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An Interview with Building a Dream Author Darshana Khiani

 

KIRSTEN W. LARSON INTERVIEWS DARSHANA KHIANI,

AUTHOR OF BUILDING A DREAM

Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

(Eerdmans BYR; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

An unforgettable tale of persistence and problem-solving, based on the amazing true story of a Thai soccer team who made their own place to play.

In Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay, atop a network of stilts, floats the village of Koh Panyee—where a group of boys loved soccer but had nowhere to practice. Where could they find space to dribble, juggle, shoot, and score? The boys looked out at the water and started gathering tools. Even while their neighbors laughed, they sawed wood, hammered nails, and tied barrels together. The team worked for weeks to build Koh Panyee’s first floating field—a place to practice, and a place to transform their community…

 

INTERVIEW:

Kirsten W. Larson: Building a Dream is such a fascinating story, and I loved reading that you discovered the story of the boys of Koh Panyee in a commercial! Did that unusual story spark result in any research challenges, since you weren’t starting with a book or article, for example?

Darshana Khiani: Yes, yes, yes! This story was probably not the best choice for my first foray into nonfiction: a true story from another country, a different language, and one that was likely not well-known or covered by the media. But I LOVED this story. I must have watched the video a zillion times.

Getting the research was a challenge. I searched for Thai newspapers written in English, scoured YouTube, reached out to the team that produced the commercial, and had a friend help get an email translated into Thai that I then sent to the Facebook account for the current soccer team in Koh Panyee. My attempts to reach out to the villagers went unanswered, but I was able to find a few newspaper articles and a couple of video interviews done by other sports outlets.

 

KWL: Why did you feel a personal connection to this story? What made it one you had to tell?

DK: I’m a sucker for movies based on a true story, where you see real people overcome challenges and succeed. In this humanitarian commercial, I was inspired by how the boys faced their environmental and societal challenges with perseverance, hope, and ingenuity. At a deeper level, I think this mimics my own writing journey. I faced a variety of challenges (personal, professional, etc) on my seven-year journey to get that first book deal. But in the end, I persevered with the help of my kidlit friends, without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

 

Building a Dream int1 racing along the waterfront
Interior spread from Building a Dream written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, Eerdman’s BYR ©2023.

 

KWL: What influenced your decision to fictionalize Building a Dream? What elements did you make up and why?

DK: The general rule in nonfiction is there should be three sources for every fact. Given the challenges of getting the research, verifying the facts was even harder. I had dates from the commercial and the newspaper articles, however, there were a couple of discrepancies such as when the boys played their first game on the mainland. In a video interview, there is mention of the boys playing on a small tract of land but then the village grew, and they could not play on that land anymore. There was no mention of this in the commercial or in my other sources. Since I couldn’t fill in the gaps and call it nonfiction, I re-positioned it as fiction based on a true story. This turned out to be beneficial since later on I was asked to revise for greater emotional connection, and I was able to achieve this by naming a few of the boys and giving them dialogue.

 

KWL: Did writing about an unfamiliar culture create any unique obstacles? 

DK: Since the main focus of this story was perseverance and overcoming the environmental challenges, I think it turned out fine. I did reach out to some Thai friends for sensitivity readings and a reader mentioned that one of the qualities of Thai people is ingenuity. The people living in Koh Panyee certainly had plenty of that. So I worked that quality into one of the boy’s lines.

I considered adding in Thai expressions or food to bring in the senses into the scene, but quickly realized I was out of my league. Whatever I came up with would likely be inaccurate. So I abandoned that idea.

 

KWL: Dow Phumiruk is such a powerhouse illustrator. What was your reaction when you first saw her sketches and then her final art?

DK: From the sketches, I could tell she was trying to capture the unique setting for this story, which made me so happy. In the final art, I love how Dow’s illustrations have a dreamy quality with soft blues and greens. My favorite spread is the one which gives a birds-eye view of the village: a storefront selling clothing, a fisherman paddling in with his day’s catch, and the boys rushing over to watch the game at Uncle Hemmin’s cafe. I enjoy this glimpse into daily life.

Building a Dream int2 the boys had nowhere to play
Interior art from Building a Dream written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, Eerdman’s BYR ©2023.

