Transcript for PB&J Episode 1
PB&J: Interview with Archaa Shrivastav
0:11 C: Hello and welcome to a brand new interview series by the Picture Bookstagang crew! Picture Books & Justice is a series where we interview a creator from the picture book world, and get to know them a little better. To us, there’s nothing better than a beautiful, spellbinding picture book that has social justice themes. The picture book world is a big, beautiful place and we are excited to hear different experiences and opinions in a shorter timeframe than our full length Picture Bookstagang episodes. PB&J is your afternoon book snack, so let’s dig in!
0: 45 C: Today I am joined by the Little Feminist Education Director Archaa Shrivastav!
Hello! I’m so excited that you could join me today for a chat. How are you today?
0:57 A: Hi Corrie I’m so excited to be here today too and excited to talk about all things picture books, social justice and kids!
1:06 C: Excellent those are all of my favourite topics! And, so I was just wondering before we get into all those awesome topics that you mentioned before I was just wondering could you talk a little bit about why you got involved in education?
1:20 A: Yeah definitely so when I first got involved in education, it was on, I used to be a classroom teacher so, on the whim of a 17 year old who had to decide, you know what their college major was as I was applying for college and I honestly had no idea what I was getting into, and teaching was nothing like I thought it would be and most people really have no idea what teachers do. Yeah, I think that because we have been in a classroom we assume that “oh I know what teachers do” but yea completely different on the other side. Umm yeah, but yea teaching is where yeah when I actually got into it and discovered more about what teaching entails it’s where I developed my social justice lens where I first learned everything that we’re not taught in schools that we should be when it comes to systemic racism, privilege, and really how the education system in this country is designed to uphold the status quo through deep racial inequities which also intersect with race, class, gender, sexuality and so much more and how it really does uphold those very effectively. And so I think that’s what turned me towards this path of social justice, of activism through the lens of teaching.
2:54 C: I completely agree with you I had a very similar experience when I went to college. And sort of learned all the things that the white wash public school curriculum I got, and I came out of there very ready to kick the door down to the patriarchy reading room and radicalize the children.
3:18 A: Yeah and I think teaching is where I developed my love for children’s literature and the first time I saw an Own Voices picture book was in a Children’s Literature class my junior year of college so I was 20 years old and I was so moved by this book that I saw it’s called “Monsoon Afternoon” by the Indian American Author Kashmira Sheth and not one time as a child had I seen a book that authentically reflected my reality as an Indian girl a mostly white school, I was a voracious reader I had mostly all, or I think I had all white teachers in all my public schooling experience and I knew that I didn’t want my students of colour to feel that same the way I did. I wanted them to feel seen and books are one great tool for helping with that.
4:18 C: Absolutely and I can only imagine how transformative that moment was for you. To the wonderful people listening to this, Archaa and I are on video chat but in case you don’t know I am very white and able bodied much like the majority of early education in the United states, which that makes me very passionate about providing comprehensive literature in the classroom that I think a lot of people grew up on so they feel like it’s ok and it’s the status quo.
It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.
5:00 A: Yeah I agree completely, and I think that it’s funny when I first became a teacher which was after college and I think almost 15 years ago I actually didn’t know too much about the world of children’s literature because we’re taught in school to use literature, use books as a tool for literacy that’s the lens that we’re given to look at it. So even though I did try to fill my classroom with as many diverse books as I could get my hands on I didn’t really know what this whole #own voices movement was in children’s literature. When I was becoming, getting my teacher’s education, Instagram wasn’t a thing you couldn’t go find all the cool Instagram pages that suggest all the diverse books to read in your classroom and all that. And also it wasn’t necessarily something I devoted a lot of time and resources to in the grand scheme of everything you need to do as a teacher. I just kind of whatever books were a available tried to find the ones that had more representation out of those but that also kind of led me to Little Femenist when I decided to leave the classroom. Since then I have discovered even more amazingness in the world of children’s literature and really how rich and diverse and how much depth and nuance there is to children’s books more than just what you see on the pages.
6:31 C: There really is I feel like I will never be able to read every single book I want to read but really am trying. Heh. And so can you talk a little bit more about what your role is within Little femenist?
6:46 C: Yeah definitely so I am the former education director actually at LIttle Feminist now I’m the Content director, so slight shift in my role there. And that basically means I am in charge of all things books, so LIttle Femeneist is one part of our company that we’re a children’s book subscription company so I help choose with the team which books go into our boxes that we send out every month. We have a box to 3-5 year olds 5-7 year olds and 7-9 year olds, and then we also have discussion questions and letters explaining why we chose these books, extending the themes of these books, so help create that content and then we have blog posts we have news letters we have social media that suggests more books that you can read maybe around specific themes like anti-racist education. Or books that show off authentic LGBTQI representation. So I create that sort of content to share with families with our subscribers. So yeah just extending on how how powerful your bookshelf can be in your home, helping families really understand that we are who share.
