Community Spotlight: Author Harshita Jerath

The Biblio Lotus team, opens a new window is proud to continue an interview series aimed at elevating Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) communities' voices and celebrating their culture. The interviewees are in different fields and from various backgrounds, but their dedication to AAPI histories and cultures helps form our diverse and dynamic community in Pima County.

We recently checked in with Harshita Jerath, opens a new window, author of the children's book The Leaping Laddoo, forthcoming March 2022. 

Please note, this interview is a summary of the transcript. To listen to the interview in its entirety, please check it out on YouTube, opens a new window.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? 

I was born and raised in India. I moved to the U.S. after I was married. I have two wonderful boys—ages ten and twelve. 

What kind of children's literature do you write?

I am mostly drawn toward writing picture books, pulling from my memories of growing up in India. I've been very fortunate because I get another perspective from my children who are growing up in the U.S. I feel my books have a blend of both worlds. I'm also dabbling a little bit in chapter books now.

Will you tell us about your forthcoming (March 2022) book, The Leaping Laddoo?

It’s my debut picture book and I'm super excited about it. It’s beautifully illustrated by Kamala Nair, opens a new window. In this book the Indian dessert called laddoo comes to life and escapes from the hands of its maker, which starts a very fun chase on the streets of India. Various interesting characters, such as the tea seller, the groom on an elephant, all run after the laddoo to take a bite of the amazing dessert. But the laddoo is very feisty. He keeps on running, chanting, “Bhago, bhago, as fast as you can. You can’t eat me. I’m the laddoo man.” So, it’s based on the classic story of “The Gingerbread Man” and I feel having a known story is a good way to introduce new subjects to children—in this case about India.

I’m bilingual so I've sprinkled some Hindi words throughout. I thought that kids could have some fun with the language and there’s a fun tongue twister. So the book contains some fun elements they can enjoy while reading.

The book is published by Albert Whitman & Co, a publisher of such books as The Princess and the Petri Dish, opens a new window, Saturday at the Food Pantry, opens a new window, and What's Silly Hair Day With No Hair?, opens a new window

What should we know about the illustrator?

Kamala Nair lives in Bangalore, India. She's used a very happy, joyous palette of orange and yellow and I'm in love with them. They're authentic and beautiful.

What would you like kids to get out of the book after reading it?

I strongly feel that stories are a great way for children to learn to develop empathy about another culture. So, my hope is twofold. One is that it offers a glimpse into the lives in India, enough for them to be curious and explore more on their own about the culture, about this county, and the languages. And secondly, I hope that this book offers a representation for Indian children. They’re able to see themselves in the pages as they flip through the book. And finally, of course, just the pure joy of reading a book.

Does the book contain any special elements beyond the story?

I've included a translation for the Hindi words and also a recipe for laddoo. It's called besan laddoo. Besan means garbanzo bean flour.

Can you describe your road to publication?

My writing journey has been that of self-discovery. Even though I have always been a writer—I used to maintain a journal—but I became serious about writing about six years ago. My kids were still little. We were surrounding them with stories. I would tell them stories. I started a blog called ipenlife, opens a new window and at the time I wasn’t sure if I was going to write for children. My husband gifted me an online course for writing for children and that’s what gave it a start. Then I became a member of SCBWI, opens a new window (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). I felt very comfortable where I was—completely at ease in this area.

How did SCBWI help you as a writer?

It gave me a very good start. I am still a member. I formed critique groups. I became a part of the groups. I felt that I belonged to a community after that. I wasn’t alone. So it was really nice. And then from there on I found out if I’m really serious, I need to have an agent. Until then I didn’t know anything about it. I started submitting my applications and the manuscripts to different agents in order to get an agent. I made a spreadsheet—a really cool spreadsheet—but it was all red with the rejections. After some time, I became slightly low. During a discussion with my husband—he’s been very supportive— he told me that I could be sad after getting a hundred rejections.That was a big change for me. It was a turning point because after that I became very fearless. I started applying for different mentorship programs. I participated in Twitter pitches. Contests. And then there were some yellows in my spreadsheet. And after some time, there was a green. That’s when I found my agent, Beth Marshea, owner of Ladderbird Literary Agency. I have another book coming out with her in 2023, but its yet to be announced.

What are some of your favorite children's titles that you've read to your kids or that have inspired you?

One thing that comes to mind every time anyone asks me that is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, opens a new window by Bill Martin, illustrated by Eric Carle. It was so good I had to buy two copies for my two kids. Another of my favorites is a verse novel Inside Out and Back Again, opens a new window by Thanhha Lai. It’s about the journey of a young girl fleeing the Vietnam War, and it’s beautifully written. I generally don’t like to read books again. But this one I want to read again and again. The picture book Each Kindness, opens a new window by Jacqueline Woodson has made me cry and inspired me. I hope it inspires many kids to be kind.

Other books include Padma Venkatraman's Born Behind Bars, opens a new window and The Bridge Home, opens a new window—survival stories about children experiencing homelessness in Chennai, India—and  Mitali Perkins' Rickshaw Girl, opens a new window about a Bangladeshi girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to keep the family afloat.

Since your book is about a dessert, laddoo, what are some of your favorite desserts to cook or eat?

My all-time favorite to eat is salted caramel ice cream. My favorite to cook—and eat—is laddoo. Laddoos, I feel, are very versatile, so not very difficult to make. You can switch the ingredients. You just need fat in the laddoo. For fat in Indian cooking, we generally use clarified butter called ghee. You need a sweetener and you can use different kind of flours. You can make it with whole wheat flour, garbanzo bean flour, shredded coconut. And just add some cardamom powder, nuts if you desire, and shape it. And even if you are not able to shape it in your hands like round, just grab a spoon and eat it. You can keep your hands from getting sticky by greasing your hands with some kind of fat.

Do you have any cookbook or blog recommendations for cooking?

No cookbooks, but there are definitely two websites that I often refer to when I need inspiration or want to try new recipes: Veg Recipes of India, opens a new window and Hebbar's Kitchen, opens a new window. They are both really nice. They have some videos and detailed instructions. The problem for me is I find following instructions very difficult, especially the measurement part. So, it’s like a creative process for me, just like writing a book. I just glance over the recipes, look at the end product, and then kind of do my own thing. And sometimes it comes out as a disaster or results in a completely new thing. 

I find cooking very meditative, actually. I’ve realized a lot of my book ideas come to me while I’m cooking. I have a notepad there. The Leaping Laddoo idea came to me while I was cooking. I was making laddoo for my son’s birthday and that’s when it occurred to me. What if this laddoo slips out of my hand and starts running. It sounds kind of weird, but that’s how it came to me. I quickly wrote down the idea. 

What are you currently reading?
  • Too Small Tola
  • The Enchanted Hour
  • Planet Omar
  • Poultrygeist

Do you have any parting words for our customers?

I am so happy that I was able to share my journey with Pima County Public Library. I would also say it’s never too late to follow your passion. And passion, you know you’re on the right track because it feeds your soul. So stay on the track, continue, persevere, and then let the magic happen. Things will work out for you.

Watch the full interview with Harshita on YouTube, opens a new window!

Too Small Tola

The Enchanted Hour

Accidental Trouble Magnet