The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Sita Singh
Sita Singh was born and raised in India and moved to the United States in 1999. She currently lives in South Florida with her husband, three children, and an immensely cute and curious dog. An architect in the past, Sita now enjoys writing heartwarming picture books with a South Asian backdrop. When Sita isn’t reading or writing, she can be found trying new recipes in the kitchen, experimenting with food photography, walking with the dog, or movie marathoning with the family.
Her debut picture book, Birds of a Feather, released March 2, 2021.
Thanks, Maria! I’m excited to be here!
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
A practicing architect in India, I chose to become a homemaker soon after we moved to the United States and stayed busy raising three children in a multigenerational home. The creative person in me found joy and satisfaction in helping with school projects and coming up with lunch ideas. However, once the kids were older, I felt the strong need to have a creative pursuit of my own. It was 2012 when my husband suggested I look into writing for children. I was never a writer but I was always a reader and grew up with a fondness for illustrated stories. Also, by this time, I had noticed a distinct lack of representation in children’s literature. The thought of filling that void felt like a calling, and it didn’t take me long to discover SCBWI and connect with the Kid Lit community. However, it took me a long time to learn the craft of writing picture books. And I’m still learning.
I write every morning on my dining table, with the wonderful view of a lake that I’m so fortunate to have in my backyard. I enjoy writing heartwarming stories with a South Asian backdrop.
Sounds like a wonderful place to write. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Most people don’t know that I grew up having a dog, monkey, rabbit, fish, and parakeets, as pets. All at the same time! You can well imagine that with Whiskey the dog and Mickey the monkey, each day was quite an adventure.
That's for sure. I thought a dog a small number of chickens was a handful. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Growing up in India, there weren’t many western picture books to read, but I did enjoy reading illustrated stories from the fables of Panchatantra, and the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharat.
I love both the cover and the premise. Where did the idea for Birds of a Feather come from?
Thanks, Maria! I love the cover as well! Stephanie’s art is absolutely stunning!
I wanted peacocks to be the front and center of my story for two reasons. One; I grew up watching these majestic birds, and two; I had discovered early on that there were many picture books featuring animals and birds, but there were next to none with peacocks. While crafting this story, I was working on another story about a little girl “standing out and feeling different” because of her ethnicity.
This was inspired from my first-born’s experience of being the only child of color in her elementary school. I was trying several ways to tell both these stories but neither was coming together to my satisfaction. Then, in a moment of sudden inspiration, I thought, What if I combined the two ideas? Peacocks + standing out and feeling different! The thought got me excited and right away I knew what I wanted Birds of a Feather to be about.
I love how it came from melding two different manuscripts. How many drafts, or revisions, did Birds of a Feather take? How long was the journey from idea to publication?
I wrote the first draft in the summer of 2016 and since I have a habit of making a new one with even the slightest of a change, there are hundreds of drafts sitting in my folder. In 2017, after going through several revisions, the story won the Rising Kite Award at SCBWI Miami. With that, I soon landed an agent, and after many rejections, we finally sold the book in 2019, to be published two years later. The journey from idea to publication was five years long and totally worth the wait.
Congrats on the Rising Kite Award. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for Birds of a Feather? What is your favorite spread in the book?
Text © Sita Singh, 2021. Image © Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021.
The most rewarding part of the publishing process was to hold my book in my hands! I’m still in awe of how the collective vision of so many people involved in the publishing process not only came together to match mine, but it went above and beyond that. There isn’t a spread in the book that I don’t love, but my favorite has to be the one where Mo, the white peacock first discovers himself.
That is so luminous, I can see why you like it. What's something you want your readers to to know about or gain from Birds of a Feather?
Birds of a Feather is a story about finding strength in things that make us different, and beauty in all its forms. I believe accepting who you are is a critical first step in molding a confident self. Therefore, it is important that our children see and hear stories that’d help them know their strengths and understand their uniqueness. My hope with this story is to empower every child to realize that there is no one else like them, and that it’s great to be unique. I hope it sparks a discussion about knowing and loving who you are.
I also hope the story helps children understand the importance of being kind and accepting of others who are different.
I think that undercurrent definitely runs through the story. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)
I grew up listening to stories from my parents and grandparents. I can still picture my dad telling us stories embellished with hand movements and sound effects. Visual storytelling is impactful, and all storytellers in my family are my inspiration. Then of course, my own children. They are my greatest source of inspiration. As a writer, looking at the world through their lens, through the lens of a first generation of Indian American children has inspired me a lot.
You've some great sources of inspiration. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’m really excited about the story that I’m working on right now. This one is about family and connections with one’s heritage.
I'll keep my eyes open for it. Assuming you have a critique group or partners, what have you learned from your critique buddies over the years? Or from your journey so far?
My critique partners are my constant support and my biggest cheerleaders. I’ve learned that they always bring a unique perspective to my writing, and at most times, I resonate with their suggestions. I couldn’t have gotten published without my critique partners and I’m extremely grateful for them, and for all the mentors and friends who have critiqued my stories at some point or another.
This is a remarkable community. So, last question, what is your favorite animal? Why?
This might sound cliched, but the dog is my favorite animal! I’ve had dogs throughout my childhood, and up until I moved to the United States. Our first dog, Johnny, came as a surprise from my dad when I was about ten years old. Then came Whiskey, who I left behind, when I left India. After not having a dog for more than twenty years, I finally have Solo, an immensely cute and curious beagle! And I’m so happy that he is a Mama’s boy!
I am glad you finally have a dog again! Thank you Sita for stopping by to share about yourself and your debut picture book.
Thank you Maria for having me on your wonderful blog. I really enjoyed chatting with you and sharing about myself and my picture book Birds of a Feather.
Be sure to stop back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Birds of a Feather.
To find out more about Sita Singh, or get in touch with her: