(NOTE: As my schedule grows busier, I won't be able to post much, but please enjoy my past posts. I have years full of entries here chronicling my writing journey starting from my first published book, The Whole Story of Half a Girl! Signing off for now...)
I'm beyond thrilled to announce that among other amazing accolades, including a Walter Dean Myers Honor Award, and The Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children's Literature, The Night Diary, won a 2019 Newbery Honor! Here's my Facebook post that I wrote after I got "the call." I will never forget the morning of January 28, 2019.
"The Night Diary was awarded a Newbery Honor today. I'm so grateful and amazed. When I started writing this book, I wondered if readers, especially young readers in the US, would be interested in a story about the 1947 Partition of India. I struggled with how best to tell this story. I deeply explored and asked hard questions about my own Indian identity, my mixed background, and wondered many times if I could, or if I should attempt it. But my father's story, my aunts and uncles' stories, my grandparents' story, and all the stories I discovered in my research, moved me, inspired me, and kept me going. I wasn't sure if I was a brave enough or a good enough writer to do it justice, to honor all those who survived partition and those who did not, and to pursue my own questions.
I also grew up a reader. I've read many Newbery award winning and honor winning books, running my fingers over the shiny stickers. Now these two things things are joined. I really can't believe it. But I'm so proud, happy, and also completely stunned. I'm thankful to my dad for sharing his story with me, and my mom, because she's always been there for me, and my whole family, friends (Sarah Hinawi gets a special mention for those brownies this morning!), crit partners Sheela Chari, Sayantani DasGupta, and Heather Tomlinson and my ever supportive hubby David Beinstein, who is, at this very moment, taking my car in to get fixed and to my amazing agent Sara Crowe at Pippin Properties, who always believed in this story and to my brilliant editor Namrata Tripathi at Penguin/Kokila who helped me be brave (because she is one of the bravest people I know) and made the book better. You may not have wanted a whole speech, but I can't help it! It's an emotional day! A huge congrats to winner Meg Medina and fellow honor winner Catherine Gilbert Murdock! Forever thankful to the Newbery Committee! Now, popping open the champagne!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
And if you'd like to read more about how I felt on the winning day, check out Mr. Schu's interview:
I'm not even entirely sure and I'm on one! But that's the official name. Schools and libraries all over the country have "mock" Newbery contests and I'm honored that The Night Diary has made an appearance on some of these lists. So...for the next several weeks I'll be visiting a few of these spots! I really love connecting with readers. When a student comes up to me on a visit and tells me that The Night Diary made them think, ask questions they haven't asked before, learn something new, or one of my favorite reactions--that it provided a way for them to connect to their own South Asian background or family history--that's the best reward I could get for writing this book.
Below is the tour schedule. Some of the library visits might be open to the public. Please check with the library if you'd like and maybe I'll see you on the road!
We tell our kids not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do it. We are programmed to size up the situation around us, make a judgement, and proceed. Unfortunately, in that split second, we can only see through the lens we have at that moment.
In terms of literally judging books by their covers, I know when I walk into a bookstore and browse the tables for new offerings, often my attention goes to what I find pleasing, interesting, and aligned with what I perceive is my taste. Sometimes I'm right, sometimes I'm wrong. After I pick up the book I'm drawn to, I flip it open, and look deeper.
I think it's okay to have our snap judgments as long as we always look past them, question those judgements, and keep our minds open to whatever we may find inside.
When I saw the cover for my new book, The Night Diary, I couldn't have been happier. I love how it tells a story, but leaves room for more understanding. My favorite book covers often do. I remember when I was a child, after reading a book I loved, I would go back to the cover and stare at it. I liked to see how my new understanding of what was inside changed the way I looked at the cover. It was always different, every single time.
Hopefully when readers look at this cover, they'll be drawn in by the story it tells, curious about why the hands are there, why they're all a little different, why they're holding on, and why they're letting go. Maybe the reader will recognize some of the South Asian details on each wrist: Hindu Kalava/Mauli (the red thread), the Sikh kara (iron or steel bracelet), Sindhi ajrak (block printed fabric), the bangles, or the bare wrists signifying that the person might be Muslim.
The last hand on the bottom is my favorite. To me, it's my main character, Nisha, writing in her diary. There she is, right there on the cover! It's the window into the book for me, the final image that might catch a reader's eye before they dive in.
I'm so grateful to Kelley Brady, the cover artist and book designer, Dial's design team, and my editor, Namrata Tripathi. It means so much to an author when the people who work on your cover bring to life the essence of your story.
