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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Soaring 20's September 2023 Releases

The Soaring 20’s High Flying Books for Kids and Teens is a group of authors and illustrators hailing from California to New York (and Canada!), who’ve joined together to help promote their books.

Soaring 20's Logo - a guinea pig flying on a trapeeze reaching for a falling book.

Be sure to visit their website to “discover kidlit talent on the rise.” Their website includes “behind-the-scenes posts about how these books were made; resources for using these books in your classroom or library; places you can meet these talented authors and illustrators in person; and of course, GIVEAWAYS!”

Welcome Vicky and Darshana,

Tell us a little about yourselves. (For instance, 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?)

Vicky Fang's author photo.

Vicky Fang Alphabot (Candlewick 9/12/2023) – I am a former product designer who spent five years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology.

I began writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. My goal is for my books to inspire computer literacy for a wide range of kids—while letting their imaginations run wild with the possibilities of technology.

Author photo of Darshana Khiani

Darshana Khiani – Building a Dream: How the Boys of Koh Panyee Became Champions (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers 9/12/2023) – When I was a kid even though English was my hardest class, I always enjoyed and exceled at the creative writing assignments – short stories, poems in the margins of my notebooks. I was a voracious reader up until junior high. However, creative writing as well as leisure reading fell by the wayside once I went to college. Fast forward to my mid-30’s, I rediscovered picture books with my kids and decided to give it a try. Seven years later, I sold my first picture book. I got into writing with dreams of becoming an author but the thing I treasure is being in this wonderful and vibrant kidlit community and all the relationships I’ve made on this journey.

I am a full-time engineer working in high-tech with a family and a dog. I adjust my writing times around these responsibilities. When I first started years ago, I would take my writing bag to my kids’ gymnastics practices or write late at night. Now, I tend to write first thing in the morning and on weekends.

What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?

Vicky Fang – Hmmm, I write anywhere and everywhere... in the car, on planes, in the bathtub, at the park. I suppose the most fun place I’ve ever written a manuscript is sitting by a pool in Greece. That’s actually the first place I ever wrote a manuscript, on a weekend away from my young kids!

Darshana Khiani – When my kids were little, I would tote around my writing bag to their practices. I would stop by a coffee shop while they were at piano lessons or write in the bleachers at their gymnastics or swim classes. My favorite place to write is at Highlights. I love being in the cabins with a view of the woods. I just wish it weren’t on the other side of the country.

Now that we know a little more about you, what made you wonder about this topic or inspired you to write your book?

Cover of book - three different robot shapes.

Vicky Fang Alphabot (9/12/2023) – Alphabot actually started off with the title! As a

former designer of robots for kids, I think about robots a lot, haha. Once the title and the idea of a robot alphabet book was in my head, I knew I wanted to make something interactive. I thought about different novelty formats (flaps, cutouts, etc.) until I had the idea for mix-and-match flaps. This meant kids would be able to mix-and-match the A-Z robotics terms to create their own robots. How fun and exciting! I spent a long time thinking about what terms would work and making paper dummies to prove out the concept.

Cover of book - two boys carrying a beam as they walk on a floating pathway.

Darshana Khiani – Building a Dream: How the Boys of Koh Panyee Became Champions (9/12/2023) – Back in 2013, I saw a humanitarian commercial about a group of boys who loved football but had no place to play. I watched that video over and over. I was inspired by how the boys faced their environmental and societal challenges with perseverance, hope, and ingenuity. I wanted kids everywhere to know this story in hopes that it will inspire young readers to follow their dreams.

What do you like to do outdoors - either by yourself or with your family and friends?

Vicky Fang – I love going to the tide pools with my kids. We have a special spot where we set up our tent, and then we spend the whole day there watching the pools change with the tides and spotting creatures hiding in the rocks. We’ll bring a picnic and eat snacks, take walks, and hunt for shells. It’s one of my favorite things to do!

Photo of a trail at Point Lobos Nation Reserve, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Darshana Khiani – I love hiking! It is one of the reasons I enjoy living in in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are so many hikes within a short drive. I’ll go hiking with my daughter and our dog. Two of my favorite hikes are costal trails at Point Lobos Nation Reserve near Carmel and Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz. Easy hikes with gorgeous views.

You're both so lucky to live close to the ocean. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book? Do you have a favorite spread or moment in the book?

Internal spread showing the flip feature and letters G and H.

Text & Image © Vicky Fang, 2023.

Vicky Fang Alphabot (9/12/2023) – In addition to being able to mix-and-match robot parts to create your own robot, there is backmatter in the book that talks about what makes a robot a robot. How is a robot different from another machine? This simple backmatter works well with a free robot design activity sheet I created as well!

Internal spread - bird's eye view of village, man in a boat, and a market.

