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WNDMG: South Asian Picture Book Biography: Meera Sriram talks about BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: THE ART & LIFE OF AMRITA SHER-GIL

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! I’m pleased to welcome Meera Sriram, author of BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: THE ART & LIFE OF AMRITA SHER-GIL (Penny Candy Books, 2021), illustrated by Ruchi Bakshi Sharma,  and other titles for an interview at Mixed-Up Files today.

Hi Meera, thanks for joining us today at Mixed-Up Files.

About BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: THE ART & LIFE OF AMRITA SHER-GIL

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS is a non-fiction picture book for children (6-11 years). It is  illustrated beautifully by Mumbai-based artist Ruchi Bakshi Sharma. This book is a biography of Amrita Sher-Gil, a remarkable painter and a pioneer of early 20th century modern art. Amrita lived and created art on her own terms. Her father was a Sikh scholar from India and her mother was a Hungarian Jewish opera singer. Throughout her life, Amrita traveled between Europe and India. She was also a woman ahead of her times in a male dominated art world. This story layers Amrita’s journey navigating cultures over her artistic journey trying to discover where her art belonged.

On Amrita being a rebellious artist

Even as a little girl, Amrita hated being taught art. She always believed art came from the heart. Growing up, her art reflected her bicultural identity. While in Paris, she learned a great deal about European art. She painted many portraits of herself, her family members, friends, and lovers of both sexes. And she did this unabashedly. During this time, she also longed to paint what she’d experienced in India. Eventually, she found her “voice” by fusing western techniques and Indian subjects – something that was ground-breaking in the artistic world during that period. Amrita also pushed boundaries in how she centered women in her paintings. As a feminist, her art was unapologetic about brown female nudity, and her work celebrated ordinary, less privileged women at a time when women were mostly objectified in art.

On reading and writing picture books and how they are an integral part of your writing career

I did not read picture books as a child growing up in India. I fell in love with them when I started reading them to my daughter many years ago. I was blown away by the themes, aesthetics, and more importantly, the impact they can have on children. I believe they are an intensely powerful medium as they have the ability to influence young minds. When I noticed the invisibility of children of color as well as the entire gamut of immigrant experiences, I decided to tell our stories. I hope to continue to write about people, places, and experiences less commonly seen in stories for children.

On a moment in your life that inspired this story

I was sitting on my bed in my parents’ home on a summer night in India. Someone sent me a New York Times article on Amrita Sher-Gil pointing out what an incredible story it would make. I’d known about Amrita Sher-Gil. In fact we’d picked up a picture book for my daughter a few years before that. However, the article prompted me to dig deeper. I sat there obsessed for several hours reading up on the internet. During this time I made a small but striking personal connection with some of her experiences, especially around identity, life across continents, and blending cultures while creating. In those wee hours, I found the inspiration to tell her story.

On the process of immersing yourself in Amrita’s story and writing it for children

Initially, I was reading up every news bit, essay, and article I could find on the internet. Later, I managed to lay my hands on an important primary source, two volumes of AMRITA SHER-GIL: A SELF-PORTRAIT IN LETTERS AND WRITINGS (Tulika Books, 2010) by Amrita’s nephew Vivan Sundaram. This is a compilation of Amrita’s letters and writings along with notes by the author offering chronology and context. It also includes over a hundred reproductions of Amrita’s paintings and many amazing photographs. I researched and made notes for months. The narrative flowed out lyrically in my first draft and stayed that way. However, it took me many revisions and ample aid from critique partners to weed out details and extract the essence for her emotional trajectory as she tried to find out where she and her art belonged.

As an Indian American, Meera has lived equal parts of her life in both countries. Previously an electrical engineer, she now writes for children and advocates for diversifying bookshelves. Meera is the author of several picture books including THE YELLOW SUITCASE (Penny Candy Books, 2019), illustrated by Meera Sethi, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (Penny Candy Books, 2021), illustrated by Ruchi Bakshi Sharma and DUMPLING DAY (Barefoot Books, 2021), illustrated by Inés de Antuñano. Her book, A GIFT FOR AMMA (Barefoot Books, 2020), illustrated by Mariona Cabassa, is the winner of the 2021 South Asia Book Award and the Foreword Reviews Indies Silver Award. She has also co-authored several kids’ books published in India. Meera believes in the transformative power of stories and likes to write about people, places, and experiences less visible in children’s literature. For more information, please visit: http://www.meerasriram.com.

