Category Archives: PICTURE BOOKS +
Sunflower Sisters by Monika Singh Gangotra and Michaela Dias-Hayes (2021). It’s out in the UK now and will be coming to the US as well.
This picture book is a story about bonds of love. The ones between best friends, Amrita and Kiki. The ones between mothers and their children. The ones made at special wedding celebrations. And, at its heart, the ones we have with ourselves. Amrita’s story encourages readers to beam like a sunflower, proud and bold. And to be a sunflower with and for others too.
It has captivating, joyful illustrations and a message that radiates affirmation, connection, and purpose.
Amrita is getting ready for a wedding in her South Asian family, and the bride is wearing face cream to lighten her skin. This, as well as a comment from Aunty about drinking tea, sets off discussion and discovery for the main character.
Amrita’s mum though, is a source of self-acceptance, a voice of encouraging Amrita to fiercely love herself as she is—and her skin tone that is beautiful as it is, always, as well as in a yellow lehenga, the color of a sunflower. In fact, it is Amrita’s yellow lehenga and effervescent sunflower-spirit that eventually convinces Aunty how beautiful she is wearing any color at all.
“…the skin we are in is EXACTLY as it is meant to be.”
Amrita’s best friend, Kiki, is at a wedding the same day as well. At the end, we see the girls unite and twirl together, vowing to love who they are as they bloom and grow. And we even get a glimpse on the last two spreads of how they do! (Hint: it has to do with being, doing, and also wearing what you love.)
Plus, there’s an explanation of colorism in the back for handy reference when speaking with kids about the book.
“From that moment on, the girls would make sure they felt like sunflowers every day.”
The author of this book has an effervescent sunflower-spirit herself, and I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with my friend Monika Singh Gangotra to ask her a few questions about Sunflower Sisters. She shares her wonderful answers below! Read on to hear what she has to say!
This Picture Book Life: What was the impetus for you to write Sunflower Sisters; what inspired the idea for this picture book and to explore colorism through family, friendship, and wedding celebrations?
Monika Singh Gangotra: Sunflower Sisters is a story that follows two best friends, Amrita and Kiki, on their journey through self-love, sisterhood and the power of loving one another. Specifically, this story focuses on the issue of familial colourism and how we can tackle this with love, kindness, acceptance, strength and honesty.
I wanted kids to have some books on their shelves that were rich in diversity, cultures of those they are growing up alongside, representative of multicultural communities, relatable characters, contexts and adventures, books that carried important messages for the world we live in and how they affect all of us. To empower readers to make positive change. Further, I wanted more representation for the way we live our lives. The buildings, our clothes, our neighbours whilst also addressing and raising awareness of cultural issues and cultural wonders that are still alive and present today.
Colourism is an issue that has followed me throughout my whole life and continues to do so to ALL South Asians in some way. With a deep-rooted history related to colonialism and caste, colourism has become incredibly engrained in the way South Asians view beauty and success. South Asian pop culture is saturated in colourism and our exposure and ideology is incredibly high. As I began to work in the beauty industry, what I was taught to believe about what is beautiful became incongruent with what I saw and felt for myself. And I wanted to create change. I feel social change is incredibly powerful through children and it is our responsibility as adults to help steer them in the direction of love.
In my experience, wedding celebrations have a large focus on beauty and the way a woman presents herself to the community. Much of my exposure in relation to colourism was in and around wedding celebrations. In saying that, I love weddings. The joy, the colours, the clothes! Weddings have always been occasions where I have felt I can truly express myself in terms of my style and felt would make a great setting for Amrita to be able to do the same.
TPBL: Sunflowers! Do you have a special connection to these radiant blooms?
Monika Singh Gangotra: I remember growing up and watching my mum walking around the front yard of our coastal home in the early morning. The sun high in the sky and the most beautiful and brightly coloured birds chirping loudly, eating from all her fruit trees she planted herself – pears, guava, peaches and a mango tree to name just to name a few.
