In this episode, we honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with authors Debbi Michiko Florence and Gita Varadarajan. A former classroom teacher, Debbi is the author of award-winning middle grade novels Keep It Together, Keiko Carter, and Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai, among several other titles.
Debbi is a third-generation Japanese American, who was born in raised in California. She now lives in Mystic, Connecticut, where her upcoming middle grade novel, Sweet and Sour, is set. She talks with host Suzanne McCabe about Sweet and Sour and the summer romance between characters Mai and Zach.
“All of my books star Japanese American main characters,” Debbi says. “It is such an honor to be able to write from my personal experience and background, but [also] to be able to focus on universal things like friendship and those first-crush feelings.”
Later, Gita talks about her upcoming picture book, My Bindi, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan. “The bindi in Hindu culture is considered the third eye,” Gita explains. “It looks inward, and it symbolizes strength, your inner strength.”
Gita earned her master’s degree in literacy education at Teachers College at Columbia University. Born and raised in India, she developed a love of storytelling hearing her grandfather weave fantastical tales. She is currently an elementary school teacher in Princeton, New Jersey.
Celebrating AAPI Month: Check out these 15 featured titles from Scholastic.
Support AAPI Bookstores: Scholastic has curated a list of 25 Asian American-owned bookstores from coast to coast.
Books by Debbi Michiko Florence: Debbi’s author page on Amazon links to all of her titles for young readers.
Have Lunch With the Authors: Scholastic Book Clubs President Judy Newman interviews authors Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan about Save Me a Seat, their delightful middle-grade novel.
Debbi Michiko Florence, author, Sweet and Sour:
“I was an avid reader, and I loved to write stories, but I never quite connected that being an author could be a career.”
“For me, my middle school years are the most emotionally memorable—big changes and friendships and romantic feelings. So I like to revisit that a lot.”
“I hope that young people who read my books can see themselves in them and their friendships and learn how to treat one another.”
“All of my books star Japanese American main characters. It is such an honor to be able to write from my personal experience and background, but [also] to be able to focus on universal things like friendship and those first-crush feelings.”
Gita Varadarajan, author, My Bindi:
“A story like My Bindi is universal to all kids. ‘Hey, show your authentic self, and be proud of all parts of you….’ When you love yourself, the world will see the beauty in you.”
“As an immigrant, myself, I know firsthand what it feels like to leave your home and move to a new country. It can make you feel lost and unrooted and lonely in so many ways, that you bring little things with you that remind you of home.”
“When we think of Asian Americans, I don’t think we acknowledge the vastness and the breadth of the Asian diaspora and the complexities of the histories of the people and the countries of origin.”
“My hope is that the AAPI community will become more involved in mainstream conversations in America and that our voices and ideas are taken into account as we define who is American.”
Producer: Bridget Benjamin
Associate producer: Constance Gibbs
Sound engineer: Daniel Jordan
Music composer: Lucas Elliot Eberl
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