Meet Kids’ Book Author Anu Sehgal
Cultural experiences. Education. Fun and games. For Anu Sehgal, it all goes hand in hand. As founder and president of The Culture Tree, Anu creates programs that bring the traditions of South Asian culture to life for kids of all ages in New York City. Recently, the corporate leader turned cultural educator also added children’s book author to her resume, with the publication of Kahaani Rangeeli (or Colorful Story). We spoke to Anu to learn more about Holi, the annual—and colorful—celebration of spring’s arrival, the new book, and her work at The Culture Tree.
Anu, why did you decide to write Kahaani Rangeeli?
As a language teacher and cultural educator, I read numerous books personally, as well as to my students. I am always in search of new content that is fun, educational, and meaningful. Kahaani Rangeeli or “Colorful Story” combines two passions of mine—language and culture. It is written in Hindi language, and is a beautiful story of Krishna, one of the most beloved Hindu Gods, and his friends. The book honors love and friendship above all else. It celebrates an ancient Indian story, while also sharing how we can celebrate Holi.
Tell us about the experience of writing the book.
I was inspired by Kahaani Puraani, a book on the festival of Diwali published by T4Tales. When I read this book, I immediately thought of creating a Holi counterpart. It was not easy to write the book as a poem with rhyme in Hindi language, with simple sentences and a specific story. Once I submitted the manuscript, Pridhee (the founder of T4Tales) edited the book and we had several rounds of revisions and discussion around visuals. Alicia Souza is a well-known illustrator and artist in India, and was our first choice for this book. Alicia has done an amazing job in capturing the story and celebrating the festival. The book also has several interactive elements.
What will kids learn by reading Kahaani Rangeeli?
Through this book, which brings Krishna and the colorful festival of Holi to life, kids and their families will learn the importance of friendship and love. They also learn that friendship has no boundaries and has to be nurtured.
Did you test the book out with your own kids?
Yes, numerous times! Both my boys are bilingual and can speak Hindi. My older son can read and write Hindi as well. I tested the book with them at several stages. I wanted to make sure the book is engaging and fun, while also being authentic and culturally appropriate. They are always my testing grounds for any new platform or venture.
Do you have plans to write more books?
Yes! I am already in talks with two publishers about my book ideas. One is about food.
What was your goal when you founded The Culture Tree?
The Culture Tree was found in 2016. After having my own kids, I realized that there was a critical need for real, authentic and accurate depiction of South Asian culture and practices in children’s programming and education. There was also a big gap in teaching South Asian–American kids their native languages in a more relevant, fun and consistent basis.
We have dual goals:
1) Raise bilingual and bicultural children of South Asian heritage who are knowledgeable and proud of their culture.
2) Educate the rest of the children and their families about South Asia, to remove any prejudices and stereotypes that exist about South Asians.
Children are highly impressionable and open-minded, so it is critical to expose them to new languages and cultures early on in their lives. I believe that when children learn about another culture, they are more knowledgeable, well-rounded, and empathetic—thereby true global citizens.
How have your mission and offerings evolved?
In the past few years, we have become a national organization, with our language classes being taught all over the US. We have also added more languages to our program. We have created four puppet shows that showcase festivals, culture, practices, and celebrations from South Asia. This year, we are launching a new platform called Food As Culture.
What does Holi mean to you and your family?
For me, Holi is a celebration of life, friendship, love and beautiful colors. It is also a festival when my Indian-American kids can reconnect with their heritage culture and celebrate it, in its fullest.
Our Holi event last year was a huge success last year and our celebration this year will be much bigger, starting with a storytime that I will lead at the Seaport Museum. I’m also excited to have a marketplace, where Indian small businesses can share their products and services with everyone.
For more information on the Seaport and The Culture Tree’s Holi celebration on Saturday, March 18, 2023, click here.