Cover Reveal – Word Travelers: The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure by Raj Haldar
As a kid growing up in a bilingual household, I remember these interesting moments where my two worlds would collide. My parents immigrated from India and we mostly spoke our mother tongue, Bengali, at home. By the time I was in third or fourth grade, I can remember already being fascinated when I’d hear English words in school that were clearly on loan from Indian culture—guru, chutney, karma, and so many others. Even the band Nirvana, who were a cultural phenomenon by the time I was in middle school, had Indian culture to thank for their name. Discovering that so much of my own background had informed the way people around me would talk, eat, dress, and even listen to music, helped me fundamentally understand my place in the world as I struggled to fit in like any other second generation immigrant kid in America. It wasn’t this one-way street where I was adopting the parts of western culture that spoke to me. But knowing that India and its 140+ languages continue to have a profound impact on the English language was the first spark that allowed me to see our world inherently as a cultural exchange.
Fast forward to the present. The cultural climate of the last several years proves that it’s more important than ever for kids to understand their world as a dialogue between cultures. We don’t need to build walls; we need to break down any barriers that are left. Given my formative experiences, I can’t think of a better way to share an inclusive worldview to kids than by underscoring everyday words that come to us from cultures around the world. That’s how my new early reader adventure series Word Travelers was born, along with its main characters and best friends, Eddie & Molly-Jean (a nod to etymology, the study of word origins!).
In each book, Molly-Jean (MJ for short) and her buddy Eddie travel to a far-flung location using an Awesome Enchanted Book. The book helps them uncover the mystery at hand and save the day by learning the enthralling global origins of words we use every day. Did you know that ketchup is Chinese for fish sauce? Or that jumbo comes from the Swahili word for elephant? How about the word quarantine? It’s a word that we use so often these days! It comes to us from an Italian phrase meaning “forty days” (about the length of time you’d need to be staying put at home during the Black Plague of the Middle Ages). In their globe-trotting adventures, Eddie & MJ learn about these fascinating word origins and so much more as they uncover an incredible “word-wide conspiracy.” And what better place to start the Word Travelers adventures than the place that was so fundamental to my own journey? After several years working behind the scenes to bring this book series to life, I’m so excited to share the cover of the first Word Travelers book with you for the very first time.
The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure finds our heroes traveling to incredible India where they must help their new friend, Dev, find a long lost family treasure before the dastardly Mr. Raffles gets his hands on it and turns a beloved school into yet another department store. Along the way, MJ and Eddie solve puzzles and clues, learning that shampoo comes from a Hindi word that means “to rub,” bandana is from the Sanskrit “to tie,” and even the ancient Indian origins of the board game Chutes and Ladders. All of this exhilarating action is brought to life with illustrations from the incredibly talented Neha Rawat, who worked alongside Sourcebooks art director Maryn Arreguin to design the book cover you see here you see here.
I often get asked if there’s a common bond between my various creative projects. Most people know me as the rapper, Lushlife. Fans of picture books may know me from the titles P is for Pterodactyl and No Reading Allowed. Well, I think there’s a “word nerd” kernel inside everything that I do. With that in mind, the new Word Travelers series might be my most exciting project yet. OMG! (Did you know that this common Internet acronym was first used in a 1917 letter to Winston Churchill?!)
Better known by his stage name Lushlife, Raj Haldar is an American rapper, composer, and producer from Philadelphia, PA.