This year is a banner year for author Rajani LaRocca. She has published two novels for young adults as well as four picture books for children.
Welcome to the International Examiner, Rajani. How did you get started writing children’s books?
I love books and writing since childhood, but I also knew from an early age that I wanted to be a doctor. When I said to my teacher in a high school creative writing class, “I love writing, but I know it won’t be my career because I want to be a doctor,” he said, “ Who Said You Have To Choose? He brought books from authors who were doctors, which sowed a seed in my mind. During my medical studies and my first motherhood, I didn’t have time, but 10 years ago I decided to try again to be creative. It quickly became clear to me that I wanted to write for children, because the stories I cared about the most were the ones I read as a child.
What were your favorite books when you were a kid?
My all time favorite was Westing’s game by Ellen Raskin. I loved the large cast of characters, the central mystery, and the brave kid protagonist. I also loved all of Madeleine L’Engle’s novels, especially The arm of the starfish, which involves marine biology where the line between science and science fiction is wonderfully blurred. When I visited my family in India, I fell in love with Amar Chitra Katha comics that depicted stories from Indian history, literature and mythology. As someone who grew up in the United States, these books have given me an invaluable connection to where I am from.
Since 2018, you have published eight widely acclaimed books. How do you balance family responsibilities and being a doctor with such a prolific writing career?
When you like something, you always find the time to do it. In a way, I think having two busy careers forces me to be more effective. And being a working mother means that I write in the “nooks and crannies” of my days: sitting in the parking lots at school or in piano lessons or on the sports fields at half-time. I dictate into my phone, trying to capture ideas when they come in. I wrote early in the morning and late at night. I also set short and long term writing goals for myself.
What are the next books for you?
I will go and come back will be published by Candlewick on March 29, 2022. It’s a picture book about a little girl who visits family in India and feels lonely and homesick. Her grandmother makes her feel better by playing, reading and eating. When the grandmother visits the daughter in the United States and she is homesick herself, the daughter makes her feel better. The story is built around a Tamil phrase where people never say “goodbye” but rather “I will come and go”, which contains the promise of return. My next mid-level novel, Switch, with Harper Collins is released in the fall of 2022. They are musical twin sisters who go their separate ways, pretend to be summer camp, and discover that music helps them reunite.
Where three oceans meet by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
It is a wonderful meditation on the sense of family and the feeling of oneness that one can feel with people in vast natural spaces. Young Sejal and Mum live in the United States and are currently visiting Mum’s Mum Pati in South India. Together, they plan a tour of some cities, meeting friends along the way. The trip is rich in experiences for Sejal such as traveling on the Indian Railway, tasting new food, shopping in bazaars, praying in temples, his first boat ride. Sejal never wants the trip to end, and yet she cannot wait for the highlight of the trip: Kanyakumari, the southernmost point of India, where three oceans – the Indian Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Indian Ocean Arabia and the Bay of Bengal – meet.
As three strands of fragile hair form a strong braid, these three women of different ages and experiences discovered during their journey that they form a strong family. The work of art is full of cultural details that only a skilled artist steeped in culture can convey.
Seven golden rings by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
The talented writer-illustrator duo return with a charming folk tale of how a brilliant young man from ancient India advances through life using his skillful mind. Bhagat is a poor young man who barely makes a living in a dusty corner of the kingdom of Rajah. The king loves music and the arts, but he is not a good manager of resources, so his people are suffering. Bhagat one day decides to invest his last resources in a musical performance in front of the Rajah, hoping to gain a place in the royal troupe. Bhagat uses mathematics to stretch his meager resources away. Although he does not qualify for the troop, his clever mathematical, binary computing, and musical abilities convince the Rajah to hire him as a planner and thinker for his kingdom. The expressive artwork is imbued with historical children’s art techniques from India.
Bracelets for Bina’s brothers by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat
For the Indian feast of Raksha Bandhan, Bina is determined to make bespoke bracelets for her three older brothers based on their preferences for colors they like and colors they don’t. Bina uses colors and pearl patterns to weave memorable testimonies of her affection. This book is aimed at young people who are only learning diagrams, the basis of mathematics. The clever work of art conveys the joyful love that Bina and her family share while telling her own smaller, complementary story. It also conveys the essence of the festival of Raksha Bandhan, which celebrates the bond between siblings.
The secret code in you: everything about your DNA by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Steven Salerno
This exceptional book has it all: history, science, philosophy and even a banana chemistry experiment. Through rhythmic, rhyming prose, he explains the essential complexity of cells, DNA and genetics in a way that is simple for young minds. The essence of the book shows the dichotomy between the predictive nature of the genetic code and human freedom of choice. Even explaining how the body works, the words inspire children to look beyond the limitless possibilities of what mind and body can do together. Who “you” are is unique. The illustration is fun and fresh and adds to the playful spirit of the book. It changes style, accent and meaning as the words move from page to page. This book is a must have for all children’s libraries and children’s home libraries around the world.