 

 

KWL: What message do you hope young readers will take away from the story?

DK: I want kids everywhere to know that following your dreams is not easy and can take a long time. But if you stay dedicated to your goal, work hard, face the many challenges, and most importantly believe in yourself then you can reach your dream too.

 

KWL: What a fabulous message. Thank you so much, Darshana!

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase the book.

Access activities, discussion topics, etc. here.

 

Darshana Khiani photo by Lisa Noble
Darshana Khiani Photo © Lisa Noble

AUTHOR BIO:

Darshana Khiani is a computer engineer, children’s book author, and a South Asian kidlit advocate based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Her books include How to Wear a Sari (Versify), an Amazon Editors Pick, and I’m an American (Viking). She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling.  Find out more about Darshana here.

LINKS FOR DARSHANA’S SOCIAL MEDIA:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/darshanakhiani

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/darshanakhiani/

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Her books include WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion), and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle). Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, dog, and two curious kids. Learn more at KirstenWLarson.com. Find her on Twitter @kirstenwlarson and on Instagram @kirstenwlarson.

 

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An Interview by Rajani LaRocca with I’m an American Author Darshana Khiani

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH DARSHANA KHIANI

ABOUT HER NEW PICTURE BOOK

I’M AN AMERICAN

ILLUSTRATED BY LAURA FREEMAN

(Viking BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

I'm An American cover flags diverse children

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

 

INTERVIEW:

Rajani LaRocca: What was the inspiration for this book?

Darshana Khiani: My initial inspiration came in the Summer of 2017, I watched a YouTube video of a White man conversing with an Asian man about being American. Even though the Asian man answered every question with an answer that was similar if not the same as the White man’s answers, it didn’t matter. The White man would not “see” the 4th generation U.S. born ethnically Chinese man as an American. I was flabbergasted. When is one considered an American? Initially, I wrote a narrative story about a biracial child questioning his identity. Unfortunately, the draft didn’t feel like a picture book and had veered from the heart which was “If America is your home and you believe in the ideals/values of this country then you are American, regardless of color, ethnicity, or even citizenship.”  From a conference critique, I received a suggestion to create a concept book with layered text, set in a diverse classroom. The American values would be prominently featured in the main text with the student’s family backstory in the secondary text.

 

I'm an American int1 classrom
Interior spread from I’m an American written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Laura Freeman, Viking BYR ©2023.

 

RL: What kind of research did you do? How did you decide which people/which stories to include?

DK: Since this book covered immigration history at a higher level, I first started with a middle-grade nonfiction text on immigration history and then dug deeper into specific events and facts delving into topic-specific books.I wrote copious notes of whatever details were significant or interesting to me. I created a spreadsheet with all the different values and then marked which groups had stories or experiences that could help showcase that value. This was important since I wanted to capture as much diverse representation as possible from older immigrant stories to newer ones, immigrants from different regions of the world, as well as those groups who are non-immigrants. 

 

I'm an American int2 MexFilipAmer
Interior spread from I’m an American written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Laura Freeman, Viking BYR ©2023.

 

RL: Laura Freeman’s art is stunning! Was there a lot of revision once the illustrations came in?

DK: There was plenty of revision of the text for a few of the vignettes for accuracy and sensitivity reasons, and even some shuffling around of page spreads for story flow. All good stuff. There weren’t any changes needed as a result of the art. I agree Laura’s art is breathtaking and I do hope she gets some professional recognition for it. I don’t think this was an easy book to illustrate.

 

RL: What do you hope young readers get from this book?

DK: No matter who you are or how you came to the United States, if you believe you are an American then you are. Also for people who’ve been here for generations, to realize that the reasons people immigrate today such as the need for safety or basic human rights is no different than the reason people immigrated in the 17th through 19th centuries. Despite our differences and challenges as a nation is it our values that we continuously strive and try to uphold that make us American.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase I’m an American.

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA:

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D Khiani headshot by Lisa Noble
Darshana Khiani  – Author Photo ©Lisa Noble.

