Monday 3 January 2022

Welcome to 2022 by Chitra Soundar

 Welcome to 2022. We here at Picture Book Den hope you all had a wonderful Christmas even if it wasn’t as fabulous as it should have been before the pandemic hit us.

As autumn recedes and winter sets in, many communities and families in the world come together to celebrate. And most celebrations include visiting family, doing traditional rituals together and family meals. 

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While these celebrations are moments of joy, days filled with good food, old stories and making new traditions, often we also get upset or angry or hurt. Families know us well, they love us a lot and therefore can hurt us a lot too. 

"Bangladeshi children wearing sari at Pohela Boishakh celebration (02)" / CC-BY-SA-4.0

Children experience heightened emotions during such gatherings. Lots of excitement with extended families, presents, more treats. But also such gatherings involve sharing their bedrooms or toys or doing things with others even if they don’t feel like it.

As a child, I’ve experienced both the highs of celebrations especially during Diwali – with fireworks and sweets and the lows of aunties telling me off or sharing my fireworks or following the lead of older cousins.

Can you spot me in the top right corner?

Extending these experiences to being a picture book writer, I’ve written about both these situations. In my picture book Shubh Diwali!, illustrated by Charlene Chua, we feature a family who is having fun during the celebrations. 

In my recent non-fiction picture book, We All Celebrate, illustrated by Jenny Bloomfield, I talk about families and loved ones across the world coming together to celebrate in many different ways. 

But as I said there is another side to all family gatherings. Things that annoy us, make us sad or angry or disappointed.  

In my new picture book Holi Hai!, illustrated by Darshika Varma, just released on 1st January 2022, I show the other side – what happens when emotions run over, tempers fly and nothing seems joyous.

Young children, especially at the picture book age, don’t have a lot of history behind them. They are discovering their emotions and their own temperament. And so, celebrations offer the perfect storm for not just joy but also tantrums, stubbornness and frustration. 

However, picture books not only offer a mirror of the behaviour – be it throwing a tantrum or being upset or even being hyper – they also offer a doorway into learning about how to deal with those emotions. 

But such doorways must not be didactic or cautionary.

The picture books must acknowledge that such emotions are normal and then offer tools to harness the negative emotion and turn into a positive force.

So, to show and not just tell, I have included a few examples here. The stories below demonstrate how to integrate a celebration with an emotion and offer a positive outlook for the young reader. 

To be honest, I struggled to find UK books for these – especially for a celebration that’s not Christmas. (That’s a hint for all writers from under-represented backgrounds, fill the gap!) So I’ve picked some from the US too. 

In Fiesta Dress: A Quinceañera Tale By: Caren McNelly McCormack Illustrated by: Martha Aviles, a little girl feels left out in a big family celebration. No one is paying attention to her and yet finally even though she’s not the star of the occasion, she finds a way to save the day. 

This story weaves through the rituals of the celebrations with the emotions of the young protagonist who’s feeling left out and of course she joins in by helping out. Where was this book when I attended a wedding where I was feeling so left out and it never occurred to me that all I had to do was join in.

In Nadia’s Hands, written by Karen English and illustrated by Jonathan Weiner, Nadia is worried about putting mehndi on her hands to be a flower girl at her aunt’s wedding, because that will NOT help her blend in at school.

Again, this story juxtaposes the joy of the wedding with the reality of living in a western society for a child from a Pakistani background. It’s all ok to dress up and colour your hands with mehndi. But will my friends laugh at me? 

This resonated with me so much as a South Asian living in the UK, I often try to tone down our traditions especially when our celebrations are not public holidays and I have to go into work. 

In this picture book The Dreidel That Wouldn't Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah  by Martha Seif Simpson and Durga Yael Bernhard, it’s all about sharing and not being greedy. Haven’t we all been in a situation we get a present for Christmas or for birthday and are forced to share with our siblings or cousins or friends? 

From Hanukkah to Christmas, Tom Fletcher’s The Christmasaurus and the Naughty List illustrated by Shane Devries, sends Christmasaurus on a mission to clear out the naughty list. It’s about remorse but also about understanding. Remember what I said showing how to deal with our negative emotions and also showing empathy when someone else is upset. 

When it’s not about the internal emotions of children, your picture book can be about dangers that we all face during family celebrations. The big cousins that are rude or perhaps siblings who are behaving badly or a crazy aunty who pinches your cheeks. Perhaps that’s what inspired Nick Butterworth’s Jingle Bells in which two mice want to celebrate a lovely Christmas but they have a problem – the cat. 

And finally, I thought it will be apt to end with a New Year story. Although my example is about the Chinese New Year. 

As a writer and as a child, some of us have regrets about the past year. Not the ones you couldn’t control – but the ones you were able to. Say for example, you had made new year resolutions last year but failed to keep any of them. Or a child promised to tidy their room every week but failed often. 

A brand-new year is here and therefore we must find a way to leave those regrets behind and form new habits, do new things, aim for things we can achieve. And that’s what this picture book This Next New Year by: Janet Wong Illustrated by: Yangsook Choi talks about. In this story, a boy must come to terms with things that didn’t happen in the current year and must look forward with hope for the upcoming new year. 

The books I've included in the list below have a range of ways to introduce the festivities alongside the emotion. From magical characters to mice, or real-life children in contemporary settings, stories can be told differently. 

The job as a picture book writer is to find that unique twist, inside the traditional and familiar setting of the celebration and find a character that we can all root for, even if they are behaving badly. Easy? No! Fun and challenging, oh yeah!

So as the first post of the new year, 2022, I offer all picture book writers a challenge! 

Step 1: Identify 6 joys that children experience. 

Step 2: List each and mind-map each.

Step 3: Identify 6 negative emotions children experience.

Step 4: List each and mind-map each.

Step 5: Allocate one alternating emotion for each month. So, if January is about being curious, February could be jealousy, March is then pride and so on…

Step 6: Write one picture book per month based on that emotion set inside a celebration - November can be a story about Diwali and anger, December can be Christmas and sharing, April can be Easter and jealousy. 

No other rules. Read widely, mind-map crazy and fill that notebook!

Tip: Why don’t you find some new and interesting festivals and celebrations from my book – We All Celebrate?

Happy New Year to you all! Have a productive and fun-filled 2022.

Chitra Soundar is an internationally published, award-winning author and storyteller, who is inspired by mythology, culture and folktales from across the world. She believes every story needs to be celebrated and there is a story behind every celebration. 

Her latest picture books are Holi Hai! And We All Celebrate. Find out more at and follow her on twitter here and Instagram here.


Anonymous said...

Great post and writing prompt—looking forward to sharing with my critique group. :-)Viv.

ClaireFLewis said...

Really enjoyed reading this post - thank you!

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