As more and more birds began to come to our house to eat and party, Mum felt there wasn’t enough fruit on the trees to feed them all so she began to buy large bags of bird seed to scatter on the front yard. This bird seed mix had sunflower seeds and before we knew it, we had these incredible sunflowers growing in our front yard. As tall as can be. These were some of the best days and the most beautiful images of my mum that I carry in my heart and can see ever so clearly when I close my eyes and think of home.
This image of my mum and her sunflowers is how this came to be. I feel that sunflowers grow their best when they are surrounded by the warmth of the sun. I also noticed in her flowers that some of the sunflowers looked towards one another. This is the imagery that I have used in the book to describe the important relationships between Amrita, Kiki and their mothers.
Amrita looks up towards her mother for love and guidance (as the sun). Her mother provides her with a safe environment to grow full of warmth and love. Sisterhood is explained through Amrita and Kiki being sunflowers for themselves and also one another. That at times when their sun isn’t there, they can look towards each other and know they will always be there for one another – unconditionally.
TPBL: Both you and Michaela Dias-Hayes have relationships with fashion and textiles, and your Instagram often features your radiant, joyful wardrobe in exuberant photos. How did both your passions for fashion inevitably infuse Sunflower Sisters?
Monika Singh Gangotra: The story follows Amrita and Kiki in their journey to open their own fashion house, just as I have been so lucky to have done so in my own. Fashion is such a huge part of my personal expression.
Michaela incorporated prints from clothes she had seen from my own personal wardrobe in social media. That is why my most favourite page is the very last. The colours, the diversity, little hints of my own story and journey in the colours and prints used. My heart sang when I first saw that page and Owlet Press lovingly gifted me a framed copy of this spread to hang on my wall.
Thank you, Monika, for spending this time and sharing with us, and to you and Owlet Press for review copy and images!
This sunflower hair clip is playfully easy to make with no-bake modeling clay and will remind the wearer that, like Amrita and the Sunflower Sisters, they have their own ability to beam like this golden bloom. It could be used in a child’s hair or worn on some item of clothing or accessory or affixed to a piece of furniture or carried in a bag or pocket.
Any no-bake modeling clay (I used yellow, orange, pink, and brown and Crayola’s Model Magic variety.)
A hair clip on which to fasten the bloom.
Some gold thread if you’d like to add flecks of it as I have done.
Hot glue gun (to be used by the adult present).
From there, it’s just a matter of starting with the sunflower center by rolling a ball of clay and slightly flattening it Then, you shape a whole bunch of petals, mixing clay colors if you’d like, and then kneading each one onto the center so it’s attached. Layer by layer, petal by petal, however you like! I cut small pieces of gold thread to embed into some petals as well, taking inspiration from the sunflowers on the cover of Sunflower Sisters.
The finally step is attaching the flower to the clip. Before you glue it, wait until your clay is dry. The timing may be different depending on what kind you use, but if you wait 24 hours, I’m sure that’ll do the trick in any case. Simply affix it with a dollop of hot glue, hold a few seconds, wait, and wear!
I love giving away books and this is the most to a single blog reader I’ve ever had the pleasure of sending off! These 16 terrific books from the last couple of years are for an educator’s classroom or library to celebrate 8 years of This Picture Book Life and to celebrate all the vital work teachers do, entry details below!
The picture books:
Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This is How I Know: a Book about Seasons by Brittany Luby & Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley (2021). Translated by Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere.
Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera (2020).
The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung, illustrated by Julie Kwon (2021).
Together We March by Leah Henderson, illustrated by Tyler Feder (2021).
Pride Puppy by Robin Stevenson and Julie McLaughlin (2021).
Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Fahmida Azim (2021).
If Dominican Were a Color written by Sili Recio, illustrated by Brianna McCarthy (2021).
Princess Arabella at the Museum by Mylo Freeman (2021).
A Gift for Amma by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa (2020).
The Secret Fawn by Kallie George & Elly MacKay (2021).
Amazing Women of the Middle East by Wafa’ Tarnowska, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi, Sahar Haghgoo, Christelle Halal, Esteli Meza Margarida Esteves (2020).
Sato the Rabbit by Yuki Ainoya (2021).
The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth (2020).
My Bed by Rebecca bond, illustrated by Salley Mavor (2020).
