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OCA Weekly Author Feature: Pooja Makhijani
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OCA Weekly Author Feature: Pooja Makhijani

As a part of the OCA National APA Heritage Month Children's Book Tour, OCA will do weekly interviews with participating authors on their experience as an APA children's book author.

This week, we are featuring Pooja Makhijani, author of Mama's Saris.

Pooja Makhijani is an essayist, journalist and writer of children's literature. She was raised in Edison "Little India,” New Jersey, and now lives in New York City with her husband and too many books.

She is the editor of Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America, an anthology of essays by women that explores the complex ways in which race shapes American lives and families, and the author of a picture book, Mama’s Saris. She maintains the most comprehensive online bibliography of South Asia and the South Asian diaspora in children's literature. It has become a valuable resource for educators and librarians. Learn more here!

Who or what inspired you to write your first book?

When I was a child and went to my friends' houses for playtime, we used to pull out their mothers' fancy clothes and play "Dress Up." I remember all of us trying on hats and shawls and scarves and gloves, falling over in leather pumps and getting tangled in colorful costume jewelry, putting on red lipstick (that always landed on our chins) and pink blush (that found its way to our noses). When I got home, though, it was my mother's saris - her dress up clothes - which captivated me. She wore them only for special occasions, unlike her mother or mother-in-law for whom the sari was an everyday garment. So on birthdays, Diwali (Hindu New Year), family weddings and receptions, and trips to the temple, she would take out the bag, her bindis and her bangles, and wrap herself in yards of material. I would just watch - as six yards was too much for me to handle - and instead would steal her dupattas, beautiful decorative scarves that she mixed and matched with various Indian outfits, and drape them as I thought a sari would be. This compromise sufficed until I was tall enough to wear her saris and, finally, old enough to buy my own. I wrote Mama's Saris after realizing that my own fascination with my mother's fancy clothes was not unique. It seemed like all my female friends, regardless of ethnicity or age, remember, at one point, being captivated by their mother's grown-up clothes. Everyone noted that they thought their mothers were just beautiful and, by dressing up like them (and emulating everything else that they did), they would be just as beautiful too.

What were your favorite children’s books growing up?

A very incomprehensive list: Don Quixote, Pride and Prejudice, the Nancy Drew series, Little Women, A Hundred Dresses, Winnie the Pooh, Anne of Green Gables, anything by Enid Blyton, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, and my Amar Chitra Katha comic books.

How does being an APA affect your writing style?

I don’t think it affects my writing style; I think it affects the topics I choose to write about. Growing up, I would search library shelves in the hopes of finding a character "like me". I never had much luck. Finding themselves in books gives children a sense of their culture, history, and importance - especially when their cultures and experiences have been marginalized by the mainstream. In "Diverse Learners, Diverse Texts: Exploring Identity and Difference Through Literary Encounters” in The Journal of Literacy Research, Dr. Steven Z. Athanases reports, "When students identified with characters and texts, they reflected on personal concerns, including family nostalgia and loss; adolescent challenges; and culture, gender, and sexual-identity formation… Students identified ways in which cultural experiences depicted in literary works sparked identification in them and, at times, a sense of cultural pride and validation.”

Do you have a favorite APA author?

I read widely so I don’t have a "favorite” author but I like Marina Budhos, Uma Krishnaswami, Sheba Karim, Mitali Perkins, Janet Wong, An Na, Salman Rushdie, Allen Say, and Gene Luen Yang among many, many, many others.

What challenges do you face when writing your books?

Finding time!

What do you like to do in your free time outside of writing?

I love to dance, to take photographs, listen to Bollywood music and NPR podcasts, play tennis, and bake.

Pooja will be reading at two upcoming events in the DC/MD area and again in New York on May 29th.

Come see Pooja this Saturday at the MLK Jr. Library for the APA Heritage Month Celebration!

Roscoe Nix Elementary School
1100 Corliss Street, Silver Spring, MD 20903
Friday, May 14
Author: Pooja Makhijani

D.C. Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
901 G St. NW, Washington, DC 20001
Saturday, May 15 - 1:30PM
Author: Pooja Makhijani

OCA-Westchester Hudson Valley Chapter
Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival
Kensico Dam Plaza County Park, Valhalla, New York 10595
Saturday, May 29
Author: Pooja Makhijani

Or attend one of the other many events in our APA Heritage Month Children's Book Tour:

OCA-Greater Los Angeles Chapter
Alhambra Civic Center Library
101 S. First St, Alhambra, CA 91801
Saturday, May 15
Author: Icy Smith

Los Angeles Chinatown Branch Library
639 N. Hill Street
Saturday, May 29
Author: Lisa Yee

OCA-St. Louis Chapter
Chinese Culture Day
Missouri Botanical Garden
4344 Shaw Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63110
Saturday, May 15

OCA-New Jersey Chapter
Forest Avenue School
118 Forest Ave, Verona, New Jersey 07044
Friday, May 21
Author: Kam Mak

OCA-Central Illinois Chapter
Thomas Metcalf School
7000 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790-0001
Time: Monday, May 24
Author: Kam Mak

OCA-Las Vegas Chapter
Paseo Verde Library
280 S. Green Valley Pkwy, Henderson, NV 89012
Saturday, May 22
Author: Milly Lee

OCA-San Mateo Chapter
Foster City Public Library
1000 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City, CA 94404
Saturday, May 22
Author: Cynthia Chin-Lee  
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