When Raakhee Mirchandani is having a bad day, she admits, she’ll pick up her well-worn copy of Harriet the Spy for comfort. But Mirchandani (CGS’01, COM’03), a content development editor at Dow Jones and a former managing editor of the New York Daily News, thought that if she ever wrote her own book, it would be a novel, not a children’s story.
All that changed last year when she started searching for a book for her then four-year-old daughter, Satya, who loves to dress up as Wonder Woman and don capes and crowns. When Mirchandani couldn’t find any book featuring a young female superhero who bore some physical resemblance to her daughter, who is Indian American, she simply wrote her own.
Super Satya Saves the Day (Bharat Babies, 2018) is a charmingly illustrated tale about a little girl who worries that her ability to help others and face challenges of her own (like conquering the tallest slide in her neighborhood) will be impossible because her superhero cape is stuck at the local dry cleaner’s. Satya discovers she doesn’t need a cape to help others—she has all the inner resources necessary to being a superhero.
BU Today spoke with Mirchandani about her unexpected foray into children’s literature, how readers have reacted to her book, and her efforts to make children’s literature more diverse and inclusive.
BU Today: How did the idea for Super Satya Saves the Day come about?
Mirchandani: We go to this bookstore, Little City Books, in our neighborhood in Hoboken, NJ, all the time. If we’re having a bad day, we make it better by getting a book. If we have a great day, we celebrate with a book. My daughter, who just turned five, dresses like Wonder Woman three or four days a week, and I thought it would be great if I could get her a superhero book featuring a little girl who looks like her. I went to the bookstore, but couldn’t find anything, then went on Amazon and there weren’t any books where there was a little girl who looked like my daughter. I wasn’t looking for a little Indian girl, just someone who she could open the book and feel: “Oh, that could be me.” It just didn’t exist. And that ate at me. I felt I needed to do better for her. So I wrote the story for her on my laptop and phone on the train on the way to work. It was important to me that the girl in the book had an Indian name and then I started thinking about it, and I thought, “Why wouldn’t I just call her Satya?”
My daughter loved the story and after she had asked me to read it a few times, I sent it to my agent. I said, “I don’t know, maybe there’s something here,” and then we ended up selling it.
It was important for you that the family pictured on the book’s cover resemble your own. Why?
It doesn’t come off in the book that Satya is Indian, right? You may know it, you may not. It may come up when you’re reading it to your kid, but it might not, and that’s fine. But I love that the family on the cover looks like my family because that’s what American families look like. I love that the dad looks just like my husband and he wears a turban, like my husband. It’s great if you want to talk about it with your child and have a teachable moment, but if you don’t want to, that’s fine, too.
Have you been surprised by the reaction to the book?
I had no expectations. I thought the book was going to come out, my mom and dad were going to buy 100 copies and give it to their friends, period, the end. I was recently doing a reading at story time at Solid State Books in Washington, D.C. and there were probably 80 or 90 people there. I asked one man: “Do you come here every week?” and he looked at me like I was nuts and said, “No, we came for you.”
Moments like this happen constantly. Little kids come to story time at bookstores holding pictures that they’ve drawn of the character. I get Instagram DMs and Facebook messages from parents telling me how much their kids love this book and love this character.
Satya served as the inspiration for the main character.
She sure did. The character in the book is inspired by the character in my home: she’s funny and has big dreams about the day, and loves to dress like a superhero and she has this effervescent quality about her.
What has your daughter’s reaction to the book been?
Now, she expects me to write another book and make a movie.
Do you imagine this becoming a series?
There will be a series. I see other characters too, some that know Satya and some that don’t. I’ve started the next book.
What has writing this book meant for you, personally?
I never thought of myself as a story time kind of girl. I covered fashion and entertainment for a long time. That’s my wheelhouse. I know how to work a red carpet and cover celebrities. That’s what I do. Now, I’m sitting in my leather jacket and leggings reading to groups of children and I have never been more excited, because I get to sit there for 35 or 40 minutes, read my book and other favorite children’s books, and kids ask me tons of questions ranging from, “How do you write a book?” and “How do you make a character?” to “Can you explain daylight savings time?” which I could not do. It has opened me up to an entirely new way of feeling and thinking.
The book has a very empowering message for kids about resiliency and the power they have inside themselves.
It’s important for me that my daughter knows that when she wakes up in the morning, it can be a good day or a bad day, but she has all the tools to get through that day inside of her. That self-reliance is something I try to instill in her every day. It’s really fun to rely on a superhero cape, but the truth is that children are the most powerful creatures: everything is inside of them.
Satya was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when she was five months old and required two surgeries before being declared cancer free before her first birthday. That experience has shaped your family’s life in a profound way. Can you talk about that?
It really opened our eyes to what life is like for families who have kids with cancer. Being a part of that community and seeing firsthand what that looks like, we knew that we needed to do something different with our lives. We took stock of who we are and what we stand for and we have made sure that every single year, every single month, every single day, we are doing things to benefit pediatric cancer, whether it’s running a half-marathon, fundraising, taking part in events: you name it, we’ll do it. We’ve taken Super Satya to a couple of hospitals and I read the book and kids get capes that are provided by donors and the books are donated. It feels really good to be able to share the story with them and its empowering message, because that’s our community.