The Gifts That Grow

The Gifts That Grow
Monika Singh Gangotra and Michaela Dias-Hayes
Owlet Press

This story is based on a true one from author Monika Singh Gangotra’s own family
When Amrita, her best friend Kiki and their pal Finn, return from school Finn tells Amrita’s mum that they have to create a recipe. Happily Amrita’s mum is busy in the kitchen preparing spices; it is, so she says a ‘garam masala grinding day.’

Having helped grind the spices, Finn notices that the background to a photograph hanging on the wall looks exactly like the tree growing in his backyard. Amrita’s mum confirms that it is the very same tree and that the person in the foreground is her own mum, Amrita’s Nani. She mentions that she has skin the colour of the masala they’ve been preparing and her smiling lips are the colour of jamun. This needs some explanation: Mum says it’s a purple fruit and that her mum brought a seedling from her jamun tree in India to their old house, the one Finn now lives in.

When they take Finn home, his dads Hayden and Andy welcome everyone warmly and Amrita asks their permission to show Kiki the jamun tree. Then Amrita’s mum tells them the wonderful, sometimes tear inducing story of the big tree, allowing space for a few interjections from Amrita along the way. 

Said tree was brought by Nani from India as a cutting taken from one planted there by Amrita’s mother’s great-grandmother when the little girl was a ‘little seed’ growing in her mother’s tummy as a celebration of that special time when Amrita was born.

With Indian motifs, objects including a tuk-tuk conjuring forth Amrita’s heritage land as part and parcel of Michaela’s brilliant, gorgeously hued illustrations 

and Monika’s beautifully told story rich in detail, full of love both intergenerational and that between the friends and their families, and that perfect ending, this is a book for everyone, everywhere.

If you eat eggs, there’s a recipe on the final page that sounds delicious, though if like me you don’t, you’ll need to think of an egg substitute.

Sunflower Sisters

Sunflower Sisters
Monika Singh Gangotra and Michaela Dias-Hayes
Owlet Press

This is the first in the publisher’s new ‘own voice’ series of picture books. The story focuses on Amrita and her best friend Kiki, both of whose families have weddings to celebrate.

It’s when a taxi arrives carrying Amrita’s Aunty that things start getting a little difficult. Aunty has outdated views and her negative comments about skin colour do not go down well with the rest of Amrita’s South Asian family, not with the bride and especially Mum and Dad. “We need to teach (people) that the skin we are in is EXACTLY as it is meant to be.” Mum tells Amrita and on the wedding day itself she continues to support and empower the girl

who looks amazing in her gorgeous yellow lehenga.

As bride Jas and the groom are bidding farewell to the family,

Amrita hears music coming from over the road where Kiki and her Nigerian family are having a wonderful time celebrating too and Amrita is allowed to peep in at the dancing.

Kiki and Amrita then make each other a promise: henceforward they’ll both ensure that every day they feel like sunflowers … and so they did …

It’s sad that familial colourism, indeed colourism of any form, still continues to wield its influence and this beautiful book will, one truly hopes go some way towards changing people’s minds as well as empowering young women to feel positive about themselves, no matter what colour their skin is.

I recall some years back when visiting Ranakpur temple in Rajasthan being approached by two beautiful young Indian women. One of them put her arm next to mine and said, “Your fair skin is beautiful, my brown skin is too dark.” I felt hugely saddened by her comment and assured her that she was beautiful. We sat and talked for a while, she told me she was getting married soon and even invited me to her wedding. If only I’d had this book back then to give her.

Debut children’s book illustrator, Michaela Dias-Hayes’ vibrant scenes with the gorgeously patterned clothing of many of the characters, as well as those golden sunflowers, make every spread a delight in this much needed book.