Reflections on Cover Design with Author Suma Subramaniam & Illustrators Sandhya Prabhat & Shreya Gupta


By Suma Subramaniam

I’m honored to be in conversation with my artist-collaborators and share the inside story of the cover-design process for our upcoming debut fiction and nonfiction picture books, Namaste Is A Greeting, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (Candlewick, October 2022), and She Sang For India: How M.S. Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice For Change, illustrated by Shreya Gupta (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, November 2022) with Cynsations readers. The cover reveal posts on the We Need Diverse Books Blog can be found here and here.

About the Books

Namaste Is A Greeting (Candlewick, October 2022)

Namaste calms your heart when things aren’t going right. Namaste is saying “You matter.”

What is namaste? It’s found in a smile, a friendship, a celebration. It exists in silence, it can be said when you’re happy or when you’re feeling low. For one girl in a bustling city, namaste is all around her as she and her mother navigate a busy marketplace. And when she returns home with a plant for an elderly neighbor, namaste can be seen in the caring bond between them.

Preorder the book here, or, for signed and personalized copies within the U.S., here or here (must call or email).

She Sang For India: How M.S. Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice For Change (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux,  November 2022)

Before M.S. Subbulakshmi was a famous Carnatic singer and the first Indian woman to perform at the United Nations, she was a young girl with a prodigious voice.

But Subbulakshmi was not free to sing everywhere. In early 1900s India, girls were not allowed to perform for the public. So Subbulakshmi busted barriers to sing at small festivals. Eventually, she broke tradition to record her first album. She did not stop here. At Gandhi’s request, Subbulakshmi sang for India’s freedom. Her fascinating odyssey stretched across borders, and soon she was no longer just a young prodigy. She was a woman who changed the world.

Preorder it here or, for signed and personalized copies shipped within the US, here or here (must email or call).

About the Cover Design Process

Interior art from Namaste Is A Greeting

Covers are meant to create spark and excitement and stimulate readers in special ways. I was lucky to be involved in the design process. Thank you to my editors, Hilary Van Dusen, Kate Fletcher, Elizabeth Lee, Trisha De Guzman, and the design teams at Candlewick Press and Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

Our desire for these books is to create compassion and connection in children and help them navigate daunting obstacles in the real world.

Interior art from She Sang For India: How M.S.Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice For Change

These books would not exist without the supremely talented illustrators, Sandhya Prabhat and Shreya Gupta.

Sandhya Prabhat

These are some versions of the cover. They were all drafts and works-in-progress. So, they aren’t super nice looking, but that’s what drafts are.

All the cover designs I’ve done so far, are not as minimal as this one. My style is not one that is particularly minimal either. I usually like color and detail. However, the more I drew for this cover, the lesser I felt it should have. Halfway through the design process, I shared this with the art director who was willing to let me try a new and more minimalistic direction than the one we were initially taking. We got it right, the first time!

The pages of the book have so much detail and so much happening. I felt that the cover should focus on what the story ends up being about, and I deviated from my usual way of expression to create this stripped down design. In that sense, this helped me push my boundaries.

Shreya Gupta

M.S. Subbulakshmi is a very well-known singer, and people recognize her as an adult more than as a child. So in my initial sketches, I presented options of her as an adult as well as a child. The first two options have her sitting and singing with a burst of flowers around her, and a back page to show her with her mother in a vignette with a flower border.

Everyone loved this direction, and since the book is for children, we agreed to take it to final illustration. After the illustration was finished, I was requested to try another version with open eyes, and to add more jewelry, and the illustration was darkened at the bottom so the title and the subtitle reads well.

We felt the opened eyes made the impact and presence of M.S. Subbulakshmi on the cover much stronger. And so, here’s the final cover.

Suma Subramaniam

Although Sandhya and Shreya had different approaches, they breathed life into the covers. Their tender illustrations, full of details connect readers to the stories and the worlds. They offer fresh perspectives and depth to the culture in which these characters are raised.

We hope these stories create empathy and a lifelong desire for picture books in readers.

Cynsational Notes

Sandhya Prabhat is an award-winning illustrator and animator whose books include I Am Brown, written by by Ashok Banker (Lantana Publishing, 2021), Ignore the Trolls, written by Jordan Gershowitz (POW! Kids Books, 2019), Usha and the Big Digger, written by Amitha Jagannath Knight (Charlesbridge, 2021), and books in the Om Child series, written by by Lisa Edwards (HarperCollins, 2021). Originally from Chennai, India, Sandhya Prabhat is now based in the Bay Area.

Shreya Gupta is an illustrator and book designer. She is originally from India, but her passion for illustration brought her to the United States, where she pursued an MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay from the School of Visual Arts. Her work has been featured as a “Google Doodle” logo, in the New York Times, Asia Society magazine and in various major publications. She currently lives in New York, New York.

Suma Subramaniam is the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Penguin Random House, 2019). She is also the author of Centaurs (Capstone, 2021), Fairies (Capstone, 2021), She Sang For India: How MS Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice For Change (Macmillan FSG, 2022), and Namaste Is A Greeting (Candlewick, 2022). Her poems have been published in the Young People’s Poetry edition of Poetry Magazine from Poetry Foundation. She is a volunteer for We Need Diverse Books and SCBWI Western Washington. Suma has an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.