Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Nadia L. Hohn, the author of
When Malaika finds out she is going to have a new baby brother or sister, she worries that her mother will forget about her. But a surprise arrives on Malaika’s birthday that gives her reason to celebrate her family’s love.
It’s summertime, and Malaika and Adèle are enjoying playing carnival in their bright costumes, dancing and laughing in the sunshine. But when Mummy announces that they will soon have a new baby brother or sister, Malaika is unsure how to feel about another change in her family. Will Mummy forget about me?
Back at school, Malaika is excited to see her teacher and classmates, and makes friends with a new girl who has recently arrived from a faraway country, just like Malaika. Then on her birthday, a surprise arrives to remind Malaika of the importance of family, and the story ends with a celebration of her family’s love.
Let’s talk to this fantastic author about her lovely book!
This is Nadia. Everyone say, “Hi, Nadia!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Nadia! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!
I was born and live in Toronto. I am a Black Canadian author and educator of Afro-Jamaican descent. I am an MFA student in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. I am a vegetarian, musician, aspiring illustrator, and multilingual. I love to watch artsy films, cook, work out, and can’t wait to travel once this quarantine is over.
MALAIKA’S SURPRISE is the third book in the Malaika series. What was the inspiration behind Malaika’s latest adventure?
This book began as two separate stories. Then it became one. And then two. I began to conceive the idea of a third Malaika book during my year of teaching in the UAE in 2016. There, I experienced the hospitality of this Muslim country. As a Christian and a Westerner, it was a shift to a different cultural centre and norm. I was living in the UAE when the Quebec mosque shooting took place and it was upsetting. I wondered how this event might have Malaika and her family have responded to given that they live in Quebec City. Because I had already done some research and interviews among Black people living in Quebec City for Malaika’s Winter Carnival, I had an idea that many new immigrants felt in terms of isolation and I can imagine more so now given Bill 21.
I had also decided that I wanted the new character to be Muslim and Somali given that there was an absence of Somali-Canadian characters in Canadian children’s books. While the illustrations were being completed for Malaika’s Surprise in 2019, the Somali-Canadian journalist Hodan Nalayeh was tragically killed. I had seen Hodan speak and just before I had moved to the UAE, after my going away dinner, we had a short chat. I had just gone through my divorce. At the time, Hodan was both a single mom and divorced but very positive. She basically said I should give her a call and, “We should talk” as she had a lot of advice to share. I saw Hodan as an ally, like the character in my book, who was telling me it would all be okay. Sadly, the conversation never took place. Malaika’s Surprise is partly dedicated to her.
The story also reveals some of the feelings I had about my youngest sister being born (the book is also dedicated to her) and the importance of fathers.
The Malaika books are illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. What’s it like seeing your characters come to life in the illustrations? Did you get to see sketches along the way?
It’s an exciting part of the process. Irene works in mixed media so the advanced sketches I saw were also mixed media, a little less detail than what’s in the final product. I enjoyed it and it’s kind of fun to see how Irene takes my words and interprets them, especially since this book is so full of surprises.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I am not sure if you mean putting Malaika into another book but I do imagine Malaika in other genres. I have been working on a play for a few years now and I would love to see it as a short series or film on Netflix, for example. Just putting it out there.
That would be amazing!
What do you love most about writing picture books? What’s the most challenging part?
I love that you can say a lot in 1, 000 words or less with pictures. I have a Masters degree in equity studies and look at the world with an antiracist lens. So, if you look at my articles, I write explicitly about inequities in the children’s book industry, for example. However, in a picture book and even children’s non-fiction, I need to break down big ideas into poetry, music, and ideas that are accessible for the young reader.
Any hints about your next book project?
I just signed a book with Orca. It will be an anthology of sorts. I don’t want to say too much about it yet. I have a few picture books down the pipeline and editing my middle grade novel. Stay tuned!
Oooh! Lots of exciting stuff on the horizon!
Some people like to write while listening to music or when they have a hot beverage in hand or at their favourite spot in a cozy chair. What’s something that always helps you get settled into a writing session?
I tend to write a lot while in my bed while wrapped in my comforter. My secret is out now. I do some of my writing at my desk but usually that’s when there is a deadline. Lol.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? What are some of your favourite methods you’ve come up with to tackle writer’s block?
I tend to be a pantser. I admire the plotters though as that seems to be the one I wish I could do more of. I may need to do more plotting for my middle grade book though.
Some of my favourite methods I’ve come up with to tackle writer’s block– just start somewhere. I set a 30 minute timer and sometimes I’ll just read my work. Or, I’ll boldface the title of the chapters. Or I’ll Google search the topic. I just try to do something that will move my story a long further.
What are you reading right now?
I proposed a directed reading course as part of my MFA program, so I am reading all young adult books about Black girls. I am currently reading Facing the Sun by BC based author, Janice Lynn Mather.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
My favourite piece of kick-butt advice is by author Toni Morrison: If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
Thank you for joining us, Nadia!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out MALAIKA’S SURPRISE!
It’s on shelves now!
Add MALAIKA’S SURPRISE on Goodreads!
Click here to enter to win a copy of MALAIKA’S SURPRISE!
Contest ends Friday, March 5th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!