AUTHOR BIO:

Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

 

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Brave with Beauty Review for Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2022

 

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BRAVE WITH BEAUTY: A STORY OF AFGHANISTAN

Written by Maxine Rose Schur

Illustrated by Patricia Grush-Dewitt,
Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi

(Yali Books; Hardcover, paperback, and eBook, Ages 7-9)

 

 

Brave with Beauty cover

 

 

Good Reads With Ronna is thrilled to be back again for the 9th year of Multicultural Children’s Book Day (tomorrow, Friday 1/28/22) sharing another noteworthy diverse book to introduce young readers to cultures and people from around the world and throughout history. (Don’t miss the important MCBD details below this review.)

More a storybook than a picture book, Brave with Beauty written by Maxine Rose Schur and illustrated by Patricia Grush-DewittRobin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi, is the fascinating story of the late 14th and early 15th-century forward-thinker, Queen Goharshad from Herat, Afghanistan.

Though she may have lived seven centuries ago, Queen Goharshad remains a great role model, clearly ahead of her time. Yet so many of us have never heard about her tremendous contributions to society. She was responsible for making art, architecture, science, and more flourish in her lifetime. As a young girl, Goharshad liked to “imagine beautiful things to draw.” When married to the powerful king, Shah Rukh, she brought her creative eye to her role, determined to add more things of beauty to the world around her. “‘It is as if the kingdom is made of many paintings,’ she mused.”

 

Brave with Beauty int1
Interior illustration from Brave with Beauty written by Maxine Rose Schur and illustrated by Patricia Grush-Dewitt, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi, Yali Books ©2019.

 

First came music. Queen Goharshad challenged the court musicians to compose and perform enchanting music for the court and city. “The land grew rich with melody.” Then came the colorful gardens which people from all over were welcome to enjoy. Still, she dreamed of more, bigger projects that would add richness and beauty to the landscape. This would be a mosque, a gift to the western city of Mashhad. She drew plans and invited the court architect, Qavam al-Din Shirazi, to review them.  Though faced with initial opposition from him because Goharshad was a woman, Shirazi ultimately relented. The results were breathtaking.

 

Brave with Beauty int2
Interior illustration from Brave with Beauty written by Maxine Rose Schur and illustrated by Patricia Grush-Dewitt, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi, Yali Books ©2019.

 

To top that accomplishment, the queen yearned to build a great center of learning. She told Shirazi she wanted “A college for girls, a grand mosque for prayer and a vast library brimming with books of science, religion, literature, and art. All the buildings must be decorated with paint made from precious stones.” Imagine how much that would cost. And despite the great wealth she and the king had Shirazi said they did not have enough in the coffers. For her dream to be realized she’d have to sell off her fine jewels and diamond crown. She didn’t hesitate.

 

 

Brave with Beauty int3
Interior illustration from Brave with Beauty written by Maxine Rose Schur and illustrated by Patricia Grush-Dewitt, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi, Yali Books ©2019.

 

Naturally, Queen Goharshad could not reign alongside her husband forever, and eventually, they both died. Sadly, all that remains today of these majestic buildings are a few time-battered minarets but the rest are now ruins, the tragic result of war. Interesting back matter provides a helpful glossary, an author’s note, and a guide for parents and educators with resources. I’m so glad to have been offered the opportunity to review Brave with Beauty: A Story of Afghanistan.  Thanks to Schur’s thoughtfully written story together with the gorgeous jewel-toned art with its nod to the style of detailed illuminated manuscripts of that era, the incredible legacy of this amazing Renaissance woman lives on.

Download an activity guide here.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2022 (1/28/22) is in its 9th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those books into the hands of young readers and educators.

MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves. Read about our Mission & History HERE.

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Join us on Friday, Jan 28, 2022, at 9 pm EST for the 9th annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day Twitter Party! Be sure and follow MCBD and Make A Way Media on Twitter!

This epically fun and fast-paced hour includes multicultural book discussions, addressing timely issues, diverse book recommendations, & reading ideas.

We will be giving away an 8-Book Bundle every 5 minutes plus Bonus Prizes as well! *** US and Global participants welcome. **

Follow the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to join the conversation, connect with like-minded parts, authors, publishers, educators, organizations, and librarians. See you all very soon on Twitter!

