I did give weight to the roti making scenes and particularly wanted to show off Aneel’s initiative, his regard for his grandfather, and his sense of accomplishment at the end.

I love how well this story comes together. Its very seamless from the dada-ji tales wonderful tales, to the inclusion of the whole family and Hindi words sprinkled throughout.

Was it difficult to edit down?

I needed to bring two stories together, the ‘then’and the ‘now’, so to speak. I also wanted to insert cultural elements to bridge these two times. Dada ji’s storytelling and the roti making, were both appropriate common threads linking the past and the present.

The biggest challenge was to pare down the word count and get everything said in a concise manner without compromising the essence of the story.

Mango Pickle is another food dada-ji loves. What is mango pickle? Do you have a regional preference?

Pickles are popular condiments in the cuisine of the Indian sub continent and serve to enhance the taste of a meal. They are made from certain vegetables and fruits that are chopped up into small pieces and cooked in oils, brine and a variety of spices. A high concentration of oil, spices and salt acts as a preservative.

Mango pickle is made from unripe, green mangoes and is pretty popular. Other pickles include lime, carrot, radish, cauliflower, ginger, etc. The Hindi or Urdu term for pickle is achar.

Indian cuisine is regional, extensive and varied. There is something from each region that I love… deep fried puri (deep fried roti) and saag (curried greens) from the North;

a well made lamb or goat biryani (rice stewed with meat) from Hyderabad, accompanied by a dahi ki chutney(yogurt sauce with onion, coriander leaf and green chilli); crispy dosa (crepes made with fermented lentil/rice flour) from the South;

syrupy rasgolla from the East and dhokla from the West. And I absolutely love pani puri, a very popular snack.

I shouldn't have asked that last question because now I am hungry. Farhana Zia, thanks so much for your time and congratulations again on a wonderful debut.

Cross posted @ my personal blog -Thehappynappybookseller

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