By F. Zia
Illustrations by Ken Min
Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji is about the relationship between a young boy and his grandfather from India who has come to stay. In this BookTalk, author F. Zia and illustrator Ken Min discuss the challenges associated with bridging the gap between generations and the process of creating their first picture book.
This is a great book to encourage kids to spend time with their grandparents. Were you close with your own grandparents? F. Zia, are you close with your grandchildren?
F. Zia: I never knew my paternal grandfather, but I display his photograph with great pride in my home. I have wonderful memories of my other grandparents. My paternal grandmother was majestic and reigned over her domain with quiet dignity. Her very presence was comforting. My maternal grandmother was gentle, an accomplished linguist, and a fountain of knowledge and wisdom. She was the storyteller, who regaled me with stories that are still on the tip of my tongue. My maternal grandfather was the epitome of grandeur. He was noble . . . in the truest sense of the word. I was in awe of him, but at the same time secure in his protective and unconditional love.
I am Amma to my three grandchildren, and I’d like them to remember me, one day, with the same love and regard I have for my own grandparents. And yes, I am very close to all three grandchildren and try as much as possible to stay connected with them, physically as well as emotionally.
Ken Min: I was very close with my maternal grandmother. In fact, I always considered her my favorite person. She played basketball in college and so we shared a love of sports. Some of our best moments were just hanging out watching a game on TV. Her favorite player was Magic Johnson of the LA Lakers, which is unusual given that she lived in San Francisco. (LA and SF are very big sports rivals!)
Hot, Hot Roti incorporates traditions from Aneel’s grandparents in India into the life of a modern family in Western culture. What do you think are some of the challenges families face in this blending of traditional and modern practices?
FZ: I am sure many people face this issue in varying degrees and have their own ways of dealing with it. If one is a stickler, I imagine that the battle can be harder to win. Overall, this country makes it easy to continue one's traditions with pride. We have the freedom to celebrate Eid with pomp and circumstance and we have the freedom to light up Divali lamps with equal joy. We can drape a sari, or wear the hijab. Many of us are able to blend the best of traditions. Where it matters, I think, is when changing times cause important lessons to get diluted or lost. When you live in a joint family system and are surrounded by people of different generations, you learn about respect for age quite naturally. You also learn more naturally about sharing and giving. We tend to lose this somehow in a climate of nuclear family units. We somehow tend to get a little self centered. How wonderful would it be if our children gave up their chair to an elder, or held their hand across the room! How marvelous if they would willingly give up a room to a grandparent, without rancor or resentment. Fundamental values are what we need to fight to keep. Other things are easier to let go in the face of change and it doesn’t really matter if your child prefers pizza to roti, Hollywood to Bollywood, and Country Rock to ragas.
KM: Well, certainly for the older generation, it’s about learning a new culture. For the kids, it’s about being open to traditions that they might not be familiar with but know are part of their heritage. It’s also about not dismissing a traditional practice right away because it feels “old fashioned” or not contemporary. So it becomes a matter of having an open attitude, which needs to flow in both directions. For the older generation, there needs to be an openness to understanding that there are different points of view and not one right way of doing things. For the younger generation, they need to be respectful and considerate of older ideas while helping them understand new cultural mores.
This is the first picture book for both of you. When writing and illustrating Hot, Hot Roti, was there any part of the process that surprised you?
FZ: Overall, I am surprised at how quickly everything fell into place, starting with the first idea that gelled in my head during my daily walk around the neighborhood. I remember this vividly. I had an idle eye on the squirrels and chipmunks but my mind was mining for that perfect start and bingo . . . there it was . . . roti! One thing led to the other and the idea of a story within a story started to be more and more appealing. I wanted to capture remembered childhood, and memories of food, grandparents, and storytelling jumped out at me, handing me the perfect plate! This has been such a marvelous learning process, and to watch the final product emerge was much like watching your child grow. You love each phase of growth and hope that you steer, guide, and redirect wisely. And much as you feel frustrated at various times, you persist and you never give up because it is much too important!
KM: I suppose if there was something that surprised me, it was how much I enjoyed doing research on this project. I didn’t have that much familiarity with the subject matter, so I checked out books from the library as well as did research online. I found the Indian culture to be quite interesting. And one cannot overlook going to a restaurant to do some “hands-on” research and partaking of the delicious foods.
The power of food in family relationships is a strong message in Hot, Hot Roti. Is this something that you have seen in your own family dynamics?
FZ: In my family, food is equated with hospitality. When you walk into a home where the dinner table is laden, you can be sure that you are a very welcome guest. That said, there are cooks of varying abilities in the family—passable, middling, and unbeatable. However, regardless of his or her personal culinary ability, each one has prepared and served food with love and gusto. My mother-in-law transmitted her talent and her largess to her daughters, and each one, in turn, is lavish with her hospitality. My mother wrote up an entire recipe book, by hand, so she could pass her gift to her daughters. What a labor of love! My sister whips up mouthwatering dishes and walks me through tricky procedures any time of day or night. As for me, I still worry about pleasing my children when they come to visit, or my guests who come to dinner. So I guess you could say that food features prominently in my family dynamics. Yes, Hot, Hot Roti. is about food, but it is about food that is made with love, regard, and the best of intentions.