I like to think of the reader sitting quietly after they finish my book and looking at the cover again. Do they remember what they thought when they first looked at the cover, and how the meaning of it changed, and possibly how they were changed by looking inside? I hope the reader holds on to that experience--that process of judging, looking deeper, and seeing again.
Lots of exciting things are happening with The Night Diary, coming out from Dial on March 6! So far, the book has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal, so I'm feeling grateful, a little dumbstruck, and anxious to get out there and share this book. This spring, I'll be traveling to many spots in the country visiting schools, meeting booksellers, and speaking at some exciting conferences. Bear with me while I update my appearances section!
Today, however, I wanted to announce that Listening Library is doing an audio version of The Night Diary! I've never had one of my books recorded as an audio book. An amazing actress, Priya Ayyar, is reading the book, but I had the pleasure of recording my dedication and author's note. It was a little scary, but Listening Library's Executive Producer, Orli Moscowitz, and Director, Christina Rooney, made it easy. Here are a couple of pics of me looking all professional at the mic! More to come soon. I'm buckling my seat belt because I have a feeling it's going to be quite a ride!
Last week I wrote my acknowledgement page for my upcoming middle-grade novel, The Night Diary. It’s an emotional experience, because I’m grateful to so many people for so many things. But I have to remember that this act is supposed to be book focused. I’m lucky enough to have been through the process a few times and the same thing always happens. Beyond thanking those closest to the project (and I won’t mention all those amazing people here, because I’ll save it for the book), I have an urge to thank everyone who has meant anything to me, ever.
I want to thank all my friends and family. I want to thank my loving pet collie I had when I was a kid who always made me feel worthy. I want to thank my 4th grade teacher who taught us about playwriting and Arabic. I want to thank my first best friend I ever had because she showed me I could have a best friend. I want to thank my favorite babysitter who often took me and my sister after school to feed wheat thins to those horses nearby. I want to thank my “mean” high school English teacher who made me revise that essay five times until I actually learned something. I want to thank the nice lady at the bakery who gave me my first job. I want to thank the adults I knew growing up who were artists because I saw that one could be such a thing. I want to thank the boy who asked me to my first dance. I want to thank anyone who has ever invited me to a party.
There’s more, many more, but for the book, I stick to those who directly impacted the project. That’s the thing, though. Whenever you achieve something important to you, all those special people in your life, starting from your very first memories to today, are part of the achievement. They are part of the building blocks which created whatever allowed you to believe that you could do something.
Then I thought, what a great writing prompt! What a great life prompt. So for anyone who’s interested, take some time today and write your acknowledgement page. You can write it for anything you consider an achievement. Maybe the achievement is simply that you are a person who is a lot more good than bad, and that you’ve survived everything you’ve been through so far, and that you’ve cared about people and they’ve cared about you.
Maybe write it because you’re standing here this morning, ready to do it all over again, and there’s someone out there who you want to thank for that.
It happened like this. Several months ago my new book idea and I started a relationship. I saw it from across the room and I had to introduce myself. We met for coffee and I fell pretty hard. Before I knew what was happening, I became obsessed. We spent every day together and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Spring turned into summer and as the heat, endless light, and unpredictable schedules began to distract me, something shifted. We saw each other less, then not at all.
To be honest, it started to annoy me. Little things like where was the plot actually going and why didn’t the characters seem as interesting as they did in the beginning? Were the themes too complicated or perhaps too simple? The glow faded and I began to feel lost. Then it was August. The kids were out of camp and I was full on mom. September came, though, as it always does. School started and my fall routine returned. As I prepared my courses and read instead of wrote, I thought a lot about the book that came before this new idea. That book had a clear beginning, middle, and end. Though I was revising it, that book had developed characters who still captivated me. It even had a contract. Could this new book idea ever mean as much to me as that other book?
I hadn’t spent time with the new manuscript in over a month. I felt guilty, disappointed with myself, mad that I could let a good thing go like that. But I kept avoiding it. What if all those passionate feelings were really gone? What if I had just been kidding myself?
Then one day, a rainy Monday of all days, a day when I had slept poorly the night before, when the kids grumbled about school as I gently pushed them out the door, after an annoying appointment, a few tedious errands, and some work emails, I decided to open my manuscript out of the blue. As soon as I began to read, I remembered what I loved about it. It was still beautiful to me, in its broken and raw sort of way. We started hanging out again. I think it might be serious.
This is my process. Sometimes I start “dating” a manuscript, wander away for a bit, and then when I return, the magic isn’t there at all, like how could I have ever thought this was a thing not there. It’s frustrating and sad when that happens, but I stay in the game because I know I’ll fall in love eventually. It’s happened before, and it will happen again.