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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Marzieh Abbas and Anu Chaouhan Plus Review of A Dupatta Is . . .

Marzieh Abbas ​is a baker-turned-author. She loves adding magic to her creations, whether they’re seven-layered rainbow cakes or the books she writes for children all over the world.

Her work is inspired by her Pakistani culture and Muslim heritage. Marzieh enjoys learning new skills, jumping rope, sipping chai, and observing nature. Marzieh is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, and a graduate of the Lyrical Language Lab and Children’s Book Academy. Marzieh dreams of owning a talking parrot someday. But until then, she lives in Pakistan with her husband and children who inspire her daily. She occasionally writes under the name: Marzieh A. Ali.

She’s the author of ABC'S Of Pakistan, illustrated by Michile Khan (2022), and Nadia and Nadir 6-book chapter book series (2022).



Anu Chouhan is a Punjabi-Canadian illustrator and video game artist. A trained animator and character designer with a background in mobile game development, Anu often combines her love of her cultural heritage into her art, as well as always being inspired by anime, nature, and global fashion.

Upon completion of her Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Arts from Simon Fraser University, Anu developed her skills at Capilano University to obtain her Commercial Animation diploma. Anu recently illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of the New York Times bestselling book Aru Shah and the End of Time. Her unique, edgy, and energetic art has been featured by the CBC, the BBC, Harper’s Bazaar Bride India, The Times of India, and The Times of London.


Anu's the illustrator of Bharatanatyam in Ballet Shoes by Mahak Jain (2022) and Aru Shah and the End of Time (The Graphic Novel) (Pandava Series) by Roshani Chokshi.


Their newest book A Dupatta Is . . ., releases on April 11th and we are excited to give you a sneak peek behind the scenes and at the book itself.


Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate? )


MARZIEH – I love writing my initial ideas in longhand and then later, once I’ve gotten the basic plot down, I type out my manuscripts. I’ve been writing since May 2019 when I shut down my nine-year-old thriving home-based bakery business because I just couldn’t manage it (my second child had just entered her toddler years). I began writing letters to my kids as a way to process all the big feelings I was juggling. Those letters later took the shape of my first Islamic book for children, which was published by a UK-based Muslim publisher. I was having major withdrawal symptoms from shutting down my baking business and wrote a baking-related book on Ramadan. That was published by another Muslim publisher in the US. Soon, I began dreaming of writing for all children, not just Muslim children. That’s when I came across the Children’s Book Academy course and won a partial scholarship.


I enjoy writing fiction and nonfiction in a lyrical voice. My stories always reflect contemporary characters, my Muslim faith, and Pakistani culture.


ANU - I’ve been drawing ever since I was a kid, but I pursued a career in video game art and development after graduation in 2014. Since then, I’ve been illustrating personal art in my free time and sharing online under the name @anumation. I’ve been illustrating for books since 2020. During that time, I also started getting into writing and worked on a manuscript for my very own book. I really enjoy working on picture books, I’m lucky I’ve had the chance to illustrate characters that look like me, as representation is super important to me.


Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

MARZIEH – I loved Roald Dahl, as a child and I still do. Another favorite author is Eric Carle.

ANU – When it comes to picture books, Phoebe Gillman was a huge inspiration for me. I really loved her book The Balloon Tree as a child! I also loved Corduroy by Dan Freeman.


Marzieh, what was your inspiration or spark of interest for A Dupatta Is . . . ?

MARZIEH – The idea of writing a book about hijab and/or a dupatta had been on the back burner for a while. Initially I thought of writing an issue-based book, but there were already too many of those in the market. When I read Fry Bread the structure immediately clicked! There was a lot to say about the dupatta, and it symbolized so much to me that I jumped at the idea of writing an expository nonfiction book. When Anu added the same main character on every spread, it became more of an informational book, and I love that.


Interesting that Fry Bread was the mentor text for you. Anu, what about the A Dupatta Is . . . manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

ANU - I was chomping at the bit to illustrate this book when I learned it was all about dupattas. Fashion, especially South Asian fashion, is a huge source of inspiration for me and something I often love to blend into my personal art.


Sounds like you were the perfect team for this book. Marzieh, how different was it to write A Dupatta Is . . . than your chapter book series? How many drafts/revisions did it take from idea to publication A Dupatta Is . . . ?


MARZIEH – This was the first book I wrote after I signed with my agent. I think I spent about 2 months revising it based on feedback from my critique partners. Then I spent another couple of weeks revising it with my agent. We sent it out on submission and had an offer within 1.5 months. It went through a couple more rounds of minor revisions with my lovely editor, Emily Settle after acquisitions. My chapter book series is a work-for-hire series that came through my agent. The publisher, ABDO Books, had very specific requirements for the number of chapters and words per chapter.


Wow, that's quite a quick timeline. Anu, how many revisions did it take to create the illustrations for A Dupatta Is . . . ? What was the trickiest or hardest part?


ANU - There weren’t a ton of big revisions for this book. I was really fortunate to have a lot of flexibility to interpret the spreads in my own way. I was really concerned with making sure I got certain cultural and religious aspects in the artwork correct, as well as when specific types of dupattas were mentioned. But thankfully, Marzieh and Mariam (the art director) were incredibly helpful when I felt stuck.


You've done a beautiful job. Is there something you both want your readers to know about, or take away from A Dupatta Is . . . ?


MARZIEH – If there’s one thing I’d love for children to take away from this book – it’s a celebration of culture!


ANU - Though I truly think anyone around the world will find this book fun and insightful to read, I really hope kids of South Asian descent feel like they relate with the characters and feel like a part of them is represented throughout the pages.


I think you'll both get you wish. Anu, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or special elements) throughout the illustrations. Although it’s nonfiction, did you do this in A Dupatta Is . . . ? Could you share one or more with us?