KM: My folks came over to the United States when they were in their mid-twenties and I was born here in California. I easily could have been raised on a diet of Korean foods since that is what they are accustomed to and familiar with. But my mother was very good about mixing things up. We would have Korean food and we would have the types of food that all my friends would have as well—hamburgers, spaghetti, hot dogs, etc. I appreciate my mother being mindful of the various cuisines around us and sharing in that. It is also to her that I dedicated this book.
F. Zia, as a teacher, why do you think it’s important to have multicultural stories available in the classroom?
FZ: Children simply want to be like everyone else. But they are also so quick to pick on and latch onto differences, both obvious and perceived. It is never too early to help children develop healthy attitudes. If you think about it, our attitudes are born from our thoughts. Our thoughts have the power to shape and influence our ideas, our beliefs, our attitudes, and even our personalities. If our first thoughts can be wholesome, think where that might lead? Talking to children about honoring all cultures and traditions is about opening their minds to a world community that is vibrant in its diversity. Making children culturally aware is simply setting them on the road to becoming open-minded and thoughtful individuals. We should give room for our national identity to walk hand in hand with our cultural identity. What better way to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity than through books that are inviting and fun to read?
Ken Min, the story deals with connections between generations that have grown up in very different environments. How did you incorporate these differences into the illustrations?
KM: One thing I wanted to do was dress the grandparents in traditional clothing native to India. That’s where Google comes in handy. I found some good reference pictures and even based Dada-ji’s outfit on one image. I thought it was important that they would dress in clothing that was natural and comfortable for them. In fact, with the women, I wanted to depict how the different generations might dress, from grandmother—a traditional sari, down to the granddaughter—in a T-shirt and jeans like her friends would wear. For mom, I wanted to blend the two worlds. I dressed her in an outfit that she might go to work in, but I wanted to compliment it with a brightly colored shawl that would be worn by any woman in India.
As for the home environment, they live in a home like any typical family, but I wanted to fill it with items unique to Indian culture. With that in mind, I found some nice items via the Internet. I also went looking in stores in an Indian neighborhood near Los Angeles. So, much of the furniture and accessories come from that. Since the tiger is a national symbol of India as well as a reoccurring motif in the story, I also wanted to sneak in a little statue or figurine of a tiger in the background. Can you find it?
F. Zia, you wrote this book for your grandchildren. Did any particular encounter inspire you? Do you make roti with your grandchildren as well?
FZ: Aydin and I have great fun making a special soup that only he and I dare to love! It has everything in it except the kitchen sink. We toss in flour, salt, an eclectic assortment of cupboard spices, raisins, apple bits, rice, colorful lentils, chocolate syrup and whatever else is within reach! Our funny soup more or less inspired me to try a story about something a bit more traditional . . . roti!
My grandchildren are just now graduating to an age where we will soon pour and mix and push and pull and roll north, south, east, and west for lip smacking roti the next time we get together. I will get the Tavva pan nice and hot and together we will watch our roti bubble and wobble in ghee.
Ken Min, illustrating this book involved a very different process than the art you have done in the past. How is illustrating a children’s book different from the other work you’ve done?
KM: Working as a storyboard artist, one has to tell a story in hundreds of panels whereas working on a picture book, one needs to distill the images down to a number that will fit a 32-page book. I actually think my work in storyboarding lends itself nicely to doing a book. Storyboarding is all about finding the most important moment in a given scene and depicting it. Does the character have something in his/her hands? Then you want to get in close to view it. Is the character sad? Then maybe a wider shot showing the person alone would convey that thought, and if you give the room a blue hue, it would enhance that emotion. Is the character feeling strong, then a low angle looking up would show that character in a position of strength. It is this process of thinking that easily flows from storyboarding into the decision-making for illustrating a picture book. Sure, I have fewer panels or pages in which to tell a story, but that’s okay. My hand always feels like it’s cramping after a few hundred drawings anyway. ?
Any tips for readers on how to make the perfect roti?
FZ: Here is a simple tip from a middling cook. Make it with love. If eaten with similar love, it will be perfect roti! Arre wah and hunh-ji!
About This Title
Interest Level:Grades K - 5
Reading Level:Grades 2 - 3
Immigration, Grandparents, Food, Families, Cultural Diversity, Asian/Asian American Interest, How To, Optimism/Enthusiasm, India
Appendix B Diverse Collection Grades 3-6, Asian Pacific American Heritage Collection , English Fiction Grades PreK-2, Father's Day Collection, Food and Cooking Collection, Grandparents Collection, India Culture and History Collection, Realistic Fiction Collection Grades PreK-2, Appendix B Diverse Collection Grades K-2, Pedro Noguera Diverse Collection Grades PreK-2, Fluent English, Fluent Dual Language , English Guided Reading Level O
Asian American Collection English 6PK
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