Sisters-in-law Sanyukta Mathur and Courtney Pippin-Mathur will be joining the stage together to present their book Happy Diwali! at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st. Their presentation will be in the Willa Cather Pavilion beginning at 10:15am. The picture book Happy Diwali! is a joyous family collaboration about the Hindu festival of lights.
I hope you enjoy my interview with Sanyukta Mathur and Courtney Pippin-Mathur.
What prompted you to write this book together? How did you get started?
Courtney – I drew an illustration of my daughter hiding behind some sarees and mailed it out on a postcard. An editor (not the one who acquired HD) approached me at a conference and said that I should write a book featuring our inter-racial and intercultural family celebrating holidays in the US. So, I ran back to my hotel room and called Sanyukta and asked her to list everything that she does to prepare for Diwali for our family. I added a few things and put it into a picture book format and created a rough dummy (like a sketch of the entire picture book) and it was sent off for submissions.
Sanyukta: When Courtney approached me with the idea I was really surprised, it’s not my field: But the more we discussed we felt this book reflecting our blended family, showing how we try to celebrate traditions in the US was maybe something that was needed. Ultimately this is the book I was always searching for when I was looking for simple books about Indian festivals to share with my kids & at their school. It’s been a joy to work on this with Courtney.
Are you planning to write any future books together? If so, could you tell us about it?
Courtney – Hopefully! 🙂 Two of our other favorite holidays are Holi (festival of Spring) and Raksha Bandhan (celebrating the love between brothers and sisters) so it would be lovely to be able to share those!
Sanyukta: We hope so! 😉
Do you have any resources about Diwali you would like to share with readers? Do you have a discussion guide? Or discussion questions?
Courtney -There is currently not a discussion guide, though I will work on something for this fall, when the book will be out before Diwali. (Shipping delays last year pushed the book to be released after Diwali.) There are a few books out about celebrating Diwali in India that we share on the holiday. I’ll let Sanyukta chime in with her favorites.
Sanyukta: there are many lovely books about Diwali that explain the Hindu mythology behind the festival. One of our family favorites is Amma tell me about Diwali written by Bhakti Mathur (no relation). My kids also enjoy the books by Sanjay Patel (E.g., The Little Book of Hindu Deities). When I was growing up we loved reading the Indian graphic/comic books by Amar Chitra Katha that relayed Indian religious and historic stories.
Melissa – Additional resources that my readers may find helpful:
Celebrate Diwali With Books! | Parenting Tips… | PBS KIDS for Parents
21 Children’s Books about Diwali, the Festival of Lights –
What medium did you use to create your art, Courtney? Can you tell us about your process? Do you have any pictures of the various stages of creation?
Courtney – I combined watercolor and line drawing in photoshop. Here is a spread through a few of the stages:
What is your writing space/ art studio like? Courtney – My husband and I share a room. I call it my corner of chaos, because I have a lot crammed into a small space (including random things my kids throw on my desk).
Sanyukta – We worked on this book during the height of the Covid-19 lockdowns, so my writing and collaboration space was my basement office and zoom!
How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?
Courtney – I hope they will share it in storytimes to teach kids about Diwali and connect it with other important holidays that celebrate goodness and light and being with families.
Sanyukta – I hope librarians can use our book to talk about Diwali (the Festival of Lights), about different festivals around the world, how festivals are celebrated by people of the Indian diaspora, and how food/special meals are often a key part of many family celebrations.
What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?
Courtney – I hope they will learn about Diwali and how we celebrate it in our mixed cultural family.
Sanyukta – I hope young readers will see how some families in the US celebrate Diwali. I hope, too, that the vibrant illustrations will make them curious about the traditions, clothes and foods.
Who is the reader you are writing for? Please describe them.
Courtney – Children who are curious about other cultures and holidays.
Sanyukta – This book is for families who want to see their culture and traditions represented and families who are curious about other cultural celebrations.
What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?
Courtney – I love being part of a multi-cultural family and believe diversity makes people more kind and caring and stronger as a community.
Sanyukta – I loved working with my sister-in-law on this book and am excited to share how our diverse family continues the traditions of Diwali here in the US.
What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?
Courtney – Being able to include most of the children in our family and the raised embossing and foil and the teal background
Sanyukta – The illustrations by Courtney (my sister-in-law) really make the book and the festival come alive in all its vibrancy.
What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?
Courtney – How happy all the nieces, nephews, and cousins are about being drawn in a book. I was so stressed about capturing cartoon versions of real people!
Sanyukta – Not so much a surprise about the characters, but I was surprised by how my son (who is one of the kids in the book) was overjoyed to take this book to his 3rd grade class and share the book and Diwali with his friends.
What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?
Courtney – I love the vibe of being around book lovers, kids and adults!
Sanyukta – I love the GBF and we usually make it an annual family event. I hope we get to meet lots of curious kids, teachers, librarians, and parents and share this book with them.
I hope you will join me and attend Sanyukta and Courtney’s presentation at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st.
Sanyukta Mathur is a social scientist and studies how to improve the health and well-being of young people around the world. She is the author of various research publications. “Happy Diwali!” is her first children’s book. She lives in Maryland with her family.
Courtney Pippin-Mathur is an author/illustrator of picture books, such as “Maya was Grumpy” (2013), “Dragons Rule, Princesses Drool” (2017) and “Happy Diwali,” with her sister-in-law, Sanyukta Mathur (2021). She loves being part of a multicultural family and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, three children and one very friendly dog.