Sanjay Nambiar grew up in Carson, CA, where he overcame a gang- and drug-riddled environment with the help of a closely-knit family and a focus on education. He graduated with honors from U.C. Berkeley, with degrees in Economics and Neurobiology, and earned an M.B.A. from UCLA. He now is a freelance copywriter in Los Angeles, CA. Sanjay practices meditation on a daily basis and sees extraordinary potential for happiness (and frustration) in the confluence of Western lifestyles and Eastern philosophies. Through his books, Sanjay hopes to inspire readers to consider life in a different perspective, one that incorporates a little bit of Zen as well as a lot of fun. He won a Mom’s Choice Awards Silver Medal and a Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Awards Gold Medal for his debut book, “Maybe (A Little Zen for Little Ones)”. Sanjay kindly sat down an answered questions for us about his writing inspiration, his twin daughters, and the importance of positive role models.
1. What motivated you to write these books?
I have two eight-year-old daughters (identical twins) who inspire many things in my life. For my A Little Zen for Little Ones series, I wanted to make ancient Zen stories—which have amazing concepts and provide wonderful guides to living well—more accessible to modern children. For the Super Duper Princess Heroes, I wanted girls to have better, more empowered, more independent role models. Girls can wear cute gowns and jewelry, but how about they save the world once they put their outfits on?!
2. What are your girls’ favorites and why?
They’re my biggest critics! But seriously, they love the girl in “Maybe,” but I think their favorite would be the Super Duper Princess Heroes. It’s a rare combination of princess cuteness, super powers, and girl power.
3. What were two of your favorite books growing up?
I loved books about sports, especially biographies about my heroes, like Julius Erving. Through the benefit of having a smart older brother who guided me, I got into literature at an early age. I remember reading Of Mice and Men in sixth grade while waiting for the bus. If I had to pick just two titles that I loved from my youth, they would be The Great Gatsby and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance(which I really didn’t get as a teenager, but I loved because I hoped one day I would get it . . .).
4. How has your passion influenced your own children when it comes to reading?
We’re lucky—our girls are voracious readers. But, they also like to write, and their imaginations are endless. I would like to take credit for that, but in reality they’re much more talented and interesting than I am!
5. What is the illustration process like? Do you have a general vision in your head and then you collaborate with an illustrator or do you write the words and then send them off to an illustrator who then decides what to draw?
My illustration process was unconventional. I had a specific vision in mind, but my drawing skills don’t extend much beyond stick figures . . . So, I worked as a creative director with a team of illustrators in India, and after much collaboration and many iterations, we produce our final product. For my upcoming book in the Super Duper Princess Heroes series (coming out in Spring 2016), the illustrator is a fine artist based in Los Angeles who is incredibly talented and acclaimed. I’m very excited for that project, for which all proceeds will go to the World Children’s Initiative, an amazing non-profit organization that built a heart surgery center in Uganda (the first of its kind on the African continent).
6. What do you hope parents and children take away from reading your stories?
For my A Little Zen for Little Ones series, I hope parents and children will use the stories as springboards for discussion. Those tales touch upon so many meaningful concepts—being present, mindfulness, letting things go, not being attached. If the books can spark a conversation about those ideas, that would be phenomenal. For the Super Duper Princess Heroes, I hope parents and children can realize that cute girls and powerful girls and not mutually exclusive. I want our girls to have role models who don’t need to eschew beauty or glamor to be empowered and independent. Our girls should know that they can indeed wear the fancy gown, but once they put it on, they can go save the prince instead of waiting to marry him!