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An Interview with Darshana Khiani Author of How to Wear a Sari

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

DARSHANA KHIANI

AUTHOR OF

HOW TO WEAR A SARI

ILLUSTRATED BY

JOANNE LEW-VRIETHOFF

(VERSIFY; $17.99, Ages 4 to 7)

 

How to Wear a Sari cover

 

 

SUMMARY

Being a little kid isn’t always fun and games. Sometimes, it’s downright annoying. When the fashionable main character of How to Wear a Sari tires of being treated like she’s TOO little, she sets out to prove to her family that she can do ANYTHING she puts her mind to . . . including putting on a colorful, twinkly, silky sari. Sure, they’re long and unwieldy—but that only means her family will be even more impressed when she puts it on all by herself. Naturally, there are some hiccups along the way, but she discovers that she’s not the only one in her family who has set out with something to prove, with hilariously chaotic results. That’s what photo albums are for!

 

INTERVIEW

 

Colleen Paeff: Hi Darshana! Welcome to Good Reads with Ronna. Your adorable debut, How to Wear a Sari, came out last June. What have been some of your favorite moments from the past four months?

Darshana Khiani: First I’d like to say thank you so much for having me. My favorite part has been hearing from parents about how their little ones loved seeing someone that looks like them (Indian character) in a book. My 4yr-old niece has taken her book to school four times already. Seeing the book face out at my local library was wonderful too. I love it when people send me pictures of the book in the wild. A surprising sighting was one from the Harvard Coop!

 

CP: That sounds wonderful! All of it! Joanne Lew-Vriethoff’s illustrations are so vibrant and full of motion. Did you include art notes on your manuscript since a lot of what happens in the story isn’t in the text? 

DK: I try to leave room for the illustrator as much as possible. However, I do like to put humor in my stories where the setup is in text and the punchline is in the art, so I do use art notes when required. For example, the page before the climax says “remember not to run” and after the page turn is a wordless spread where the main character takes a colossal spill, so I had to have an art note for that. In the final spread, the text simply says “you now have a spot in the hall of fame album”, but it is the art note which specifies what types of photos the album contains.

 

How to Wear a Sari int1
Interior spread from How to Wear a Sari written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Versify ©2021.

 

CP: What did you think the first time you saw the illustrations? Did anything surprise you?

DK: It was such a wonderful, unexpected surprise. I thought my first look would be a sketch of a scene or characters instead it was the full book in black-n-white sketches. I loved seeing the story come to life. When viewing the colored art, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the illustrator had made the extended family interracial. 

 

CP: Yes, I love that! Do you remember the first time you wore a sari? Did you have any of the same problems as the girl in your book?

DK: I think the first time I wore a sari was for my cousin’s wedding. I was 18 at the time. I’m fairly sure several elder female relatives helped me drape it. I’m still not very good at wearing a sari. If I have trouble draping a sari, what would it be like for a young girl? That was the seed for the story.

 

How to Wear a Sari int2
Interior spread from How to Wear a Sari written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Versify ©2021.

 

CP: You work full-time as a computer engineer. Do you find yourself using some of what you’ve learned as an engineer in your writing life? And vice versa?

DK: Surprisingly, yes! I am frequently requested to review docs or sit in on dry-runs of training presentations where I find I am giving big-picture feedback. The things we learn about good writing regarding keeping the reader engaged, knowing what your main story thread is, and having the right level of detail (not too much or not too little) are important anytime you are trying to convey information to someone. On the flip side, having worked in a company full of deliverables and deadlines helps me respect the business side of publishing. Though I will say things are so much slower in publishing than in the field I work in. That took getting used to. I also had to learn to set my own deadlines. I’ve realized I work better with external accountability. 

 

CP: With a full-time job and a family, your writing time must be very valuable. How do you make the most of your time in the writer’s chair? Do you have any favorite productivity hacks?

DK: Balancing writing, work, and family is a constant juggling act. Over the years I’ve learned to find blocks of time whether it be early in the morning, during the lunch hour, or late at night. When the kids were little, I frequently took my writing stuff to their gymnastic and swim practices, or I would visit a coffee shop while they were at a birthday party. Currently, there is a lot going on with the family that has greatly reduced my writing time. To keep things going I set aside two hours early Saturday morning and meet online with a writing buddy. This keeps me accountable and moving forward. As for productivity hacks, I try to set up my desk area and computer the night before, so the next morning everything is ready to go. I try to stay off of social media and email until after I do the morning writing.

