Today we welcome Rina Singh and Roxanne Troup to the blog for a belated Book Birthday celebration.
I paired the authors of these beautiful #GreenPB2023 books because, together, they share two different stories of the importance and care of the trees that give our world so much.
“An inspiring true story of an environmental activist whose important work began in his teens and spanned a lifetime.”― The Horn Book
“Singh inspires with this biography of Jadav Payeng” ― Publishers Weekly
Troup’s “quiet lyricism is reflected in Binney’s misty, soft-hued…illustrations.”—Publisher’s Weekly
“An education on pecan farming and a reminder of the importance of family histories and legacies.” –— Foreword Reviews
Meet the Authors
Award-winning children’s book author and spoken word coach, Rina Singh (THE FOREST KEEPER) is drawn to real life stories about social justice and the environment. Her books have been translated into multiple languages and have received many starred reviews. She lives in Toronto.
Author, ghostwriter, and speaker, Roxanne Troup (MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME) writes kids books that celebrate wonder and family. With a background in education, she also writes engaging nonfiction for all ages. She lives in Colorado.
Let’s ask some questions!
Q 1. What inspired you to write these beautiful books?
Rina Singh: Thank you, Erin.
In 2016, I heard about Jadav Payeng almost a year after he was honored with Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award in India. At first, it seemed crazy. How could one man plant a forest single-handedly? Then I watched a documentary about him and started doing further research. I was amazed. Finally, I wrote the story in 2017.
Roxanne Troup: When I saw a video online of a farmer harvesting pecans by tractor, I was flabbergasted. Pecans thundered to the ground like rain! It was dusty and noisy and not at all like how we collected pecans in Missouri (where I grew up). I wondered what else was different about commercial pecan production, and knew kids would love that dichotomy as well.
Illus. by Kendra Binney from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me, written by Roxanne Troup (YeeHoo Press).
Q 2. What is your connection to trees, forest? Are they part of your life?
Rina Singh: My first connection to a tree was a neem tree that grew in a public space outside my home in India. We played under it, sat in its shade, and listened to stories from neighbors who often gathered there. But it was after reading The Giving Tree, I saw them in a new light.
I’m so grateful to now live in a home surrounded by trees. The maple tree in my backyard is the first one to turn red in October. I can see the tree from many windows. Every time I look out, it makes me gasp. I also have many tall evergreens, so it looks green even when covered by snow. Just outside my front door, I have a gorgeous magnolia tree. It blossoms for only two weeks. It reminds me of life. We all come into this life for a certain amount of time. And we must also try to do something spectacular to wow the world.
Roxanne Troup: I grew up along the waterways of Missouri, where everyone had a pecan tree but few grew pecans commercially. Now, I live in the mountains of Colorado (where no one grows pecans), and love hiking with my family through pine forests that smell like vanilla and caramel..
Q 3. Since both books involve nonfiction elements, how did you each go about researching for this project?
Rina Singh: Despite knowing the culture, I still do a lot of research, and in case the protagonists are alive, I try to get in touch with them to interview them and spend time getting to know their stories better. For 111 Trees, I travelled to Rajasthan and met my protagonist. I am still in touch with him.
The books we read are our windows into other experiences. Therefore, ensuring that our view is accurate, informed, and authentic is vital.
Connecting with Jadav was a challenge. He speaks only Assamese, and I don’t. I connected with one of the English-speaking persons who worked with him. And I connected briefly with his daughter using Google translate.
Roxanne Troup: I did a lot of research online about how pecans grow and compared the way commercial orchards harvested pecans to the way we collected them from wild groves and backyard gardens. When I felt I had a solid handle on both processes, I reached out to a pecan expert in New Mexico (the second highest pecan-producing state in the nation). Dr. Richard Heerema graciously reviewed my manuscript for factual errors before I began sending it out.
Q 4. What surprises did your illustrators bring to the projects?
Rina Singh: I had been following Ishita on Instagram and was already in love with her greens. I was confident she would bring the forest to life. I love all the illustrations, but two spreads in the book took me by surprise and took my breath away. One is almost at the beginning. Surrounded by the turquoise River Brahmaputra, Jadav is planting a bamboo seedling. The watercolors are beautiful.
There is one spread with birds, and the sky is almost red. It is spectacular.
Ishita has balanced the greens and the blues with sudden bursts of a red fire or a flaming sunset in a spectacular way. The browns of the tree trunks and the grey of the elephants root the illustrations and depict the story and India in a very authentic and stunning way.
Roxanne Troup: Kendra’s beautiful artwork was a joy to receive. She amplified the relationship between grandparent and child (and chose the child’s gender), and lent the story a dreamy quality that made the setting come alive. Without her, the book might have come across as dry.
On Writing and Poetry
Q 5. Both of these books are written in lyrical, poetic language. Where did you hone these skills?
Rina Singh: My inspiration takes different forms, but I have always felt the presence of poetry in my life. I was 12 years old when I started keeping a diary. I was writing poetry but didn’t have the courage to show it to anyone. When I was a young adult, I started sending my poems to literary magazines. When I began to see them in print it gave me more confidence to express myself.
My first love has been poetry and if affects everything I do. I have been a Poetry Slam coach for many years in Toronto. It was exciting for me to see poetry jump from the page to the stage. Poetry connects me to the world, to life.
Roxanne Troup: I was never really fond of poetry in school (probably all those forced assignments to write your own <insert poem-type>), but I love language that makes you see and feel something.
It wasn’t until I became an adult and started reading lots of children’s books that I realized “language that makes you see and feel something” is poetry. I credit any ear I have for that sort of language to music (those classes I did enjoy!) and reading lots and lots…and lots.
Q 6. Has your kid lit journey been a solitary against-all odds effort like Jadav Molai Payeng, planting and caring for his trees in THE FOREST KEEPER, or were there mentors in your journey as a children’s author, like Grandpa is to his granddaughter in MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME?
Rina Singh: Writing is a solitary thing, but the journey is anything but. I have learnt from my editors, critique partners, my agent, workshops, literary conferences, and webinars. I’m indebted to all the authors whose books I have read, dissected line by line and admired.
Q 7. What do you hope children (and their adults) will take away from reading your book?
Rina Singh: Mama Mimi, a reviewer, writes:
This book (The Forest Keeper) inspires children to go out and solve world issues– to become young change-makers. Immediately after reading, my daughter wanted to discuss ways to help the environment and help with other issues, beginning with our community.
That’s priceless to me!
Showing what one person with limited resources can do to restore the environment, the story of Jadav and his determination should inspire any young reader.
Climate change is everyone’s business. I hope my story gives children the courage to protect our planet.
Roxanne Troup: That family—whether the one we’re born into or the one we choose ourselves—gives us roots. And that no matter how family changes, the love we have for one another doesn’t run out. It grows.
Q 8. What new projects are you working on now?
Roxanne Troup: I have a picture book about space coming out next year that I’m trying to be patient for. I’ve seen all the interior art and it’s just fantastic! But alas, I have to wait a bit longer to share the details.
Thank you both for joining us on the blog today,
and for writing such beautiful books!
To learn more about these amazing authors:
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