Picture Books, Origin Stories, and Cake: Chatting with Varsha Bajaj

Article by Joy

I’ve known Varsha Bajaj for about a decade now: first, in that “Hey didn’t I see you at a conference?” way all Houston kid lit authors know each other; next, as a fan of her work; and eventually, as a friend in the writerly trenches and beyond. When things get particularly trench-y, as things often do when you make art for part of your living, she’s part of a group of us that eats copious amounts of cake at Empire Café on Westheimer and solves the problems of the world. (They have grand cake at Empire, by the way. I’m partial to the carrot, but they’re all good. Also, Houston has an amazing cadre of kid lit authors. I’ll be highlighting many of them in the coming months!)

But I’m particularly excited that I got to interview her about her latest picture book, THIS IS OUR BABY BORN TODAY, which just arrived from the Nancy Paulsen imprint of Penguin Random House. (I still wish they’d named it Random Penguin when they merged, but that’s neither here nor there.) I had the pleasure of watching this book develop from germ of idea to text to book. And it’s illustrated by the very fabulous Eliza Wheeler, who wrote and illustrated the New York Times bestselling MISS MARPLE’S SEEDS and a lot of other fabulous books.

I adore THIS IS OUR BABY. The story of the birth of an elephant, it’s got that timeless appeal of a classic--lush, rhythmic language and gorgeous illustrations. It makes a glorious bedtime story (as does Bajaj’s debut picture book HOW MANY KISSES DO YOU WANT TONIGHT, which Brazos stocks as a board book), a delightful baby gift and a good read for anyone of any age.

Here’s what Varsha had to say about how THIS IS OUR BABY came into the world:

“In 2012 my oldest child was a senior in high school. I was asked to submit five pictures of him between birth and five years for a slide show that the school was putting together. I could have chosen thirty-three pictures rather than five. Sorting through boxes and albums of baby pictures inspired me to write about babies. How beautiful they are, how they change their parent’s world, how they bring new beginnings and love, their perfect fingers, toes and smells.

After almost a year of writing without finding the heart of my story, one day I revisited the pictures. I was struck by how the child is the mother’s alone in the womb but after the child is born the circle of love grows with the presence of the father, the grandparents, friends and family. I knew then that I had found my story. Then came the task of making sure it was on the page.”

Picture books hold a special place in Varsha’s heart: “Picture books are the child’s first introduction to books and reading. Picture books hopefully start the lifelong love affair with the written word and the page turn. I remember reading BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? by Bill Martin Jr. to my kids years ago. They would anticipate the page turn and call out the next animal. The rhythm of the words helped them memorize and gave them the illusion of ‘reading.’ I would tease them sometimes and say the wrong animal name. Oh the horror! I differentiate picture books from picture story books. Picture books, are the perfect marriage of text and words and the closest to poetry. I love poetry. The best picture books pack the emotional punch of a good poem.”

Did I mention how much I love this book and all of Varsha’s books? Well all of this is why. Plus she likes that Empire carrot cake, too. And their cookies.

This Is Our Baby, Born Today Cover Image
By Varsha Bajaj, Eliza Wheeler (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780399166846
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Nancy Paulsen Books - August 2nd, 2016

THIS IS OUR BABY BORN TODAY is on the Brazos shelves right now.

Varsha Bajaj is also the award winning author of How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? Illustrated by Ivan Bates, T is for Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet book and a middle grade novel, Abby Spencer goes to Bollywood. You can find out more about Varsha at http://www.varshabajaj.com

Joy Preble is the author of several young adult novels including the DREAMING ANASTASIA series ; the SWEET DEAD LIFE series; FINDING PARIS, which SLJ called, “An intricate guessing game of sisterly devotion, romance, and quiet desperation,”and IT WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THIS, which Kirkus Reviews called ‘a modern Tuck Everlasting with a thriller twist.’ In between writing and working at Brazos Bookstore as bookseller/Children’s Specialist, she teaches and lectures widely on writing and literacy and is currently on faculty at Writespace Houston.

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