Today I am sharing an interview with Monika Singh Gangotra, author of The Gifts That Grow, illustrated by Michaela Dias-Hayes. This is the duos second picture book, and having loved Sunflower Sisters (review here), I couldn’t wait to get the chance to talk to Monika about The Gifts That Grow.
This new story is a tale of generational love expressed through the importance of nurturing our environment for future generations to enjoy, even though we may never benefit from its rewards ourselves.
The Gifts That Grow is a beautiful celebration of intergenerational relationships and Indian family traditions. It is inspired by true events from Monika’s own family and so with no more ado I will hand over to Monika…
Hi Monika, thank you so much for talking to me. I have to start by talking about your first book, Sunflower Sisters, which came out last year. How did you feel to have your debut nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal, and then shortlisted for the Little Rebels Award? Congratulations!!
These nominations have truly been an honour. To have your work recognised on these platforms has made me feel like there is room for stories like mine, and more importantly stories that tackle some difficult topics. It is wonderful to feel validated in that my voice, and voices like mine, matter.
Your new book revisits the same characters, Amrita and Kiki, as well as introducing some new ones. What was the inspiration behind this story?
The Gifts That Grow is based on the true story of my grandmother who brought a Jamun Tree seedling when she came to visit us and planted it in our backyard. She would always tell me that the person who plants the tree rarely gets to eat the sweet fruit, but it is the responsibility of the person who plants the tree to take care of it and I have carried those words with me ever since. In how I treat others and the world around me. Especially in such times where we are in the midst of climate change and the impact our carbon footprint is having, I felt this story was very important for all readers to understand their responsibility in nurturing our environment for future generations to enjoy even though they may not benefit from it themselves.
Was this second book already buzzing around your head when you wrote Sunflower Sisters? Did you always know there was more to explore with Amrita and Kiki beyond that first book?
Yes, absolutely. I always had this story with me and wanted it to be a part of Amrita and Kiki’s journey. I feel they are the perfect role models for me to pass on these important messages to young readers.
What do you hope readers will take from the book?
I hope they feel connected in some way to this story and understand the lesson and its significance to how they can take care of their world, in a completely selfless manner, and I hope it empowers them to make change. To give them hope, to learn about a culture that may not be their own or feel a sense of belonging in seeing similarities to their own lives. I hope that my books act as both windows and mirrors for my readers whilst also sending a powerful message full of warmth, love, education, empowerment and kindness.
Did you always want to be an author?
Absolutely yes. I love reading. And writing always felt like a natural expression for me to make sense of the world around me. Writing for me is always an emotional and cathartic experience.
What were your favourite books growing up?
I have always loved picture books and continue to grow my own personal collection. But one of my most favourite books to ever have read as a child was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I bought a copy from a school fair when I was 9 years old which I still have on my bookshelf today. And the main reason why I loved it so much is because the main character lived in India for a short while. I just adored reading those (very small) parts over and over. That tiny portion of the book made me feel somehow so connected to the character. Looking back, I realise how little representation there was for me in the books I read as a young south Asian girl growing up in Australia.
What advice would you give to someone trying to build a career as a picture book author?
This advice was given to me by my publisher and has stuck with me ever since: “Tell the real story”.
Sometimes I tend to overthink my writing. The message and my truth would then often get blurred or clouded by what I think others might want from me and I wouldn’t ever be happy with an end product. However, my publisher showed me that my voice is unique and powerful and that there is a place for stories like mine. I feel this advice set me free and has helped me immensely. So, my advice for anyone trying to build a career as a picture book author is to stay true to your voice. It is completely unique to you and the world will want to hear it.
Thank you so much Monika!
The Gifts That Grow was published by Owlet Press, 5 July 2022
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary feature contains my honest opinion.