Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
Thank you all for your patience while I took a short hiatus at the beginning of this school year. I forgot how much I LOVE teaching in person. Though it’s nice to be doing some things relatively normal again, I think it’s important to remember, we’re still in uncertain times, and I hope you’re all doing well. I also hope you’re as pumped as I am about this awesome post because it has EVERYTHING I adore: math, writing, family, and fun! We’re here today chatting with a wonderful debut author, Dr. Amitha Jagannath Knight! Her picture book is Usha and the Big Digger, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat.
Book description from publisher’s website:
When sisters Usha and Aarti look up at the stars, they see different things. Aarti sees the Big Dipper, but little Usha sees the Big DIGGER. And cousin Gloria sees the Big Kite! Could they all be right?
This installation in the Storytelling Math series is a playful introduction to rotation, geometry, and spatial relationships, featuring Indian American characters and a note about cultures and constellations.
Kaitlyn: Hi, Amitha, thanks so much for joining us today!
Amitha: Thank you so much for having me!
Kaitlyn: It’s my pleasure! First of all, what inspired you to write this story?
Amitha: My book is inspired by my mom, Manjula, whose nickname was Usha when she was growing up. When I was little and we were living in Houston, TX, she was a computer programmer for NASA. She was also one of three girls like in the story, though she was the middle child.
Kaitlyn: That’s so wonderful; I bet she’s the proudest mom that you created this book! Can you share why this story is so important to share with children?
Amitha: My book features Indian American characters doing everyday things like stargazing, cartwheeling, and squabbling. When I was growing up, I don’t think I read even one picture book about an Indian American child! The book also features important early math concepts–spatial math and mental rotation.
Kaitlyn: Yes! I love that kids can see themselves in these pages, and I adore how incredibly subtle and powerful the math is here, especially with translations and rotations. Did you set out to teach math subtly or did that come later?
Amitha: I have actually been surprised to find how many readers thought the math was subtle! I actually think it is very obvious–the book is about rotation and the illustrations in the book are rotated and Usha herself is rotating when doing cartwheels! The math in the book was intentional from the beginning. The story actually started as a pitch to my editor, and I worked with the editor and a math expert at TERC (a STEM teaching company) to develop the math and the math language within the story.
Kaitlyn: That’s so awesome! The fact that you can make such important math seem subtle is a true talent. Do you mind sharing who your editor is for this story, and what you enjoy about working with this editor?
Amitha: My editor for this book was Alyssa Mito Pusey, and she was wonderful. She showed me how to outline a picture book and also did a phenomenal job of slicing my word count! I also appreciated her enthusiasm over some of my goofier ideas.
Kaitlyn: Haha, someone who teaches, supports, and likes goofy ideas sound amazing! If you have a literary agent, can you share who it is, how you landed this agent, and why you enjoy working with this agent?
Amitha: My literary agent is Kari Sutherland with Bradford Literary. Kari is my third agent, and she was a referral from her sister, Tui, who is a friend of mine. While I landed this picture book deal on my own, Kari was instrumental in helping me with the contract. Also, one of the reasons I picked her was that she is a former editor, and she does a wonderful job of staying enthusiastic and positive about my writing in a way that makes me *want* to revise, rather than making me feel like I’m doing something wrong or that I don’t know what I’m doing.
Kaitlyn: That’s so wonderful; you can’t get much better than someone who can excite you about edits! So happy you found your perfect agent fit. Can you share a bit about what’s coming next?
Amitha: I don’t have anything under contract at the moment, but I have a few picture books I’m working on and two MG fantasy novels I’m revising! Fingers crossed something else resonates with an editor when we go out on submission.
Kaitlyn: Fingers crossed, my friend, but based on your wonderful book here, your willingness to be goofy as well as intelligent in your work, and your ability to revise, I’m thinking more good things will continue to come. Finally, if you could spend a day with your favorite mathematician, author, or illustrator, would you sit by a fireside and chat or go out on an adventure together?
Amitha: Ooh interesting! I don’t have a favorite mathematician (maybe my brother who is a mathematician?) though I was obsessed with Georg Cantor when I was a kid. (I don’t remember why–perhaps I read an biography of his?) I think I would choose a female mathematician–maybe someone like Ada Lovelace? Or perhaps an Indian mathematician like Srinivasa Ramanujan?
Choosing a favorite author or illustrator is always a little fraught as a person of color–there is the fear that the person whose works you love wouldn’t be very nice to you, but I hope I would love to talk to Lucy Maud Montgomery whose books I devoured as a kid! I think she would just be fascinating to talk to.
Kaitlyn: Omg, I found Georg Cantor so fascinating, too, because his life and early demise–readers, check out his life: he died in a duel! And I LOVE Ada Lovelace; she was so amazing! It would be very cool to sit and chat with her and your brother, too–so cool he’s a mathematician! I think the fear of your idol not living up to what you hope is real, but I hope if you did get to sit down with Lucy that she would have been one of those people who just blew you away with how awesome they truly are, and especially as a redhead, I just adore Lucy Maud Montgomery, too! Thanks so much again for joining us and sharing such wonderful insight today!
Amitha: Thanks again for having me!
Kaitlyn: My absolute pleasure! Thank you for having this wonderful converstation!
Dr. Amitha Jagannath Knight is a graduate of MIT and Tufts University School of Medicine. She is also a former social media manager for We Need Diverse Books. In 2012, she won the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. While her parents were originally from South India, she and her siblings (including her identical twin!) were born in the United States. Dr. Knight has lived in Texas and Arkansas, and now lives in Massachusetts with her one husband, two children, and two cats.
Kaitlyn’s review of Usha and the Big Digger
Usha and the Big Digger is a fun book that subtly shows kids that everyone has a different view while also teaching some awesome math concepts. Definitely a great book for everyone to have!
Giveaway of a copy of Usha and the Big Digger (international!)
To enter the random drawing, do any/all of the following options, then come back and write all of the things you did in ONE blog comment. (If you forget something, feel free to reply to your first comment ;))
- Share that you added Usha and the Big Digger to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share that you ordered a copy of Usha and the Big Digger
- Share that you did a purchase request for Usha and the Big Digger at your library
- Share that you left a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble
- Share that you retweeted or quote retweeted my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tagged some friends.
Thank you all for supporting such amazing creators, and make sure to check back soon because we’re having our second Team Sanchez cover reveal very very soon! Also, Fall Writing Frenzy info will be up soon on Lydia’s blog, and if you didn’t get to read the pitch and interview with me on The Mixed Files, check it out here. I hope you’re all staying safe and well. Talk soon!
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez