It’s time for an Author Spotlight again, and I am so excited to be interviewing Rajani LaRocca, the brilliant and prolific author who is taking the kidlit world by storm. Rajani has published six books since her debut in 2019 in both middle grade and picture book categories.
Rajani, I am thrilled to be chatting with you today! I was originally introduced to your writing when I reviewed Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers, but you have so many other titles! Would you mind introducing yourself to Mutually Inclusive’s readers and tell us a bit about the kinds of books you write?
Thanks so much for having me! I was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now live in the Boston area, where I practice medicine and write books for young readers. I’ve always been an omnivorous reader, and now I’m an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, in poetry and prose. I’m inspired by my childhood and background, science and math, nature, cooking, and just about everything I see.
Your latest picture book, Where Three Oceans Meet, is being released this month. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?
Where Three Oceans Meet is about a little girl named Sejal who travels to the tip of India — Kanyakumari, where they say three oceans meet — with her mom and grandmother. It’s a fun road trip, where the three women see interesting sights, visit people they care about, and eat delicious food. And Sejal discovers what’s at the “end of the earth” is what she’s had all along: the love between mothers and daughters, love that transcends distance and transcends time.
What inspired you to write Where Three Oceans Meet?
I was inspired by a trip I took when I was a kid with my family, including my mom and grandmother, through South India to Kanyakumari. I thought about all the beautiful things we saw on that trip, and how what I treasured most was the little moments we spent together along the way.
If young readers only take away one thing from Where Three Oceans Meet, what message would you most want them to walk away with?
Even if they are far away, the people we love are still with us, giving us strength and joy.
Title: Where Three Oceans Meet
Author: Rajani LaRocca
Illustrator: Archana Sreenivasan
Publisher: Abrams Books For Young Readers
Published: August 24, 2021
Format: Picture Book
All of your books seem to have mathematical themes, and I was so glad to see the pattern continue with the theme of three in Where Three Oceans Meet. Was there any significance to the number three, or was it a stylistic choice?
I hadn’t really thought about the fact that there was a number in this book, but now that you point it out, of course there is! Three is an important number which symbolizes unity in many cultures. Because this book was inspired by a trip to Kanyakumari, where three oceans meet — The Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean — I decided to craft the story about three women in a family making a journey together. I also use the metaphor of a braid, which involves three strands of hair woven together, to symbolize the characters’ relationships.
Archana Sreenivasan created such beautiful illustrations to match your gorgeous story of love and family. This is your second book to be illustrated by Archana. Did the process differ between Where Three Oceans Meet and Seven Golden Rings?
I first worked with Archana for my debut picture book, Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math, which was published by Lee & Low Books in October 2020. That book is set in ancient India and involves a math puzzle and an explanation of binary numbers in the author’s note. It won the Mathical Award for Grade 3-5!
The process was very similar for both books in that I had minimal involvement while Archana was doing her work! Archana is such an incredible artist, and her sensibility for each book was perfect—which is even more impressive, since the styles of these books are very different. In Seven Golden Rings, her style is more cartoon-like, and Archana illustrated the math puzzle and the thinking that went into it in the most precise and ingenious way! The writing in Where Three Oceans Meet is more lyrical and emotional, and Archana’s style and use of color matches perfectly. I know that Oceans reminded her of her own family—especially her grandmother—and this shines through in all the little details she included to make this family seem real.
Do you have a standout spread that is your favorite? If so, which one?
I love ALL the spreads—they are overflowing with love and joy! My favorite is about three fourths of the way through the book, when Sejal isn’t feeling well and overhears her mom and grandmother talking about how much they miss each other, since the grandmother lives in India and Sejal and her mom live in the U.S. Archana depicts memories and longing and love so beautifully on the page that it brings me to tears.
Where Three Oceans Meet is your fifth release in 2021! I’m blown away at the amount of work you can produce in a year, especially considering your job as a doctor and role as a wife and mother. Do you have any advice for writers (like myself) who struggle to keep producing new work consistently?
I always recommend that people find ways to write in the “nooks and crannies” of their days. We don’t need to write for hours at a time; sometimes writing for a few minutes is all we can do, and that’s fine! As a working mom, I have written in my car (while parked!) and at piano lessons, early in the morning and late at night, on my laptop, scrawled on napkins, and dictated into my phone. It’s important to catch the muse while you can and to put in the time even when the muse is in hiding!
I also find that setting small goals helps me, as well as making lists of current projects and their statuses.
Can you tell us what is next for you? Do you have any upcoming 2022 release we should know about?
After Where Three Oceans Meet, I have two more picture books coming in 2021! My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris will release on August 31, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have written a Little Golden Book about our wonderful Vice President!
The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA releases September 14! This is my first nonfiction picture book (and the first picture book I ever drafted!), written in rhyming verse and explaining the basics of genetics to kids. It also touches on the limits of our genes and how our actions also determine who we are.
In March 2022, I have a picture book coming with Candlewick called I’ll Go and Come Back. This story of my heart is about a girl who visits her family in India and feels lonely and homesick. Then her grandmother makes her feel better through play and reading and food. When the grandmother visits the girl in the U.S. and feels homesick herself, her granddaughter makes her feel better. The story is built around a phrase people use in Tamil: they never say “goodbye,” but instead “I’ll go and come back,” which holds the promise of return.
My second middle grade novel with HarperCollins comes out in fall 2022. It’s called Switch, and it’s about musical twin sisters who grow apart, impersonate each other at their summer camp on a dare, and find that music helps them find their way back to each other.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
These past two years have been so hard for so many reasons. That makes the stories we tell, the art we create, more important than ever. But it’s also important that we practice self-care and give ourselves a break, too. Take the time to bring yourself small moments of joy, and remember that reading and thinking and spending time with loved ones nourishes the creative spirit.
That is such a great reminder, and one I really need to hear. Thank you for that, and for taking the time to answer all my questions!