What I Am by Divya Srinivasan

Hello, Divya Srinivasan! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for stopping by to share the book trailer for What I Am. What do you want everyone to know about this MUST-READ picture book before pressing play?

Divya Srinivasan: I’m excited to stop by, Mr. Schu! Thank you for having me over.

The idea for What I Am came from something that happened to my sister many years ago. She was at a restaurant having a nice time, when a stranger approached her and asked, “What are you?” It was so jarring, she didn’t know what to say. The question made her feel like she somehow didn’t belong, that she was not seen as a who (a person), but as a what (a thing).

A couple of years ago, I wondered, what if my young daughter was asked that question. How would she feel? What might she say? Well, she probably would’ve said, “I am three!” That made me smile. When writing What I Am, I was thinking about children I know and what they might say about themselves.

How would you describe yourself? It depends on what you focus on and what mood you’re in. Are you thinking about things you are proud of? Things you aren’t proud of? Things you love, or don’t love? Are you comparing yourself to others? Are you thinking of how someone else might describe you? If so, who?

There are so many ways to see yourself. I wanted to take the uncomfortable question my sister was asked so long ago, and turn it into an exploration of our sense of self. It was fun for me to think about, and I hope it’ll be fun for readers too!

What materials did you use to create the gorgeous art?

Divya Srinivasan: Thank you for the kind words. I used #2 pencil, colored pencils, watercolor, a scanner, and Adobe Photoshop on my computer.

Please finish the following sentence starters:

I hope What I Am gets kids thinking about all that they are, and also how your idea of yourself can change. Different situations and different people bring out different sides of our personalities.

You might be nervous when you get to a party where you don’t know anyone. After some time, you might get more comfortable and start having fun. If someone noticed you only at the beginning of the party, they may say you are shy. If someone noticed you only at the end of the party, that person may say you are outgoing.

If we remember that no one is easily defined, hopefully we will be more considerate too, and less quick to judge others.

Did you know:

1. I used artwork by my daughter and niece for the artwork on the girl’s bedroom wall.

2. I often listen to audiobooks while illustrating.

3. One of the people I thank at the end of the book is Julie Alonso, the school librarian at Town School for Boys in San Francisco, CA. Julie and I met in college at the University of Texas at Austin 25 years ago. We kept in touch, and I’ve even been able to do a few author visits at her school. I showed Julie an early draft of What I Am and she was so encouraging, her enthusiasm completely energized me! Yay librarians!

Picture books can be beautiful, powerful, fun, funny, and magical. I didn’t have many picture books as a kid, but the ones I did have stuck with me through the years, whether for the feel of the illustrations or a character I loved or even a funny phrase. Those books are a treasured part of my personal history, and I’m so grateful to those writers and illustrators.

My first book, Little Owl’s Night, was published ten years ago this fall. It was a dream come true. I feel so lucky to be making picture books and to be a part of children’s lives in this way!

Thank you, Divya! 

Divya Srinivasan lives in Austin, Texas. Her illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, and she has done work for This American Life, They Might Be Giants, Sundance Channel, Sufjan Stevens, and Weird Al Yankovic, among others. Divya was also an animator on the film Waking Life. She is the author and illustrator of the picture books Little Owl’s Night, Little Owl’s Day, Little Owl’s Snow, and Octopus Alone, and she illustrated the picture book Cinnamon, written by Neil Gaiman.

Look for What I Am on August 3, 2021.


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