Text © Darshana Khiani, 2023. Image © Dow Phumiruk, 2023.

Darshana Khiani – Building a Dream: How the Boys of Koh Panyee Became Champions (9/12/2023) – I love the spread which gives a birds-eye view of the village: a storefront selling clothing, a fisherman paddling in with his day’s catch, and the boys rushing over to watch the game at Uncle Hemmin’s cafe. I enjoy this glimpse into daily life. These individual events happen all over the world but what is unique and wondrous is the way they appear here in a fishing village built on stilts.

They both look very fascinating. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing or researching, your book? How long did it take from first draft to publication?

Vicky Fang Alphabot (9/12/2023) – The hardest part was making sure I had relevant terms for all of the letters of the alphabet and that I could make them work for the positions in the book (head, torso, or feet.) Since I was also illustrating, it was helpful for me to think creatively about how these robot parts might work in their respective positions and all fit together!

Darshana Khiani – Building a Dream: How the Boys of Koh Panyee Became Champions (9/12/2023) – Getting the research was a challenge. It was a true story from another country, a different language, and one that was likely not well-known or covered by the media. I searched for Thai newspapers written in English, scoured YouTube, and reached out to the team that produced the commercial. I even had a friend help get an email translated into Thai that I then sent to the Facebook account for the current soccer team in Koh Panyee. My attempts to reach out to the villagers went unanswered. But I was able to find a few newspaper articles and a couple of video interviews done by other sports outlets, the latter being immensely helpful.

Wow, that sounds like quite the challenge for you both. What’s something you can’t do without either for your writing or for yourself?

Vicky Fang – My critique partners are my support system. The entire kidlit community is so amazing, but in particular, Christine Evans (The Wish Library, Dear MR. G) and Faith Kazmi (Box of Dreams) have been with me from the very beginning and we’ve become great friends along the way. They motivate, support, and inspire me all the time.

Darshana Khiani – My critique partners and friends. They provide me with the critical feedback I need to hear, the support and encouragement when I feel stuck, and are my loudest cheerleaders when there is something to celebrate. I also have to read a picture book or two at breakfast, this simple activity of 10 minutes of quiet time brings me such joy.

Critique partners are indeed a blessing and a necessity in this career. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Cover of book - cat and dog trying to get to a pie on the counter.

Vicky Fang – Yes! I am very excited about my next early reader series, Best Buddies, illustrated by Luisa Leal, which is releasing in October with Scholastic. It’s about a dog named Sniff and a cat named Scratch who are best friends and get into mischief at home. It’s been fun to explore themes of friendship and teamwork with these two characters who approach things differently, but together.

Darshana Khiani – I’m revising two PB stories for my agent. I’m also working on a Middle-Grade novel. It’s a lot of fun but so hard as it’s my first time. I’m still trying to learn my process in addition to the novel craft.

We'll have to keep our eyes open for these books! Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?

Vicky Fang – Whenever I’m not sure if I can do something, I like to think “What would Jane Yolen do?” because I remember her saying to always go for it when given an opportunity—to just say yes and figure it out.

Darshana Khiani – This past year, a friend told me one of her life mottos is there is something to learn from every experience. It’s a sobering thought that no matter how old we get and things we have experienced there is still learning that can be maybe even should be done.

Thank you all for giving us a little peek into you and your books. Wishing you all enormous success.

To learn more about these writers and illustrators, visit Soaring 20’s High Flying Books for Kids & Teens @

Author photo of Rajani LaRocca
Cover of book - boy and grandfather making Masala chai.

Even though she's busy on a book tour, I wanted to be sure to mention Soaring 20's member, Rajani LaRocca, also has a picture book which released in September. Be sure to check out - Masala Chai, Fast and Slow (9/5/2023).

Synopsis: Aarav loves his grandfather very much, but they’re as different as water and molasses. Where Aarav runs and races, Thatha likes to saunter and stroll. Every day at five o’clock, Thatha makes masala chai for the family, and no matter how much Aarav urges him to hurry, Thatha insists on taking his time. “Masala chai cannot be rushed,” says Thatha. “It must be made carefully.” One day, when Thatha sprains his ankle and must rest on the couch, Aarav eagerly decides he’d like to make the chai himself—after all, what would make his grandfather feel better than a cup of warm, spiced sweetness? But no matter how hard Aarav tries, his rushing causes him to miss some crucial step. Will Aarav be able to slow down and get the recipe right? With charming illustrations by Neha Rawat that are as enticing as the aroma of spiced tea, author Rajani LaRocca invites readers in for a visit with Aarav and his family—and shares her favorite masala chai recipe at the end.

Internal image - on left boy running through room as grandpa maps in chair. On right, boy and grandpa at the kitchen stove.

Text © Rajani LaRocca, 2023. Image © Neha Rawat, 2023.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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