Author Interview: Mina Javaherbin on Writing Family & Faith

By Gayleen Rabakukk


Mina Javaherbin‘s latest picture book, My Grandma and Me, illustrated by Lindsey Yankey (Candlewick, 2019) explores the tender relationship between a young girl and her grandmother.

I’m excited to share insights and inspiration about her writing process with Cynsations readers!

Congratulations on My Grandma and Me! It’s a beautiful book and feels a bit more personal than your previous books. Can you share the inspiration behind My Grandma and Me?

Thank you! Yes, with those fantastic illustrations by Lindsey, this is indeed a beautiful book. The inspiration behind it was my grandmother, the first love of my life. The book is an autobiographical account of my daily interactions with her when I was a child.

When I emigrated to the United States, she had hesitations about visiting, saying she’d be uncomfortable wearing her hijab in a country like America.

That was about four decades ago. I like to think we’ve come a long way. It breaks my heart that she could never visit us, and this is how I finally brought her to my new country.

I wish I could tell her, “Look, Grandma, people love you, they accept you, they all have grandmas they love, and so many of their grandmothers, like you, are very religious and loving, too.”

Young Mina with her grandmother. Photo courtesy Mina Javaherbin.

In addition to the intergenerational relationship, My Grandma and Me also depicts an interfaith relationship. Religion is a topic that’s often overlooked in children’s literature, although it’s a major element in the lives of many young readers. Why was it important for you to include this aspect of your grandmother’s life, and how did observing her relationships with those of other faiths influence you?

Young Mina, photo courtesy Mina Javaherbin.

I’ve proposed many picture books about faith and religion, and each time the rejections made me realize something new.

The opportunity to talk about spirituality and the questions that formed in my mind when I was only about seven presented themselves organically in this book, and I did not shy away from the subject, as you can see.

It’s an honor to be included in Booklist’s 2019 list of the Top 10 Religion & Spirituality Books for Youth.

How did Lindsey Yankey’s illustrations compliment your text? What was your collaboration process like?

Lindsey Yankey is the first female artist chosen to illustrate one of my books. I think women are more capable of egoless giving, when and if we choose.

My Grandma and Me. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Lindsey Yankey. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

I feel Lindsey allowed my words to influence her work fearlessly, and my words in return amplified her brave giving. As a result, you can see both of us clearly and together in this book.

It’s art. I cried with joy upon seeing her art for my manuscript.

My Grandma and Me. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Lindsey Yankey. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

I’m guessing you work on multiple projects simultaneously. Can you share with us how you divide your time and find balance in your life?

My focus is on my family and my art. I only do what I like, when I like, and with people I like.

It’s a simple and peaceful life.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

What is your relationship to the children’s/YA writing and illustration community? To the larger children’s/YA literature community?

Do we have an official and strong union like the Writers Guild of America? I want to join, please! I don’t think we have any yet. It would be a dream to have one. Sign me up.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s/YA writers?

I can write a book or two about the subject, but for brevity’s sake, allow me to offer a simple, brief, and hopefully useful reply.

Dear Beginner Writer:

Welcome. I’m truly elated you chose a creative path in life. This is the toughest and most rewarding lifestyle! Please write every single day.

Cynsational Notes

See the activity pages for My Grandma and Me.

Mina Javaherbin has written several award-winning picture books, including Neymar: A Soccer Dream Come True, illustrated by Paul Hoppe (FSG, 2018), , Elephant in the Dark, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Scholastic, 2015), Soccer Star, illustrated by Renato Alarcão (Candlewick, 2014),  Goal!, illustrated by A. G. Ford (Candlewick, 2012) and The Secret Message, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (Disney/Hyperion, 2010). She lives in Southern California.

Gayleen Rabakukk holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and is a former Writing Barn Fellow. She’s worked with Cynthia Leitich Smith as a Cynsations intern since 2016 and also serves as assistant regional advisor for Austin SCBWI. Gayleen is represented by Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency.