American Desi by Jyoti Rajan Gopal and Supriya Kelkar

Hello, Jyoti Rajan Gopal! Hello, Supriya Kelkar! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. I’m honored you’re here today to celebrate American Desi!

Jyoti Rajan Gopal: I’m so excited to be here. Thank you, John for hosting our cover reveal!

Supriya Kelkar: Hi John! Thank you!! And thank you so much for having me back on again. It is such an honor to be here with you for this beautiful book written by Jyoti.

Supriya, we’ve celebrated many books together, BUT this is the first time we’re celebrating a book you illustrated. HOORAY!!! Please take us on a tour of American Desi’s energetic and engaging cover.

Supriya Kelkar: American Desi was illustrated with a combination of cut and torn paper, embroidery thread, fabrics from India, including a sari that's almost one-hundred years old that was my paternal grandmother's, a dandiya, bangles, and several sweaters made by my maternal grandmother and my mother, to represent the many parts that make a person who they are.

For the cover, the team at Little, Brown and I wanted something joyful and energetic. So I took inspiration from a place that holds a lot of joy for me: Bollywood. I gave the main character a very Bollywood pose of holding a scarf and running, and to keep with the theme, the scarf is made up of different fabrics from her life.

Jyoti, imagine you’re telling second-grade teachers about American Desi. What do you share with them?

Jyoti Rajan Gopal: Hmmm. My editor, Esther Cajahuaringa, called this story a love letter and that melted my heart. It is a love letter! To desi children of course, but it’s also a love letter to anyone who straddles cultures and identities. It can be hard to toggle between worlds where you don’t always feel like you quite fit in. I’ve certainly felt that way all my life- never quite Indian enough, never quite American enough – whatever that means! In writing American Desi, I wanted to acknowledge the truth of wrestling with multiple identities, the switching back and forth between cultures, the moments of tension and dissonance that can be a part and parcel of that, but mostly, I wanted to celebrate the amazing potential and possibilities, the richness, that straddling two or more worlds opens us to. I hope teachers of all grades, parents and librarians can use this book to invite conversations about identity and belonging and finding strength and joy in being fully who you are.

Supriya, please finish the following sentence starters:

Jyoti Rajan Gopal’s manuscript for Amerian Desi is a joyful, empowering celebration of diversity and inclusion and I am thrilled to get to illustrate her words.

Patrick Collins and Véronique Lefèvre Sweet were so wonderful to work with. I’m grateful for all their guidance through the illustration process.

Jyoti, please finish the following sentence starters:

Supriya Kelkar’s illustrations are a feast for the senses! When I first saw the cover, I literally gasped out loud. My American desi had come to life - with her glasses and her smile, the scarf made up of so many different textures and colors, the joy on the page, I love everything about her! And the details inside in every spread - little things like the chutney for the dosa, or the coconut oil that grandma is holding – they just pop!

Red, green, yellow, and blue
are not just colors I see. For me, they are so much more! They are feelings, memories, textures, smells and they hold different meanings depending on which part of my identity they are connected to.

Thank you, Jyoti and Supriya! 

Photo Credit: Alison Sheehy

Jyoti Rajan Gopal is a kindergarten teacher, writer, and mom who loves taking any opportunity to break out her Bollywood moves and hip-hop grooves. She grew up in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, and China and now lives in New York City, so she knows what it feels like to be caught between multiple cultures. She chooses to embrace all her wondrous colors! This is her debut children’s book.

Supriya Kelkar grew up in the Midwest, where she learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Supriya is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films and one Hollywood feature. She is the author of Bindu’s Bindis; American as Paneer Pie; and Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame, among others. This is her debut illustrated book. 

Look for American Desi on June 1, 2022. 


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