2021 NBA Longlist

2021 National Book Award Longlist

The 2021 National Book Awards longlist is out– and the young reader’s list features a blend of truly impressive work, both fiction and nonfiction:

Safia Elhillo, “Home Is Not a Country”  Make Me a World / Penguin Random House

Shing Yin Khor, “The Legend of Auntie Po
Kokila / Penguin Random House

Darcie Little Badger, “A Snake Falls to Earth
Levine Querido

Malinda Lo, “Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Dutton Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House

Kyle Lukoff, “Too Bright to See
Dial Books / Penguin Random House

Kekla Magoon, “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People
Candlewick Press

Five finalists will be announced on October 5, and the winner will be named on November 17.

To see the entire longlist, click here.

Remembering 9-11 – Twenty Years Later

9-11 Book List

Remembering 9-11 — 20 Years Later

It’s hard to grasp the fact that it’s been 20 years–and a whole generation of readers has been born since the horrific events of September 11, 2001 unfolded in New York City, Washington, D.C, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It can be challenging for those of us who lived through this to teach it as history–the pain can still seem so present, especially given the current context of our exit from Afghanistan.

For teachers, librarians, and homeschooling parents looking for books to help illustrate 9-11 lessons, here are some ideas for middle-grade books:

9-11 Booklist

Saadia Faruqi, YUSUF AZEEM IS NOT A HERO (Quill Tree, 2021)

9-11 Book List

Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life in the small town of Frey, Texas—and nearly that long waiting for the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can win.

Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an anniversary that has everyone in his Muslim community on edge.

With “Never Forget” banners everywhere and a hostile group of townspeople protesting the new mosque, Yusuf realizes that the country’s anger from two decades ago hasn’t gone away. Can he hold onto his joy—and his friendships—in the face of heartache and prejudice?

((Read Saadia Faruqi’s guest post on Mixed-up Files series We Need Diverse MG))

Alan Gratz, GROUND ZERO (Scholastic, 2021)

Booklist for teaching 9-11

When 9-year-old Brandon Cruz goes to work with his father the morning of September 11, 2001, he has no idea they’ll be at GROUND ZERO for a terrorist attack. Brandon’s not in school because he’s been suspended for punching a kid who stole a pair of Wolverine gloves from one of his friends. Leaving his father at work on the 107th floor of the North Tower, Brandon heads down to the Tower’s underground mall to buy a replacement pair. He’s in an elevator when the first plane hits and becomes a hero when he helps save the other passengers. Desperate to find his father, Brandon tries to make his way up back up to the 107th floor. On the way, he finds himself in need of rescue. He’s saved by a man named Richard, who becomes his friend and guardian as they try to escape a building collapsing around them. Eighteen years later, 11-year-old Reshmina and her family are dealing with the aftermath of that attack — constant battles between the Taliban and American soldiers who have been in Afghanistan since December 2001. Her twin brother, Pasoon, is determined to join the Taliban, and Reshmina seems powerless to stop him. After a firefight between the Taliban and American soldiers, Reshima finds the only American survivor, a young soldier named Taz. Risking everything, her family offers him shelter — a decision they may regret as a fierce battle begins between the Americans and the Taliban. (From Common Sense Media)

Jewell Parker Rhodes, TOWERS FALLING (Little Brown, 2016)

9-11 Anniversary Book List

When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Dèja can’t help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

 

Nora Raleigh Baskin, NINE, TEN (Atheneum Books 2016)

9-11 Anniversary Book List

Ask anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center.

But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Naheed has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Aimee is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business.

These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined. Award-winning author Nora Raleigh Baskin weaves together their stories into an unforgettable novel about that seemingly perfect September day—the day our world changed forever.

((Here’s an interview Dorian Cirrone did with author Nora Raleigh Baskin back in 2016))

 

Lauren Tarshis with illustrator Corey Egbert, I SURVIVED THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2011  (Graphic Novel #4) (Graphix, 2021)

9-11 Anniversary Book List

The only thing Lucas loves more than football is his Uncle Benny, his dad’s best friend at the firehouse where they both work. Benny taught Lucas everything about football. So when Lucas’s parents decide the sport is too dangerous and he needs to quit, Lucas has to talk to his biggest fan.

The next morning, Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright, beautiful day in New York as he heads to the firehouse. But just as he arrives, everything changes — and nothing will ever be the same again.

 

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Mission Statement

From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.

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