There are few things more tempting to small children than freshly made desserts. In her new picture book “10 Gulab Jamuns: Counting With an Indian Sweet Treat” author Sandhya Acharya uses that love of sweets to tell a story about the importance of sharing and being considerate.
“10 Gulab Jamuns” is about brothers Idu and Adu (whose names mean “this” and “that” in Kannada.) After the young boys get impatient to try the gulab jamuns their mother is making for an upcoming dinner, they decide to sneakily try to eat a few before the guests arrive. Instead of scolding them after they get caught, their mother uses the episode as an opportunity to teach them about counting to ensure that each guest will get a treat.
We got to chat with Acharya about her new picture book, using stories to teach children about sharing and (of course) why gulab jamuns are so beloved by so many.
The Teal Mango: Your author bio mentions that gulab jamuns have always been one of your favorite desserts. Do you have any special memories of eating them as a kid?
Sandhya Acharya: My mom used to make the most amazing gulab jamuns. Soft and so full of flavor. I actually used to actually eat them all up before the guests could arrive. My mom always related an incident similar to what happens in the story where I was the culprit stealing the Gulab Jamuns. So I guess the story took root in those memories.
TTM: You have young children. Do they like Indian food (and gulab jamuns in particular)? Was this story inspired by your family life at all?
SA: They like all kinds of food but they seem to be developing a liking for Indian food. My older son asks for rajma and rice, dosa or paratha in his lunch box! My younger one has a sweet tooth just like me. So he is definitely a big fan of gulab jamuns.
TTM: In addition to being a story about a family, this book is educational and can be used by parents to talk about counting and sharing. Can you talk about how you came up with the concept of the story?
SA: Absolutely! As I wrote the story, the mother in me came up with the instructional piece. The counting piece was a natural flow of the narration. I am sure we are all looking for different situations to teach basic numbers and math concepts to kids in our everyday lives. That is after all the best way to learn and apply the concepts.
There are so many teaching moments in our interaction with kids. A situation like kids stealing the food you made for guests is just one of the many instances where you as a parent are tested. How do you react to the situation, apply consequences and convert it into a teaching moment? This part of the story was more deliberate and through through. I hope it serves as a model and reminder to us to enjoy the little antics of our young ones and also make sure we get some lessons across.
TTM: Your book has been widely praised for its illustrations. Could you talk a little about what working with illustrator Vanessa Alexandre was like?
SA: I loved Vanessa’s style. I picked her portfolio from a bunch of other illustrators that my publisher shared with me. I had send her pictures of my kids and asked her to create the characters in their likeness. She captured the essence and the personalities really well and I knew she was the one. I think the part that we worked the most over was actually the food part. Since she was unfamiliar with the foods on the table (including gulab jamuns) I spent some time educating her. I shared Google links, YouTube videos, etc to introduce her to what I had in mind. She was great about picking from there and creating the magic she created with it.
TTM: “10 Gulab Jamuns” also features a recipe for the dessert that families can make together. Do you cook with your kids? What is that like?
SA: Yes. I thought it would be great to include a recipe and Hetal Vasavada was gracious to share the recipe that she had put together on her blog. As far as my cooking goes, I am an average cook actually. I do better with creating cooking stories! My older son is interested in cooking though and also learns cooking in school. He might soon know more than me! He actually takes the initiative and asks to make things together and that has made me more creative with cooking. We have had a few experiments, rolling chapatis was probably the most memorable. We just went cherry picking this weekend. So I am actually looking up recipes to make a cherry pie with him right now!
You can order a copy of “10 Gulab Jamuns” here. Be sure to also check out our conversation with Aisha Saeed about her new middle-grade novel “Amal Unbound” and our list of the buzziest beach reads of 2018.