Text © Marzieh Abbas, 2023. Image © Anu Chouhan, 2023.


ANU - Many of the dupatta designs in the book were inspired by my mom’s collection. I’m of Punjabi descent, so I tried to add some phulkari designs into the book as an ode to the region where my family is from.


Your fabric details are amazing throughout the book! Marzieh, what is the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing children’s books? How about with A Dupatta Is . . . in particular?


MARZIEH – I think it’s always challenging to find the focus for picture books. There’s such an economy of words and attention spans you need to work with. I often struggle with distilling my story down to one core idea. For A Dupatta Is . . . this wasn’t an issue, mainly because the Fry Bread structure oriented my writing and focus.


Marzieh, did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Anu’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Marzieh Abbas, 2023. Image © Anu Chouhan, 2023.


MARZIEH – Oh, yes! So much…

I love the spread where Anu drew the girl and her grandma in front of the mirror, admiring their dupattas. Everything she put in the grandma’s room reminded me of my grandma—from the wooden bangle stand to the full-length mirror and the cupboard. I also absolutely love the page with the bride in hijab. The amazing thing was I never discussed how I wanted the characters to be dressed. Anu is truly talented and I’m so excited for a companion book with the same publisher, called Henna Is… which Anu will also be illustrating. It releases in Winter 2024.


This is such a fun spread. Anu, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Marzieh Abbas, 2023. Image © Anu Chouhan, 2023.


ANU - My first favourite spread is the one where the main character and her grandma are at a dupatta stall. I had a lot of fun designing the various dupattas hanging around the border. I also enjoy working on the spread that features different types of dupattas from all around Pakistan. I learned so much about the regional designs while working on it, Marzieh was super helpful in guiding me with that.


I love all the fabrics and designs you've captured in the book. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


MARZIEH – I’m working through revisions on a recently acquired picture book on Pakistan’s first camel-library that sprung up during the pandemic. I’m also reviewing art from time-to-time for the next six books in the Nadia & Nadir series and for my three picture books releasing in 2024, all while trying to juggle promotion and marketing efforts for A Dupatta Is…


ANU - In addition to working on the follow up to this book called Henna Is…, I wrote and illustrated my own debut book Hair Oil Magic, which is releasing next Spring!


I'm looking forward to the sequel and Congrats Anu on your upcoming debut picture book. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

MARZIEH –I hope to visit the Sequoia National Park someday. I dream of standing in the shadow of giants!

© NPS photo / Anthony Caprio


ANU – I really want to visit Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, it would be so awesome to see the wild tigers there!

© Skymet Weather


Thank you Marzieh & Anu for sharing with us a bit about yourselves and your newest book.


To find out more about Marzieh Abbas, or to contact her:


To find out more about Anu Chouhan, or contact her:


Review Of A Dupatta Is . . .


Captivated by this cover and the imaginative "magic" of the flowers floating off her dupatta and around the little girl as she swings, I was excited to dive into this lyrical ode to culture, religion, and legacy interwoven through the significance of the dupatta to the girl and her multigenerational South Asian family.

A Dupatta Is . . .


Author: Marzieh Abbas


Illustrator: Anu Chouhan


Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (2023)


Ages: 3-6


Nonfiction


Themes:

Dupatta, culture, family, traditions, and imagination.


Synopsis:

A Dupatta Is..., written by Marzieh Abbas and vividly brought to life by the artwork of Anu Chouhan, is a loving and lyrical ode to the dupatta.


A dupatta is so much more than a beautiful piece of fabric.


A dupatta is sound—swooshing and swashing like a superhero cape.


A dupatta is scent—cinnamon and cardamom, crushed coriander and peppermint oil.


A dupatta is fun—playing peekaboo and building cushion forts with dupatta canopies.


Dupattas—shawls traditionally worn by women in various cultures of South Asia—are beautiful and colorful of course, but they're also fun, functional, and carry the sounds and smells of family and identity.


Opening Lines:


A dupatta is fabric

Cotton balls or silkworm cocoons

Plucked and spun into thread

Woven into cloth

Soft and flowy


But a dupatta is so much more . . .


What I LOVED about this book:

Opening with a straightforward, tangible, yet lyrical description of a dupatta as "fabric...soft and flowy" and a "rectangle...edged in lace or piped with ribbons," the text elegantly weaves in a little science, craftsmanship, and community and is accompanied by vibrant illustrations full of textures and colors.

Text © Marzieh Abbas, 2023. Image © Anu Chouhan, 2023.


Using a wonderful repeating phrase - "But a dupatta is so much more . . ." the book leads the reader through an expository exploration of a dupatta in terms of the senses (color, sound, scent), heritage & legacy, function (sheltering, comforting, and rocking a baby), art & beauty, and faith. Touching on the cultural and practical aspects of a dupatta.


Throughout the colorful digital illustrations, a visual narrative follows a young girl as she interacts with family members of multiple generations (playing superhero, enjoying tea, and attending a wedding) and enjoys the multiple facets of a dupatta both traditionally (during prayers with Dadi) and in fun uses specific to childhood -

Text © Marzieh Abbas, 2023. Image © Anu Chouhan, 2023


It is a beautiful celebration and exploration of the role and significance of dupatta within Pakistan and other South Asian Countries. A brief note and glossary expand on the dupatta's history, design, and usage. Overall, it's a wonderfully lyrical and sensory ode to everything a dupatta is and what makes it special.


Resources:

- look at the designs on the dupattas in the book. Draw, paint, or create a stamp (with a potato) and design your own dupatta pattern.

- what other uses can you think of for a dupatta? Tie two together for a jump rope?

- what reminds you most of a special family member? A scent, something they wear, a special time spent with them?

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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