Today we’re thrilled to welcome Raakhee Mirchandani to the WNDB blog to talk about her wonderful new picture book, Super Satya Saves the Day!
Super Satya is ready to have a super day, including finally conquering the tallest slide in Hoboken. But things take a not-so-super turn when she realizes her superhero cape is stuck at the dry cleaner. Will she be able to face her fears, help her friends, and be the true hero everyone knows she is? Super Satya Saves the Day, introduces Satya, a precocious Indian-American superhero, who is ready to save the day, even if she doesn’t always know it right away!
We love the concept for SUPER SATYA SAVES THE DAY! We know it was inspired by your daughter Satya, but can you tell us a little bit more about its origin?
Thanks! Hearing that people love Super Satya never gets old. The story was definitely inspired by own fiery superhero, my little roommate also named Satya. Like her character she’s brave, she loves helping friends and she LOVES to dress up like a superhero. (The real life version is also grumpy, sassy and a natural born comic; but I’ll spare you those details.) But here’s the deal: my daughter and I love books. We celebrate great days and special occasions with a trip to the bookstore and we soothe nerves and fix bad days with books. Books are always the answer for the two of us. So when I set out to find her a story with a little girl superhero — one that kind of resembled her — at the center, well, it blew my mind that we came up empty.
My daughter Satya is a second-generation American, born and raised in New Jersey who dresses like Wonder Woman a minimum of 3 days a week. Yet we couldn’t find a single character in a book to match the character in my home. I really only had one choice: I wrote the story for her. I made sure to use her name, not something easier to pronounce, and I made sure the family felt like ours, a little urban, the dad has a turban, constantly running places but always make time to stop for coffee.
The origin for this story came out of the specific need in my house. But in the last two months since the book has been out, I’ve met hundreds of kids and parents who tell me that this book was written for them. Kids take the book to ballet and to school, parents can’t believe that the mom and dad in the book resemble their own families and I sleep easy knowing that while I started this project with an audience of one in mine, Super Satya has grown into a true #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement.
Are there things in SUPER SATYA that are drawn directly from real life?
Recently during a school visit, one of the kids asked me about the names in the book. She wanted to know how I named my characters and I told her they were almost all named after people I love. Satya is, of course, my daughter. Jahan is my nephew, Miss Corinna was really Satya’s teacher and a very important person in our lives, Leo is my favorite cousin’s dog and Mrs. Markowitz, the dry cleaner at the end, keeper of the cape, is my high school English teacher. Mrs. Markowitz — we’re still friends, and I still insist on calling her Mrs. M, even though she says I should start saying Barbara — came in to my life at a time where I felt like I didn’t fit in and I wasn’t quite good at anything. The books she had us read, the creative writing exercises she had us do and the passion she had really inspired me to pursue journalism in college and make writing my career. (I don’t know anyone named Tanya, but I do think it’s an excellent name for a T-Rex.)
The other things that are drawn from our life are the way the characters look. (The book’s illustrator Tim Palin is a proper genius; I am obsessed with the art and want to frame the pages all over my apartment.) We look a lot like the family in the book, in the coffee scene you’ll spot the Mayor of Hoboken in the left corner of the book, along with some actual Hoboken storefronts we love — Baking Mama, Tony Baloney’s and Little City Books. And later in the books, while Satya is sitting on the stump watching kids come down the slide, you might notice a bald girl. We don’t know her, but we know lots of kids with childhood cancer who have been there — Satya herself is a cancer survivor — and we wanted to make sure that there was a character who represented the pediatric cancer warriors in our life.
How important was it to you to write a book with an Indian-American protagonist specifically?
I don’t think I could have written any other book, with any other protagonist. This character and her family are who we are and this is our Indian-American story. And I wanted to share that with the world.
When my husband Agan first saw the cover art for Super Satya, he couldn’t believe that a dad like him was going to be on the cover of a children’s book. What he meant was that he couldn’t believe a dad with a turban was going to be on a book cover. So while I set out to write this story for Satya, I suppose I wrote it for Agan and myself too. We didn’t have books like this as children and seeing the incredible response around this one, from kids of varied ethnicities and genders, well, it really opens my heart.
During school visits, I tell kids all the time to take control of their own stories because waiting for someone else to tell yours takes the power away from you. And I mean that. I could wait for someone to have an Indian American girl in a starring role as a superhero, or I could just look around at the girl in front of me and know, that she already exists and people need to meet her.
When in doubt, I usually choose action. So here we are!
What’s been the most rewarding part of the publishing process for you?
Hands down, the most rewarding part of the process is meeting all the kids and parents at book events and story times. They all come with stories about Super Satya: how they finally conquered a fear in their own life, just like Satya did. Or how they’ve been using their super eyes and ears to help others. They bring me fan art, stickers and tell me about their dreams of writing books one day. If you ever need to feel good about yourself and the world, I highly recommend hosting a story time at a local bookstore. The conversations that happen between adults and kids around good books is seriously the best. (I’ve also gotten really good at story times. I’m not bragging, I’m just being honest. I curate a mean list, I read with lots of emotion and feelings and I get a ton of laughs! It’s become my favorite way to share Super Satya with new people.)
What advice would you give to anyone else who would like to write a similar kind of book?
Stop dreaming about it and just make it happen. Sit down every single day and dedicate time to telling your story. I set aside between 30 minutes to an hour daily, and that’s outside of work, the gym, running, momming, being a friend, a wife, a daughter and a human who needs alone time to try on leggings in the quiet comfort of a fitting room. Writing for me is a dedicated practice, just like running, and if you don’t put in the time you’ll never see the results.
So… just write it! That’s my new mantra. Have a thought? An idea for a character? A scene that just feels like it wants to get out? Write it down, free it from your heart and see what happens with it.
* * * * *
Raakhee Mirchandani is an writer, editor and pediatric cancer crusader. Her work has appeared in Elle, Glamour, Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, New York Post, Redbookand HuffPo. She’s the Founding Editor of Moneyish, published by Dow Jones and currently serves as the Senior Content Development Editor at Dow Jones Media Group. Raakhee has also appeared on the “Today” show as well as both a host and guest on SiriusXM. “Super Satya Saves the Day“ is Raakhee‘s first book and is inspired by her own fiery 4-year-old daughter Satya.