8:06 C: It’s a noble cause and a huge undertaking and Little Feminist is doing an increidble job, thank you guys for such a cool company. So I guess this could really be a two part question, what do you look for in a picture book, for your own shelf but also when you’re looking books to have in the boxes at Little Femenist?
8:29 A: Yeah so we look for a lot of things when we look at books. It’s hard to write really great picture books. It’s not an easy task it really is an art form it’s an undertaking a creative process. It requires research. I think the first thing that I look for as books for boxes is who wrote this book? That’s really important to us we want to know, whose story are they telling? Whose voice are they sharing? And is it an Own voices book? And for people not familiar with that term that means that its the people who is sharing this story sharing their authentic lived experiences or someone else’s? And if they are that makes it an Own Voices books. And I think really specifically around race we look for Own Voices books and also though that intersects with so many other identities that we represent around sexuality, gender, class and more, so yeah that’s our first thing, Criteria. And then we kind of go into another thing that people tend to overlook in booksis, is it a great story? Is this a story that’s creative, that’s engaging that kids can find a lot of meaning in that they can find a point of connection in and that doesn’t mean that every story needs to entertain kids but it needs to connect to them they need to be able to find a point of entry in there and hold on and be engaged and think and stories sometimes really lean towards the lecturing and there’s really a message we want to get out to kids but then if we preach that message at them I don’t think that’s what the best children’s books do. I think the best ones really bring the kids into the story and find a point where they can enter and engage and really feel they’re listening to some sort of creative process they’re part of that world that the book has created for them.
10:42 C: Yeah I totally Agree with you I feel like sometimes if the message is too strong then the kids sort of feel like they are getting a lecture from an adult or some authority figure and then they sort of lose interest. It’s a fine line ‘cuz also if the message isn’t blatant enough then they totally miss it.
11:16 A: That’s true that’s true. And I think my third big piece that is really important to me is the illustration, the art in the book, illustrations are a form of art. They require artists, who create these amazing works in books, they are what bring picture books to life, they are what bring the story to life, and I love picture book illustrations it’s what draws in the reader it’s what is the difference between a mediocre story and an amazing story with the same words in it. That’s really, I look for art that’s really authentic to the artist and I love that. And I love seeing some new different types of art forms, people get so creative with how they choose to show the art in children’s books and I love that so much.
12:21 C: There are so many different styles I feel like I can’t choose a favourite. Who are some of your favourite illustrators?
12:30 A: The person who always comes to mind first is Yuyi Morales she is a Mexican American illustrator and she has such diverse illustration styles and each one is so beautiful and unique and different each one she does.
12:45 C: I love her she is such a good artist.
12:49 A: Yeah, I was actually first introduced to her through the book “My Abuelita” and that book, it’s not one of her’s. She has just illustrated that book she hasn’t written it, and she has so many amazing books I think that book is amazing. But that one isn’t as popular is some of her other books. In that book she’s created these puppets for the characters and then she arranges them with all these little handmade details and then she has essentially photographed these scenes to put in the book which is just such a creative different way to approach children’s book illustrations.
13:26 C: She is so creative I think a few months ago maybe it was last year because what is time you know? I was following on her on social media. She is making a documentary
She was posting short documentary updates while she was filming it and it was really fascinating. And she and some filmmakers we travelling along the border of Mexico and the United states and filming about a variety of topics.
13:58 A: I think they had some other illustrators in there too right?
14:02 C; Yeah It was like a whole, a whole crew.
14:04 A: YEah
14:05 C: I don’t if it’s been released yet?
14:07 A: Yeah I remember hearing about that too. I haven’t seen it yet though. And then a second favourite illustrator that I definitely want to mention is Kaylani Juanita and she is an Oakland native and our company Little Feminist is based out of Oakland as well. And she has such a fun beautiful children’s style. She illustrated “When Aiden Becomes a Brother” which is one of our favourites, we featured that in our book club. And there’s other books she’s illustrated as well and each time her illustrations I love them I wanna take the pages out and frame them on the wall.
14:48 C: I feel like you and I have very similar tastes in illustrators I also love her “Magnificent Homespun Brown” too she illustrated which is just a phenomenal book.
15:00 A: Yeah that’s a great one.
15:02 C: I really like Lisa Urube, she did the book about the Biologist Ernest Just and “Your name is a Song” which just came out.I love her style too and the colour palettes she chooses
15:04 A: Yeah I know what you’re talking about, she’s a great one as well. There’s so many, that’s just the tip of the iceberg too.
