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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Rajani LaRocca 2023

Rajani LaRocca is a physician and award-winning author of books for young people.

Author photo of Rajani LaRocca.

She was born in Bangalore, India, immigrated to the U.S. as a baby, and spent most of her childhood in Louisville, Kentucky. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, she trained in Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she’s been working as a primary care internal medicine physician since 2001. She lives in eastern Massachusetts with her family and impossibly cute dog.

Rajani has always been an omnivorous reader of novels, nonfiction, comic books, and cereal boxes. She is now an omnivorous writer of award-winning books for young readers: novels and picture books, fiction and nonfiction, in prose and poetry. Her middle grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole, won a 2022 Newbery Honor, the 2022 Walter Dean Myers Award, the 2022 Golden Kite Award, and the 2021 New England Book Award, as well as other honors. She is the author of numerous other acclaimed novels and picture books, including Midsummer’s Mayhem, Seven Golden Rings, and more. She also co-hosts the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast.

The books Rajani read as a child helped shape who she is today in ways she’s still discovering. Books inspired her to pursue medicine, made her yearn to live in different worlds, and helped her consider what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. A lifelong book lover, she never saw herself in a book until she was an adult—and when she did, it was world-changing and mind-blowing. She believes that everyone deserves to see themselves in the pages of a book; that writing and reading diversely promotes empathy; and empathy makes the world a better place.

Collage of the 12 covers of Rajani's listed books.

Rajani is the author of Mirror to Mirror (2023), Summer Is for Cousins, illustrated by Abhi Alwar (2023), A Vaccine Is Like a Memory, illustrated by Kathleen Marcotte (2023), I'll Go and Come Back, illustrated by Sara Palacios (2022), Red, White, and Whole (A Newbery Honor Award Winner) (2021), My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris, illustrated by Ashley Evans (2021), Where Three Oceans Meet, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan (2021), Midsummer's Mayhem (2019), Bracelets for Bina's Brothers (Storytelling Math), illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat (2021), Much Ado About Baseball (2021), The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA, illustrated by Steven Salerno (2021), and Seven Golden Rings, illustrated by Archana & Sreenivasan (2020).

[For general information about Rajani , see our earlier interviews (here), (here), and (here).]

Her newest picture book, Your One and Only Heart, releases on August 15th.

​​Welcome back Rajani,

What was the inspiration or spark of interest for Your One and Only Heart?

Cover of Your One and Only Heart - kids, hearts, and heart related symbols surround the title.

Ever since I went to medical school and learned about the heart and how it works, I’ve been fascinated by this vital organ.

You’ve written a few picture books (in addition to your middle grade and young adult novels), how did creating Your One and Only Heart compare to the creation of your other picture books?

Your One and Only Heart is an example of a book that took me years to figure out. I first drafted it back in 2013, when inspiration struck. I wrote a first draft of a nonfiction book about the heart. It was in prose, it was long (800 words), and it had no real hook or structure.

I worked on this book intermittently (rarely, in truth) over the next five years, until one day in 2018, I woke up and realized what the structure of the book should be: I wanted to write about contrasting characteristics of the heart, and I wanted to write about these characteristics in poetry—in paired poems, in fact.

Once I figured that out, I revised it over the next couple of years.

I love the increasing variety of structures for picture books. This one is such a fun way for readers to explore their hearts. What was the toughest part of your researching and/or writing Your One and Only Heart? As a doctor, did you have to do a lot of research for the book?

I didn’t have to do that much research because most of the information is based on what I learned in medical school. However, I double-checked everything (especially when we got to the illustration stage) to make sure it was correct.

The most challenging parts of writing this book were determining the approach or structure, boiling things down to their most important aspects, and using explanations and analogies that everyone, and especially young readers, could understand.

It can be quite a challenge to distill complex topics - but I had faith you'd be able to do it here. After all, you've already conquered DNA! We often focus on what was hard about putting together the research and writing of a book. So, what was the most fun or fascinating part of researching and/or writing Your One and Only Heart?

I absolutely loved thinking up the paired poems and making each one as fun and lyrical as possible.

How long did Your One and Only Heart take from idea to publication?

I first drafted it in 2013, and it’s releasing this year . . . so 10 years! Good things are worth the wait.

They are indeed! Is there anything you want your readers to know about Your One and Only Heart?

This is a book that explains the workings of the heart and how it has seemingly contradictory qualities — it’s singular and cooperative, simple and complex, electric and muscular, and so on—and these characteristics are similar to us, as people.

There’s also extensive back matter for readers who want to know more!

It is great back matter. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first saw Lauren Paige Conrad’s illustrations? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - on left poem sits inside curve of stethescope resting on a baby's heart. On right photos on wall of milestones from little girl to granny. from

Text © Rajani LaRocca, 2023. Image © Lauren Paige Conrad, 2023.

Lauren Paige Conrad’s cut paper collage illustrations are just incredible! She manages to be very precise about the anatomy of the heart, while keeping the tone whimsical and fun. It’s hard to choose my favorite spread. The very first spread is definitely one of my favorites—it shows a baby growing up to be an old woman, and the words talk about how your heart is already beating when you’re born, and how it continues to beat “every second/of every minute/of every hour/of every day/of your whole life.”

I also love the spread for “muscular” because it has such an incredible sense of movement.

Even before she officially signed on to illustrate, Lauren came up with an ingenious idea — she wanted to put each pair of poems in slightly different shades of the same color. So, for example, “Singular” and “Cooperative” are both shades of red; “Simple” and “Complex” in orange, “Energetic” and “Relaxed” in yellow, and so on so we have a rainbow of colors in the book. This way, the concepts are linked with both words and art! The back matter is also color-coded and refers back to the pages of poems.

I think the color-coding and resulting rainbow are genius! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I have two more books out this year!

Cover of the Secret of Dragon gems - a boy and girl  stare at glowing rocks.

The Secret of the Dragon Gems, a middle grade epistolary novel co-written with my friend, Chris Baron, is out August 29. It’s about two kids who meet on the last night of summer camp, when they discover two silvery rocks. They each take a rock home with them, and then start communicating via letter, email, texts, and video chat because strange things keep happening, and then begin to wonder whether the rocks are really just rocks.

Cover of Masala Chai, Fast and Slow - boy and grandfather making masala chai in big red pot.

And Masala Chai, Fast and Slow releases September 6. This is a picture book about a grandson who like to go fast and a grandfather who likes to take things slow. But they make chai together each day. When the grandfather sprains his ankle, the grandson decides to make him chai himself, and hilarity ensues. This story is about slowing down and enjoying time with those you love.

My next novel after that is Sona and the Golden Beasts, a middle grade fantasy that involves magic, music, and animals, but also contends with colonialism and who gets to tell history. It releases on March 12, 2024!

And I’m currently writing my first YA novel!

Cover of Your One and Only Heart - kids, hearts, and

Wow! I am so amazed at all these books. Thank you, Rajani for stopping by for this interview. It’s such a pleasure talking with you.

Thanks for hosting me, Maria!

Be sure to stop back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Your One and Only Heart.

To find out more about Rajani LaRocca, or contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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