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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Astrid Kamalyan

Astrid Kamalyan comes from a big, happy family and is the oldest of five. She spent most of her childhood in Armenia.

Author photo of Astrid Kamalyan

As a child, she wished she could one day paint the beautiful mountains of Artsakh. Now she paints with words and writes for the most important people in the world—kids. Astrid holds an MBA degree from the American University of Armenia. She loves globetrotting with her husband and two sons. She currently shares her time between Chicago and Yerevan, Armenia.

Astrid’s debut picture book, Bábo: A Tale Of Armenian Rug-Washing Day, releases September 19th.

Welcome Astrid, thank you so much for coming by to talk about your newest book and your writing.

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

I have been writing ever since I learned to write, but I started writing picture books in 2017. With the change of seasons in my life my writing changed, going from poetry to short stories to dystopian sci-fi, and sometimes it was a mix of these. When my older son was born, one day, I was holding him in my hands and a picture book started writing itself in my mind. It was like a surprise visit. I so loved it that for the first time ever I wanted a work of mine to be published.

What a special moment. What do you like to do outside by yourself or with family or friends?

If I were to pick what I love doing the most it would be hiking with the family. Armenia, where I grew up, has gorgeous, mountainous nature, and I love sharing the beauty of it with my kids. We travel back and hike as often as we can.

There is something soothing and magical in hiking through the trees. What was your inspiration or spark of interest for Bábo: A Tale Of Armenian Rug-Washing Day?

Cover of book - girl chasing a chicken past drying rugs, while her Bábo lovingly watches.

Bábo is based on my happy childhood memories of washing rugs with my siblings and grandmother. As kids (and to this day) we didn't perceive it as a chore, but very much as something fun we get to enjoy doing together. I wanted to share that little piece of happiness from my childhood with young readers.

You did a great job capturing the excitement and fun to be had in cleaning the rugs! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

Cover of book - a boy stands on the moon.

Oh my, so many! But one book that I felt understood me was The Little Prince. I felt it was on our, kids', side. And I felt very safe within it.

I love getting lost in a good book. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about or gain from Bábo?

I would love all readers, young and old, to feel welcome in our happy Armenian family and enjoy the sunshine and joy. This is the warmth of my dear Babo that will now shine in many more homes.

You've definitely accomplished this goal. How many revisions did Bábo take from the first draft to publication?

I didn't count the number of revisions, but what was interesting about this particular book is that I made major changes, like the change in POV. And it also went from non-rhyming to rhyming and back to non-rhyming.

Finding that "just right voice" can be so tough sometimes. What was the toughest aspect of writing or revising Bábo?

The sense of responsibility I felt writing about such a rich, ancient culture. How do you ever do justice to something so beautiful, so loved by you? You know it because you grew up with it, but then also, there is a whole universe of knowledge to learn and research if you want to tell kids about it.

True enough. When you first saw Anait Semirdzhyan’s illustrations did anything surprise or amaze you? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - on left, young girl jumps on the soapy rug sending bubbles into the air. On right, four kids & a dog prepare to brush off the soap suds.

Text © Astrid Kamalyan, 2023. Image © Anait Semirdzhyan, 2023.

Anait's illustrations are sunshine on a page. If you just flip through the book and don't read a single word in it, you still feel an immense sense of joy. Every single time I saw the sketches, or the cover, or the color versions, I couldn't stop marveling at them, they filled me with happiness and gratitude.

Anait did a great job of capturing Tato's joyous nature. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I am working on more Armenian stories that will hopefully open up the world of Babo a little more for the reader. I also love writing humor, so I'll see where that takes me.

Sounds fun. I can't wait to see what you create next. And lastly, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Distant view of Mets Tagher © Unseen Armenia: Mets Tagher

What I am truly longing to visit are the forests in my ancestral village, Mets Tagher in Artsakh. Smelling with wild thyme and covered with blackberries, filled with cold mountain streams, they are inaccessible for me right now. After the 2020 war in Artsakh, our village has been ethnically cleansed of its native Armenian population and now we are banned from entering there. But I don't lose hope that this is only temporary because just as we miss our land, our land misses us too.

On a happier note, I love the Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California. The way it makes me feel small, at peace, and lucky to be there.

Thank you, Astrid for participating in this interview. It was wonderful to get to know you.

Cover of book - girl chasing a chicken past drying rugs, while her Bábo lovingly watches.

Be sure to come back Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Bábo: A Tale Of Armenian Rug-Washing Day.

To find out more about Astrid Kamalyan, or contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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