 

CP: Those are all great ideas. I especially like the thought of having a writing buddy you meet with online. I love checking the South Asian Kidlit lists on your website. What made you decide to create those lists and have they benefited you in any way?

DK: Back in 2016, I was writing a blog post on South Asian Kidlit literature only to realize I was unaware of the current writers and illustrators. I figure if I as an Indian person didn’t know these books existed then how would others? So I set out to spread the word. The benefit to me has been it gives me something to talk about when meeting with booksellers and librarians. It’s easier for me to pitch my South Asian Kidlit newsletter and the benefits of it instead of directly talking about myself.

 

CP: It’s so much easier to pitch other people’s books than it is to pitch our own! When did you know you wanted to write books for children and how did you go about getting started?

DK: In my mid-30s after I had my two daughters, I knew I wanted to do something more, something that allowed me to directly connect with people. I was reading tons of picture books to my kids and fell in love with them. They were short, funny, and I loved that they could be about nearly anything. I also thought how hard can it be to write? Famous last words. Well, it took me over ten years but I did it and I’ve loved every moment. Some of the groups and writing challenges that have been critical to my writing journey are Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo), 12×12, SCBWI, Making Picture Book Magic course, my Cafe Invaders critique group, my PB Debut Marketing Group the Soaring ’20s, my agent, and librarians, bookseller, and writing friends I’ve made along the way. I love that my family and friends have been so supportive and cheering me on. It really does take a village.

 

How to Wear a Sari int3
Interior spread from How to Wear a Sari written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Versify ©2021.

 

CP: Is there anything you wish you’d known back when you first started writing for children?

DK: Write, write, write as much as you can. This is one area I still struggle with as I love to revise but hate first drafts. I had a slow start in the first few years, where I would work on only one or two manuscripts over and over again. In the beginning, it should be about experimenting and trying lots of different types of stories because there is something to learn from each one of them. 

 

CP: Any favorite books from the past year?

DK: Too many. Here are some of my favorite reads from the past year. THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL by Stacey Lee is a YA historical fiction novel set in 1890 Atlanta that is so smart and sassy. I can’t wait for the TV adaption to be released. FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley was such a wonderful read. I love books where I’m learning about another culture, in this case, the Ojibwe people. In picture books, your book of course THE GREAT STINK is so engaging and informative. YOUR LEGACY: A BOLD RECLAIMING OF OUR ENSLAVED HISTORY by Schele Williams is gorgeous and empowering. I love her approach to the topic of African-American history. 

 

CP: Aw! Thank you, Darshana. That’s so nice. I’ll be adding the other books to my TBR list! What’s next for you, Darshana?

DK: I am really excited about my next book I’M AN AMERICAN which is scheduled for Summer 2023 by Viking. In it, a classroom of students discusses what it means to be an American and the values we share. Each student, of a different ethnicity, tells a short story from his or her own family about their American experience.  

 

How to Wear a Sari int5
Interior art from How to Wear a Sari written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Versify ©2021.

 

CP: What a terrific idea. I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for the chat!

DK: Thank you so much for having me. It was a joy talking with you. 

 

DKhiani
Author Photo Credit ©Lisa Noble

BRIEF BIO

Darshana Khiani is a computer engineer by day and a children’s writer by night. She is a first-generation Indian American and enjoys writing funny, light-hearted stories with a South Asian backdrop. When she isn’t working or writing she can be found hiking, skiing, or volunteering. Darshana lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two daughters, and a furry pup. How to Wear a Sari is her debut picture book.

 

 

 

BUY DARSHANA’S BOOKS HERE

Hicklebee’s for signed copies – https://www.hicklebees.com/book/9781328635204

Bookshop – https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-wear-a-sari/9781328635204

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS

Website: www.darshanakhiani.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/darshanakhiani

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/darshanakhiani/

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@darshanakhiani

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem (Margaret K. McElderry Books), illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books).

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