Cover Reveal: I’m an American by Darshana Khiani
I’m an American, my second book, launches on May 2nd, 2023. I’m excited to be revealing the cover to this wonderful, inclusive, thoughtful book-loving community. I’m an American features a classroom of diverse students exploring the question: what does it mean to be an American? My writing is inspired by the questions I wonder and my life experiences. Read on to learn about my writing journey for this story.
In the summer of 2017, I watched a YouTube video of a White man conversing with an Asian man about being American. The White man peppered the Asian man with a variety of questions. Even though the Asian man answered every question with an answer that was similar if not the same as the White man’s answers, it didn’t matter. The White man would not “see” the 4th generation U.S. born ethnically Chinese man as an American. I was flabbergasted. When is one considered an American?
The influences in my life are diverse. I am ethnically Indian, born in Kenya, but have lived nearly my entire life in the U.S. I self-identify as Indian-American. Interestingly, my daughters, when they were in elementary school, simply identified themselves as American. So, I informally surveyed my friend’s kids, aged 6-14 of different ethnicities. I asked them two questions.
1) What words do they associate with being American?
2) What nationality are you?
For the first question, the children answered with: English language, grandparents, white- skinned, immigrants, or good life. For the second question, most kids said American nationality because it is where they lived. One child did say she was English and French because she liked London and Paris. (kids say the darndest things) These answers would eventually inspire the opening spread for I’m an American.
With this swimming in my head, I played the “what if” game with a character who was biracial and an immigrant to the U.S. The character asked the adults in his life “Who is an American?” as he tried to label his identity. Unfortunately, the story ballooned to 1300 words and did not feel like a picture book. Fortunately, I received an insightful critique from a respected author and writing teacher through WriteOnCon. I shared my struggles of losing the heart of my story in its current form. The heart I had identified was “If America is your home and you believe in the ideals/values of this country then you are American, regardless of color, ethnicity, or even citizenship.” She proposed an ingenious approach that would require a complete overhaul: a concept book with layered text, set in a diverse classroom. The American values would be prominently featured in the main text with the student’s family backstory in the secondary text. Brilliant! Except at the time, I was burnt out from revising the story. So I put it away.
In the fall of 2018, I stumbled upon I’m an Immigrant Too! by Mem Fox. That book had a story structure similar to the one the teacher had suggested. Re-energized, I pulled out the feedback and began working. I had been reading a middle-grade nonfiction book on immigration history which I found fascinating and had to include. This information would inspire each student’s family history which would be conveyed via secondary text and the illustrations. Laura Freeman’s work is absolutely breathtaking! This was no easy story to illustrate. You can see more of Laura’s gorgeous work here: https://lfreemanart.com/.
I’m an American has many layers. First and foremost it showcases the values we hold dear as Americans – democracy, justice, perseverance, freedom of expression, and more. The family backstories touch on the “push or pull” reason their family migrated, the challenges our nation has faced, such as Japanese internment, or challenges that persist, such as housing inequality. My hope is that this book can give children windows into the histories of some of the ethnicities that makeup this nation and invoke curiosity in the reader. I would like this book to be a springboard into deeper conversations. Since the story is told in layered text and vignettes, the adult reader has flexibility in choosing which stories to read based on age appropriateness. A helpful educator’s guide with extension activities will be available at the time of launch in May 2023. Please check back then on this bookpage: https://darshanakhiani.com/books/im-an-american/. Thank you all for the work you do to educate and support today’s youth.
You can preorder the book at:
Darshana Khiani was born in Kenya and immigrated to the United States when she was one. She is an author, engineer, and an advocate for South Asian Kidlit. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. She is the author of How to Wear a Sari. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. Learn more about her at http://www.darshanakhiani.com. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok @darshanakhiani.