Lift As You Climb by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (2020).
Toasty by Sarah Hwang (2021).
And quick update for any picture book creators out there: I’m super excited to be teaching another round of my online picture book revision workshop series starting August 7th! There are details about this special opportunity to REVISE your manuscript according to your voice and vision, RECEIVE encouragement and inspiration from me and the small group, and REVITALIZE your writing process on my website here! Or simply email me to get more info or sign up. Two scholarships at a significant discount available for participants with underrepresented/marginalized voices in publishing—we need your voices!
I’ve thought so much about connection during Covid as we all have. Despite distance, many of my relationships have gotten closer and more connected. On the other hand, a couple have receded. But overall, I’ve found sustaining ways to connect with people, with myself, and with my creativity during this long season. To that end, while most of us are still unable to connect in the ways we used to out of compassion and care for each other, I’ve rounded up 15 picture books that all touch on connection in some way, whether obvious or not. Connection of all kinds. Because really what we’ve learned is how very connected we are.
I hope some of these will encourage fresh ways to frame connection with kids in your life and to feel more connected to self, others, understanding, and the world through story.
Vy’s Special Gift by Ha-Giang Trinh and Evi Shelvia (2020). This mustard and periwinkle picture book features a girl waiting for a rice ration in Vietnam during COVID and the imaginative acts of kindness she shows to others, a model of connection and creativity in the most stretching, leanest times.
Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker & April Harrison (2020). Nana goes to school with Zura for Grandparents’ Day in this exquisitely illustrated picture book. In class, she shares a quilt from her home country of Ghana to explain the traditional facial markings she has, inviting everyone to engage with the meaningful symbols that grace it.
The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam (2020). Inspired by the creator’s own parents’ experience fleeing Vietnam when Thao Lam was a child, this tells parallel stories: two journeys, two boats, and opens and closes with a coming together of both.
Neighbors by Kasya Denisevich (2020), at its heart is about empathy, a kind of connection we can engage in from anywhere as well as through reading and also, like the narrator, through imagination and curiosity.
Hot Pot Night by Vincent Chen (2020). In this one, neighbors actually gather, everyone contributing something for the hot pot they’ll share together!
All Because you Matter written by Tami Charles, illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner Bryan Collier (2020). This stunner is an ode to a child. A Black child. Connected to their ancestors. Connected to the love of their parents. Connected to how they ARE matter, the stuff of the universe. That they matter, tremendously so.
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak (2020). A stunning, uplifting book that follows the journey of poi being made from farming to a community lū’au.
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, art by Hatem Aly (2019). A little sister bubbles with excitement and pride on the first day of school, which is also her older sister’s first day of hijab. The special bond of siblings and traditions and family buoys when faced with hurtful reactions.
My Bed: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep Around the World words by Rebecca Bond, pictures by Salley Mavor (2020). The coziest exploration of how some kids sleep in different countries with art stitched from fabric!
My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña (2019) is a portrait of a late afternoon spent by the main character riding through her hometown of Corona, CA on the back of her Papi’s motorcycle. “No matter how far I go from this place or how much it changes, this city will always be with me.”
What If… written by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Mike Curato (2018) embodies the spirit of invention. The text and art work together to take us on a vivid, surprising journey of imagination and persistence, the two most important components of any creative process.
At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (2019). A story with weaving at its center that embodies connection. A family is linked to a female pilot serving far away, a tribute to the high proportion of Native American and Alaska Native Nation women who are service members.
In a Jar by Deborah Marcero (2020) is a book for anyone yearning to hang onto moments, to savor and cherish them, and for anyone who loves someone who is separated by the distance of miles but connected by memories—even new ones still traded and shared. (Find a craft post for In a Jar here.)
Delivery by Aaron Meshon (2017) is a mostly wordless story full of fun and surprise as a box of love (and cookies) travels around the world in unexpected ways to its destination.
Hello, Rain! by Kyo Maclear + Chris Turnham (2021). Filled with classic and muted but jubilant illustrations and musical text, a kid and their dog go exploring in the rain to experience its sounds and sensations and observe how the world and creatures respond.