Writers’ block is often seen as a curse by creative people – an aberration and a frustration impeding many a passion project.
But in a practical sense, it can be seen as a subconscious indication that things are not functioning as they should, and that maybe a project that’s not coming together is actually in need of a rethink.
That’s definitely the case with South Surrey teacher-librarian and author Sandip Sodhi and her second picture book project, Talk to Me, What Do You See? Beauty and Joy from A to Z, which had its official launch last week through Semiahmoo Arts.
Sodhi’s first book was the humorous Ms. Chievus in the Classroom, published last year. That was a children’s fable with suitably cartoon-like illustrations by Ken and Janet Priebe, in which a clever teacher – not unlike Sodhi herself, uses reverse psychology to tame the most unruly, unmanageable class in her school.
Far from a follow-up, Sodhi’s A to Z is much more serious in purpose.
“I didn’t want to be typecast in the kind of books I write,” she told Peace Arch News during a recent interview.
Intended to be read by children and adults together, it’s a ‘count-our-blessings’, positive affirmation of all the things we can be thankful for, even in times as stressful as a world-wide pandemic – and as the cover illustration suggests part of the purpose is to pay tribute to the frontline workers in health care and other services.
With a poetic, easy-to-read text by Sodhi, and charming, semi-primitivist illustrations, by artist and art history student Anika Sandhu, it hits the right note for what Sodhi set out to achieve.
Butthe purpose was subject to considerable change along the way.
“I started writing this about three years ago,” she said. “It was supposed to be a book on virtues and values, but I just didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with it.”
Sodhi said she believes that COVID-19 actually sharpened the focus of the book, as she was forced – as many others have been – to consider what is truly valuable in life.
“When I spoke to kids, particularly the older ones, I realized they weren’t missing things so much as the chance to spend a few days with loved ones,” she said.
What she realized she wanted to remind children and adults alike, she said, was that, even during a pandemic “there are beautiful things we see all around us.”
As the text and illustrations note, we can celebrate everything from “applauding people who show care” and “bees buzzing in the flowers” to “young people helping the elderly” and “Zooming on our devices to stay connected”.
“We can all mumble and grumble about everything that’s happening,” she said, “but let’s not forget there are positive things, too.”
One of the elements that has pleased Sodhi about the project is working with Sandhu – the daughter of her optometrist, currently studying at the University of Victoria – who shared her desire to make the book inclusive and to be diverse in its representations of people and family groups (just as Ms. Chievus in the Classroom was).
“I told her I wanted to self-publish and gave her the vision and said ‘can you work with me on it?’ and I was delighted she was able to.”
Collaborating by long-distance from South Surrey to Victoria proved to be no obstacle, Sodhi added.
“I didn’t have to do a lot of explaining. She said she really enjoyed it, and for me it was good to work with a different age group – she could be my daughter.”
It’s not really a money-making enterprise Sodhi explained – while the collaborators’ basic expenses have been paid, the proceeds from sales of the book are going to the Canuck Place Children’s Hospice charity.
The real reward, she said, has been hearing the positive reaction from parents who have read advance copies of the book with their children or grandchildren.
“A parent, the other day, when I asked about the A to Z , said, ‘You brought me to tears.’
“I asked, ‘In a good way or in a bad way?’” Sodhi said.
It was needed, she was told, and “so appropriate.”
“I have been blown away to hear people finding different things in it and to know that families have been responding well to it,”she said.
“Basically, I love the idea I can put my ideas out there,” Sodhi added. “It’s so great to have the freedom to write what is in your heart.”
Talk to Me, What Do You See? Beauty and Joy from A to Z is available at amazon.ca
For more information, visit sandipsodhi.com