15:20 C: Oh for sure.
15:25 A: Another illustrator, but last one I’ll share is Christian Robinson he’s a pretty awesome illustrator, and he’s I don’t know why off the top of my head I can’t think…I can think of some books he’s illustrated on we’re about to feature is this very sweet board book called “Rain”
And I love this kind of looks like paper cut out style that he does and so much fun colour all over his pages.
16:02 C: Oh yeah, the bright colours he uses are amazing. Okay I’m going to forcibly turn us away from this topic from which we could go on and on. And to you know another just light and fluffy question. What do you think needs to change about the publishing industry?
16:22 A: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I guess probably everything. I have had the amazing privilege of working in a very informal arm of the publishing industry. So Little Femenist has published our own trio of board books earlier this year and I know on your Instagram page @thetinyactivists you so generously shared some reviews of those as wel.
16:52 C: I do love them so much.
16:54 A: Thank you, yeah so l my experience in publishing has been different have been different from people who have worked in the formal publishing industry and I interact more with the formal publishing industry more as a book buyer rather than having to navigate having to work in that industry as a queer person of colour. I don’t know if that would necessarily be the most pleasant experience because it’s an extremely white dominated industry. I think that, you know, the publishing industry is at the end of the day an arm of capitalism, their goal is to make money and in the words of Sonya Renee Taylor who is a Black activist that is one of the most intelligent people that I have ever had the privilege of learning from. To paraphrase her she says something along the lines of ‘Capitalism is a henchman of white supremacy’ and when the people when you look at the publishing industry the gatekeepers of it are a lot of white women and they decide what gets published. They hold the power in those organizations and really they decided based on their personal preferences and I mean that, you can obviously, that and of itself is just highly problematic. That they are deciding what stories and entire generation is growing up on based on what they like and maybe somewhere in there some marketing statistics of what will make money. And that’s, there are so many layers I mean I am no expert but there are so many layers of where the art and the creativity. Likethe artists who create these stories because that’s what writing is that’s what illustration is, it’s all art. When you try to merge that into a system that’s just trying to make money, that’s exploitative and extractive, how much that butts heads with what the purpose of art is and what the purpose of storytelling and just whose voices are being heard. It’s still even as we see more diverse own voices books it’s still as small small fraction of what’s being published.
19:40 C: Absolutely and you know even of the few people that are published authors and artists of colour too, then I always think it’s so interesting to think of the marketing budgets that are allocated to different books. There are books that came out a few years ago that are truly phenomenal that I didn’t hear about until I happening to be scrolling through a publisher’s website. Because there was no marketing budget and these are the books that I truly love to review and amplify and try and get the word out about in my tiny angry femenist corner called Instagram,
10:21 A: Yea well we should be angry because how, like why do these people get to decide what stories we read what stories our children read? But also I just thought of something when you said that, oh I spend of a lot of my time, a lot of hours in my day searching for books and it is literally this deep intense search of sifting through so many books that are problematic in so many ways. Maybe even something as something as simple as they all are about animals rather than one child of colour where are the people?
21:12 C: Oh do I have a gripe about that!
21:13 A: And then, and it takes so long to get to one book that you’re like okay this is about a person of colour with some sort of authentic representation not just a token brown kid thrown on the cover because it’ll sell better than a kid that’s white. Cause diversity is marketable these days. So yeah it is,that is so much of what my hours go into. If you really want those books you really have to put in the time to find them they are not going to easily come to you. And it is so encouraging to see at least when I find them there are more and more amazing ones rather than iIt used to be one or two. So that feels really good to me. There’s momentum behind the people who are making these stories are getting more and more of a chance to be heard.
22:13 C: Absolutely and I also think that maybe the last few months with all of this long overdue social movement protesting upheaval. I heard the phrase pathological optimist earlier today when I was listening to a podcast and I was like “Man, that just really hits the nail on the head of who I Corrie am as a human being” and because of this pathological optimism I do truly do believe the publishing industry can change. I do wish it would be changing faster but you know I’ll take baby steps as long as that starts into a run at some point. But do you think things will begin to shift in the industry as a whole?
