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Fostering Inclusivity Through Storytelling

An interview with children's book author, Geshu Sugandh!

 

Welcome to another edition of The Confidence Loop's author interview series! Today I'm thrilled to spotlight Geshu Sugandh, the creative force behind BrooklynBiharn and the author of the bilingual foodies board book, "My Heart Would Like Some More, Please!"


As the founder of BrooklynBiharn, an independent boutique publishing platform, Geshu is a trailblazer in crafting stories that bridge linguistic and cultural gaps. Specializing in works in English and the Devanagari script applied to the Hindi language, her storytelling is deeply rooted in the rich tapestry of her family's linguistic and cultural experiences.


This board book takes young readers on a journey through India, exploring delightful snacks and treats. With charming illustrations by Lovyaa Garg, the story introduces us to a whimsical world where Bear and Bear's friend indulge in a decadent tea party, exploring an array of Indian snacks and treats. From one cup of chai to four murukkus, young readers not only count along but also discover the joy of multiculturalism through the lens of Indian cuisine.


Geshu's passion for storytelling and commitment to inclusivity are sure to leave an indelible mark on the world of children's literature. Stay tuned for an insightful conversation with the creative mind behind "My Heart Would Like Some More, Please!"


Written by Geshu Sugandh

Illustrated by Lovyaa Garg


Interview with Geshu Sugandh


Q - Can you please share your inspiration for wanting to create this story?


A - Discovering the magical world of children's board books and picture books in English was a turning point for me when my eldest was born five years ago. Board book classics like "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" became cherished reads for both of my kids, who are now three and five years old. Their simplicity, educational themes, and vivid illustrations captivated us from the newborn stages and continue to do so now. I often found myself naturally translating them into Hindi, nurturing our mixed-heritage family's Hindi-English bilingual journey. I also remember wishing for a book that included some of my favorite Indian food snacks growing up, which I could introduce to children. Books play a significant role in normalizing new foods for children starting their own food journeys. So, when I couldn't find the book I was looking for and noticed the lack of high-quality early literacy books in Hindi written in the Devanagari script, I felt inspired to help fill this gap.


My book blends my childhood memories of some of my favorite Indian snacks from Bihar, India, with a very hungry brown bear who ravishes the yummy treats just like the very hungry caterpillar, paying my homage to our two favorite Eric Carle’s classics in an Indian tea-party setting. Initially written only in Hindi, I later included English and added a phonics and food sensory guide to encourage open-ended cultural and linguistic exploration for everyone, especially in the critical early years of childhood.

 

Q - What is the main message you want to convey to young readers with this story?


A - This book celebrates the joy of discovering new languages and cultures through food. It captures the universal feeling of wanting more of our favorite snacks, even with full tummies – a sentiment playfully expressed as 'my heart would like some more, please' or ' ये दिल माँगे और’ [ye dil māng-e or with ‘e’ as in bed] in Hindi. Alongside this culinary delight, the book promotes mindful eating and an active lifestyle, intertwining culinary enjoyment with cultural, linguistic, and educational themes, opening a window to our diverse worlds.

 

Q - What advice would you give to parents, teachers, and caregivers on how to use your book as a tool?


A - A digital engagement guide, tailored for different age groups, is readily available on my website. It's sent directly to your inbox with the book purchase made on our site. This book offers a playful and interactive way to introduce bilingual vocabulary and numeracy to young learners. The included phonics guide and food descriptions aim to enhance both phonological and food-sensory awareness. I encourage adults to take the learning experience beyond the pages of the book. Why not try taste tests at local South Asian eateries, or bring these snacks to life in your kitchen? This approach transforms reading into a tangible, cultural adventure.


Interestingly, due to India's rich culinary diversity, even those who grew up in India may encounter some new snacks within these pages. This aspect makes the book a valuable tool for South Asian families to delve into the regional diversity of Indian food snacks, whether or not Hindi is their heritage language.


Additionally, for families fostering Hindi-English bilingualism with knowledge of Devanagari script, this book offers a unique opportunity. It helps normalize two languages and their scripts simultaneously from the newborn stage itself, laying a strong and equal foundation for biliteracy in English and Hindi in the phonic Devanagari script.

 

Q - I was blown away by the overall quality of your book! From the beautiful illustrations to the print and page quality, the finished product looks and feels so professional. Can you tell us a little bit about the design and publishing process?


A - Thank you so much for your kind words! The journey of bringing this book to life was a collaborative and thoughtful endeavor, particularly with our talented illustrator, Lovyaa Garg based out of India. Our goal was to authentically capture the vibrant essence of Indian snacks, along with the animated spirit of our hungry brown bear. To ensure we encourage early literacy, I considered the enthusiastic and independent exploration by little hands. This led to a choice of a board book format, which, though more challenging to produce than paperback or hardcover versions, offered the robustness I was seeking. I also chose a larger 10 x 8 inches board book format over the conventional 8 x 8 inches, despite the increased production costs. This decision was key in allowing us to present both Hindi and English texts in a manner that is easily accessible to our very young readers and adults sharing the book with them.


Our book stands out in the market where most Hindi-English board books either chose to crowd Hindi and English texts together along with Hindi transliteration in Roman script, or solely focus on Roman transliteration, often omitting the Devanagari script entirely.


It was crucial for me to craft a book that was not just durable but also visually captivating, providing a comparable reading experience as the other well-established English-language board books in the market. My hope is that our book will be a treasured addition to a child's cultural and linguistic exploration journey through food AND early bilingual reading journey, in Hindi (Devanagari script) and in English.

 

Q - In the spirit of "authors supporting authors", what advice would you give to aspiring children's book authors who are just starting out? Any key insights or tips that you'd like to share with them?


A - To aspiring authors, I encourage you to write the story you yearn for. Today's wealth of self-publishing tools offers immense opportunities, but it's crucial to stay true to your creative vision. In creating my board book, I chose not to hire an editor. My aim was to preserve my vision for a book that nurtures Hindi-English bilingualism, including literacy in the Devanagari script AND opens doors for children of all backgrounds to embark on an open-ended language and cultural exploration. Given the experimental nature of the project, I was uncertain if I could find an editor who fully grasped my vision for the board book. Despite grappling with self-doubts for four years and having limited prior knowledge of the publishing industry and board book manufacturing, I decided to publish this year thanks to the encouragement of my husband and other self-published authors.


Furthermore, I have chosen not to distribute my book on Amazon yet,  opting instead to collaborate with local bookstores, online small businesses, and book stockists to create a distribution network, in addition to our website. While this decision brings its own set of challenges as a debut author and publisher, it has also fostered direct connections with readers and other key stakeholders in the publishing industry, enriching my learning experience.


My advice is not to fear unconventional paths. Carve your own way, just as you envision it. The road less traveled may bring challenges, but the journey of bringing your story to life the way you want to is an incredibly rewarding and enlightening experience.

 

Q - What is one of your favorite children's books and why?


A - My favorite children's book is "Press Here" by Herve Tullet, a gem I discovered through my children. Its interactivity, inclusivity, simplicity, and playful silliness make it a book that not only entertains but also actively engages young minds (of all ages) in a fun and unique manner.

 

Thank you to Geshu Sugandh for sharing her journey and insights with The Confidence Loop! To learn more about this author, you can follow her on social media @brooklynbiharn, and her book, "My Heart Would Like Some More, Please!" can be purchased here!

 

Are you a children's book author with a story to share? The Confidence Loop is always looking for new and exciting ways to promote confidence, acceptance, and overall kindness through children's books. So, please get in touch via the Contact Us page, Instagram, or Facebook!


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