Simple, multi-patterned line art drawings in a lively color palette by Lew-Vriethoff pilot young readers through Khiani’s winning guide to sari-wearing…an enjoyable behind-the-scenes look at a South Asian staple.
A delightful picture book about dressing—and acting—like a grown-up before your time.
An Amazon Editor’s Pick: Best Books for Ages 3-5
Please tell us about your book.
My debut picture book, HOW TO WEAR A SARI, comes out on June 22 from the Versify imprint at HMH Books. It’s illustrated by the talented Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.
In HOW TO WEAR A SARI, a spirited young Indian girl is tired of being seen as “little” by her family. She wants to show she can do things that older people can do. She decides the best way to do this is by teaching herself how to wear a sari. Naturally, there are some hiccups along the way, but what she discovers is that she’s not the only one in the family who has set out with something to prove, resulting in some funny moments.
What inspired you to write this story?
When I started writing picture books, I wanted to write books for third-generation South Asians like my two daughters. Books that centered their lives in this country. Books that had universal themes about growing up with a South Asian backdrop and a touch of humor. Books that aren’t focused on the differences between South Asian and non-South Asian culture, but rather have an unspoken acceptance – books of joy.
I love the elegance and sophistication of saris. However, I’m not the best at wearing them. It can take me upwards of 45 minutes to drape one on. And even then, I may still ask my mom or cousin to help fix my sari. I began wondering if it’s this hard for me, what would it be like for a young girl?
Could you share with readers how the book evolved?
The story went through eleven revisions over nearly a year. The story is told in 2nd POV with the narrator helping the young girl through the story. The first voice was a used car salesman which was too sleazy, then a grandmotherly voice which was too sweet. The voice I ended up using was an encouraging voice with a touch of mischievousness. The hardest aspect to nail down was the character motivation. Why did the girl want to wear a sari – to be noticed by her family, to prove that she could do older things, to look glamorous, to be like an older sibling? After eleven revisions, I finally got it which was to prove she wasn’t “too little” and could do anything she put her mind to. After my editor acquired the story, I made a small change where instead of the narrator saying to the girl “You’ll look like a star,” the story says “You’ll be a pro.” Because of that change, I feel it increased the character depth since the story is now emphasizing acquiring skills.
What are some special challenges associated with introducing a sari which your audience might be unfamiliar with?
A sari can be stylish, sophisticated, a symbol of womanhood in South Asian culture much like wearing high-heels or a long fancy gown is in Western culture. The challenge became how to express the glamour and difficulties of draping a sari in a succinct way that seamlessly fits into the story. I solved this by approaching it from the angle of the girl’s nervousness at wearing a sari. “Don’t be nervous. Sure, saris are long and unwieldy and worn by adults, but you can do it.”
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Children have so much learning to do when they are young, whether it is acquiring a new skill like riding a bike or wanting to imitate an older person, such as dressing up fancy or helping around the house. This story shows that it’s okay to strive to do older things with a touch of reality that things may not always work out. I also wanted children to know that everyone has those moments of trying and failing as shown by the family photo album in the ending.
Thank you so much for having me. 😊
Thank you for sharing your book with us, Darshana!