To celebrate Poetry in the Schools Month and National Poetry Month, I am featuring two give-aways for books written in verse. Today is a MG book RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE by Rajani LaRocca. Next week I will feature a rhyming PB.
I recently did a Q&A with author Rajani LaRocca to talk about her wonderful MG novel-in-verse, RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE. Here’s Rajani:
Tell us three things we should know about the main character Reha.
- It’s 1983, and 13-year-old Reha feels torn between the worlds of her Indian immigrant parents and her friends at school. She adores her parents and wants to make them happy, but she also wants to fit in with her friends.
- Reha loves 80s pop music (especially Cyndi Lauper) and feels music connects those two worlds.
- She wants to be a doctor, but she faints at the sight of blood.
How did you know Reha’s story should be told in verse?
This story idea first came to me as a metaphor—the metaphor of blood, and all that it means in terms of heredity, community, and biology—and so it seemed right to tell in verse. But I’d never written a novel in verse before, so I did a lot of research and learning before I started writing.
In your Author’s Note you mention that the story has an autobiographical element. Would you care to share some of that with readers?
Like Reha, I was a teen in the 1980s and loved the music of that time. I was also an only child and an Indian immigrant, and the emotions Reha feels of being torn between worlds were very familiar to me. I also knew I wanted to be a doctor for a very early age, although luckily for me, I don’t faint at the sight of blood! My mom was injured in a car accident when I was a teen, and I shared Reha’s ambivalence about joining the world of medicine once I experienced what it was like to have a seriously ill family member.
Beyond the multi-cultural component, what other themes are important in the storyline?
Other themes include the nature of the parent-child, and especially the mother-daughter, relationship; how to deal with a loved one’s illness, and how to find hope, even when the worst happens; and the notion of belonging, and who decides that. RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE is a story about being caught between here and there, before and after, and finding a way to be whole.
What do you want young readers to take away from this important story?
I want young readers to know that although they may feel divided, that they can still become whole. I want them to know that their stories matter, and they should tell them, in whatever way seems best to them—in writing, or in the classroom, in a performance hall, or on a sports field. I want them to understand that those who love us understand us better than we might think. And finally, I want them to know that ultimately, we decide where we belong, and we find the people and communities who appreciate and love and support us.
Anything else you’d like to add or want us to know?
Music is a big part of this book. While writing, I listened pretty much nonstop to music from 1983-1984. I made a playlist that people can find on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5XAcxzLHYS4Y4gLAgHZeLK?si=1526a10349ea4671
and a music video playlist on YouTube: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLukL07PFxukPEStAGGRYKWGxCOabmlAl7
Reha thinks that song lyrics are poetry set to music, and I agree. One fun way for readers young and old to start trying to write their own poetry is to look at song lyrics and try writing their own.
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning novels and picture books, including Midsummer’s Mayhem (2019), Seven Golden Rings (2020), Red, White, and Whole (2021), Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (2021), Much Ado About Baseball (2021), and more. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she is an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. To connect with Rajani and learn more about her and her books visit her at www.RajaniLaRocca.com and on Twitter, Instagram, and Clubhouse @rajanilarocca.
Rajani has agreed to give away one signed copy of RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE to one lucky reader chosen at random from those who leave a comment on this post. Let me know if you share it on social media and I will give you a second chance to win.