Just like family trips begin with packing snacks and water bottles, my journey of writing Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas also began in the kitchen. The book is about a multicultural family that incorporates Jewish and Indian traditions into their holiday celebration—and about the joys and challenges of living and cooking with a toddler younger sibling. Most of the book (as so much of family life!) takes place in the grocery store and the kitchen.
The first spark of a book idea occurred when my kids and I experimented with dosa recipes: a high-protein food that my vegetarian children might try, and which had a lot of appeal for a single parent who is somewhat restaurant-challenged. My kids and I quickly realized that making dosas reminded us of making latkes for Hanukkah. This observation, along with ongoing reflection on the diversity at Tot Shabbat and at their Jewish camp, led to the beginnings of a book.
My first attempt, “Hanukkah Dosas!,” was a board-book recipe set to rhyme. But PJ Library encouraged me to deepen the plot for an older age group. PJ Library also ensured that the publisher identify an Indian illustrator—the wonderful Anjan Sarkar, whose cousin’s recipes appear in the book.
That’s when this story by this Jewish-but-not-Indian author met sketches by an Indian-but-not-Jewish illustrator. Friends and friends-of-friends who had helped with the board-book recipe were called upon again, together with others I had met during the journey’s first stages. Now these advisors shared knowledge of cooking equipment, along with other wisdom. We revised one line of text so the toddler knocks spices out of someone’s hand instead of off the counter, after learning that the spices would most likely have been put away.
We also added a line to the end of the recipe, clarifying the compromise made by the family in the story: many expert dosa makers won’t accept the changed texture of dosas left in the oven, insisting that each dosa be served and eaten immediately. Other chefs, though, will leave them warming so the chef can join the rest of the celebration.
And even though this book is “completed,” the journey is ongoing. Lately I’ve contemplated how the grandmother in the book came to this culinary compromise: did her daughter insist that she not spend the whole party at the stove? (Did the daughter threaten to buy frozen dosas?!) Maybe the guests at this party won’t know the difference, as my cousin put it, between “fabulous and simply good dosas”—but when the grandmother’s sister visits each year from India, the fabulous versions are served.
I like to think that Sadie, the main character, and her brother sometimes eat traditional dosas and sometimes compromised-for-busy-families dosas—and sometimes they eat latkes made from pre-shredded potatoes, just like my family. When Sadie and her brother grow up, I imagine their children will still eat both dosas and latkes, sometimes warmed up and sometimes from scratch, served later and eaten immediately.
And the journey continues, into the future. Because when Sadie and her brother are old enough to host holiday gatherings, they’ll also be old enough to publish their own stories. By then, there will be less need for a Jewish-but-not-Indian-author and an Indian-but-not-Jewish illustrator to help these stories find their way into the world.
For now, our job—all of us who create, select and read children’s books—is to help all children reach adulthood with pride in their stories and confidence that all stories are worth hearing.