23:11 A: Yeah, that’s a great point you bring right now with the surge we’re seeing in the amplification of the movement for Black lives which is a movement that has been going on for years/centuries that Black people have been leading. But as we see this surge in support for it and in hearing those voices more that is something that gives me hope that so many industries including the publishing industry so many structures really rather than industries can change will change, and need to change you know? And, publishing really falls into that to because that is something that has really spoken to me a lot in seeing and supporting the work that so many Black activists are doing right now. Is that people are calling for these radical structural changes right? That it can’t just be this top down, surface level change, that will create anything meaningful in our society and as an arm of our society art which is what I consider books and storytelling to be a part of. And so just really seeing that people are working so hard and have that pathological optimism that you mentioned and supporting it and the ways that I best can that that does give me hope that you know, there’s people who have been doing work to change things like representation and authentic representation for so long and so amplifying those voices. And kind of getting behind those movements makes me feel hopeful.
25:11 C: Absolutely, I was even doing some research earlier today, we are getting together sort of another short episode specifically about windows and mirrors and sliding glass doors and giving a little bit more info on Rudine Sims Bishop and Emily Style. And Emily Style wrote in 1988 how problematic it was for this like Colour blind approach to racism and you know? And I just have in my notes in all capital letters “SHE WAS WRITING ABOUT THIS IN 1988 AND WE’RE STILL HERE!” LIke we’re still talking about it and that was like my light my hair on fire this morning, I was like “Ahh, she said i32 years ago and still truckin.” Alright I think before smoke comes out of both of our ears thinking about all of these things what are some of the best books you’ve read so far?
26:19 A: Ok that list is really long so it really has to be like the best books I’ve read recently s they’re at the top of my mind. So of picture books, “Rocket says look up” is an awesome picture book created by Black makers about a Black girl who is an astronomy expert, tshe is pretty awesome. And “My footprints” is another amazing book that I love by the Vietnamese American author Bao Phi and then “Go Show the World” is about Indigenous histories and present indigineous heroes and it’s written so poetically and beautifully I really love those books. So those are some of the picture books I’m obsessed with. But also I’m trying to read some more Young Adult fiction because I’m like this is where the movement is happening, novels it takes some more time to get the movement happening there but man these Young Adult books. It’s not anything related to Little Feminist yet we are still working with the Littles. I’m about to start reading this book called ”The Love and Lies of Ruhksana Ali.“
27:52 C: Oh my gosh.
27:53 A: Did you read it?
27:54 C: So you’re gonna feel all the feelings, I read it and it was, it was one of the,,,I could not put it down, I just openly weeping oh my gosh it’s so good get ready.
28:08 A: I was like okay this is a book about a Queer South Asian teenager that I could only have imagined reading as a teenager that did not exist, so I’m really excited to read it as a 30 year old now. Yeah, and then also I just cracked open “The Body is not an Apology” which is by Snya Renee Taylor and again everything that woman does and writes is enlightening literally, so highly recommend.
28:46 C: I just read “Girls Resist” by Kailing RIch and that’s incredible.
28:53 A: Is that an anthology?
28:54 C: It’s not an anthology, it’s sort of a how-to manual for how to start your own movement which I wrote a review for it a few weeks ago. Something that I love about KaeLyn RIch’s writing is she like, the book itself says like “volunteering is great there’s lots of established organizations, but like what organization are you going to start?” And gives that education to readers from the ground up and is just so empowering for teenagers to read especially teenage girls of colour, KaeLyn i s a woman of colour and phenomenal. And I just read “Dress Coded “ too which was really good too.
29:45 A: What’s that one?
29:46 C: It is about this girl who starts a podcast because she’s sick of girls getting what they call “dress coded” which would be you know? If they’re wearing a tank top or something getting in trouble and basically the age old “you’re a distraction for other people!”
30:05 A: About body policing.
30;06 C: Yeah, all the body policing sort of racism and there’s so much that the main character sort of recognizes that different body types and shapes are getting policed more heavily. So she sort of starts this whole movement to end it at her school. It’s awesome, incredible and I’m ready.I’m here for the radicalizing of young adult books.
30:37 A: I love it I mean this is , when I read all these, what these Young Adult books are about nowadays and all the amazing things teenagers know and think about and talk about and do. And I’m like, the kids are ok, they’re okay! They’re gonna be great!
30:57 C: They are gonna be great! They’ll be okay. Oh they’re so good. And also you know I, then I have that small wave that I wish that I had at that age you know? Where would we be if I had these ten years ago, fifteen years ago, when I was a teenager.
31:16 A: Well we can indulge all these books for the teenager within us.
31:20 C: Exactly. So Archaa thank you so much for sitting down and chatting with me ti was incredible, I’m so glad we got to do this!
31:29 A:Of course, thank you Corrie for having me on your pod cast I really enjoyed talking to you today.
31: 31 C: Of Course and, thank you all for listening to the Picture Bookstagang podcast, as well as these shorter PB&J episodes. Don’t forget to subscribe and rate us wherever you listen to podcasts! And you can drop us a comment on Instagram and let us know, what are you reading?