Parveen Kaur Dhillon is a children’s book author who is passionate about spreading multicultural education through telling stories about the celebration of various traditions and holidays. Parveen is also an advisor to the Sikh Research Institute, teaches at the San Jose Gurudwara and continues working closely with spreading cultural awareness at various museums and schools in the Bay Area.
Parveen was born in Virginia, raised in Maryland, and is settled in San Jose, California, with her Blue Devil husband, her twelve-year-old magician, her ten-year-old crafty artist, and her seven-year-old music lover.
Why is it important for you to write Sikh children’s books?
I write books for my kids. My parents invested a lot of time and energy in helping us develop our identity through spending our summers in India with cousins and grandparents, spending our weekends at the gurdwara and with our sangat and regularly attending Sikh Youth Camps. When I had my own kids a few decades later, I realized that my generation had the same task of raising religious and cultured kids, but we didn’t have the advantage of growing up in India and fully understanding the history of the culture. I looked for books and resources for my kids to share with their non-Indian friends, but I didn’t find many so I started making my own resources. Some of those early resources turned into my first books.
What did you learn from writing your first set of books?
My First Sikh Books taught me several important and difficult lessons. First, writing books, particularly finishing them, is very hard!
Also, the distribution for Sikh content is not the best, and people within the Sikh community do not have a pattern of buying books. This may be a challenge, but certainly can be overcome!
The most important thing I have learned is that it is very gratifying to know that your books have a place in people’s bookshelves and in their children’s hands.
What are you working on right now?
My latest book, Lohri: A Bonfire Festival, was released earlier this month. This bi-lingual (English and Punjabi) book takes the reader through the celebration of Lohri through the eyes of my two main characters from My First Sikh Books, Ajeet and Rakha. I am very excited that these books will be available at Barnes & Noble, Costco and are already a bestseller on Amazon. I have a few more adventures for Ajeet and Rakha that I am trying out, and might have another ready for publication in 2016.
Another project I have been working on for some time is a book about 1984, which I hope to release later this year. This book helps a generation that has been born after 1984 understand more about what happened in the Sikh community in this devastating year. It is a departure from my first two publications, and covers a very challenging topic. I am proud to be working with the Sikh Coalition 1984 Grant Program to complete this book.
What would you like to see happen with Sikh children’s books over the next 20 years?
I hope more families see Sikh children’s books as a valuable resource and create small libraries in their homes. This will also inspire them to contribute these books to their schools and local libraries, so Sikh characters and content will be available to non-Sikhs as well.
I also hope more books containing Sikh characters that are targeted to non-Sikh audiences will be placed on the same level as the top children’s books we read to our kids today. I am hopeful that getting books into mainstream stores will encourage these companies to seek out and demand more multi-ethnic content from Sikh authors.
Do you have any advice for all of the Kaurs and Singhs thinking about writing children’s books?
Tell stories that people can relate to, both Sikhs and non-Sikhs even if the content is specific to the Sikh community.
I have also found it helpful to have a mentor to motivate and support you through the process.
Write for a non-Sikh audience – it is easier for our Sikh children to relate to it, and it will allow you to spread your message to a greater audience.
Nobody will be more complementary of your community than you will, so support pride in the Sikh identity – it is important to our community, our kids, as well as external audiences.
Do not compromise on quality – both in content and production.
Finally, don’t give up.