Rostam's Picture-Day Pusteen by Ryan Bani Tahmaseb and Fateme Mokhles

Hello, Ryan Bani Tahmaseb! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for stopping by to share Rostam’s Picture-Day Pusteen’s cover. What ran through your heart the first time you saw the moment Fateme Mokhles captures on the cover?

Ryan Bani Tahmaseb: Before I answer your first question, Mr. Schu, I hope you don’t mind me sharing that I’m over the moon to be interviewed by you on this blog. For years now, I have followed Watch. Connect. Read., and it is a dream come true to be here talking with you about a book that I co-created. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thank you, Ryan! 

Ryan Bani Tahmaseb: Okay, about the cover. My goodness. I love how you asked what ran through my heart, as opposed to my mind, because the image really does touch me at the heart-level. When I first saw it, Fateme made me feel the warmth and joy of Rostam’s story. From the colors and textures to the exuberant expression on Rostam’s face as he’s about to have his picture taken, this image really does capture the story’s essence.

I also have to shout out the Charlesbridge team, too—especially my editor, Karen Boss, and the book’s designer, Kristen Nobles. I love the Persianate design along the left side and the small flowers between our names at the top. Eagle-eyed viewers may notice that the flowers are from the design on Rostam’s pusteen, or sheepskin vest. These details contributed to the overall feeling I had when first seeing the cover.

Scenario: You return to your former school library to booktalk Rostam’s Picture-Day Pusteen. What do you share?

Ryan Bani Tahmaseb: Wow. Such a great question. Honestly, it’s still hard for me to believe I don’t work at my former school library anymore. My family and I moved after the last school year, and I had worked at that school for 13 years! But yes, when I return to booktalk Rostam’s Picture-Day Pusteen, I begin by asking students if their grown-ups had ever encouraged them to do something that they were really nervous to do. Then I ask students if any of them had ever felt embarrassed to share something in school about themselves or their families—something that they worried other kids might laugh at. I hold up my hand, too, in response to both of these questions.

Next, I explain that this book is the story of a young boy named Rostam who just moved to the United States all the way from a country called Iran. And Rostam’s parents insist that he wear a pusteen—a colorful, unique-looking Persian vest—for picture day at his new school. But Rostam is incredibly nervous to wear his pusteen because he had just started to make friends, and he’s worried his classmates will laugh at him for wearing it. However, once Rostam actually arrives at school, picture day starts to go very, very differently from what he expected.

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Fateme Mohkles is a dream collaborator. I love that we are debuting together. This is the first picture book for both of us! And I love that Fateme not only saw what I hoped there was to see in the words, but also, as the best picture book illustrators always do, through her art she adds incredible depth and nuance to the story. She also magically brings out what I can only describe as tenderness in each character and scene. I’m so grateful that we’re beginning our careers in children’s literature together in this very special way.

Story is life. For starters, any kind of effective communication is shared in the form of a story. But it’s more than that. Story helps us make sense of ourselves, our lives, and each other. The stories we hear, the stories we read, the stories we tell, the stories we write…they give us the ability to understand more clearly who we are and what we’re doing here. We’re sustained by story, so story is life.

The reverse is true, too. Each life is a story. In fact, two of my favorite picture books from the past few years—Zora, the Story Keeper, written by Ebony Joy Wilkins and Farmhouse, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall—both brilliantly explore the idea of lives as stories and the sacred act of sharing our own stories and the stories of those we love.

I think many of us, myself included, essentially feel like we have a responsibility to honor certain moments, individuals, experiences, or feelings—and crafting stories about them is the best way we know how to do that. Given that humans have been doing this since the very beginning, story is clearly a vital part of what it means to be human.

John Schu, you should have asked me what I’m reading right now! I’m one of those readers who, at any given time, reads a bunch of books at once. I don’t know why I started doing this. It just started to happen, I think, when the number of books I wanted to read began to exceed my ability to read them fast enough. But also, it’s just nice to have a selection of books that I can dip back into at any time, and I can choose solely based on my mood or preference at that moment.

Right now, for example, I’m reading The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, Raising Twice-Exceptional Children: A Handbook for Parents of Neurodivergent Gifted Kids by Emily Kircher-Morris, The Eyes & The Impossible by Dave Eggers, and I keep finding myself rereading Tokyo Night Parade, written by J.P. Takahashi and Minako Tomigahara.

Thanks again for having me, Mr. Schu! This has been a great honor.

Congratulations, Ryan! Thank you! 

Rostam's Picture-Day Pusteen releases on July 16, 2024. Pre-order a copy today. 


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