Book Uncle and Me: Paying It Forward

A Guest Post by Uma Krishnaswami

I grew up in India. That was where I learned to read, and where I scribbled secretly in notebooks, acting on my first writing impulses. I became a writer, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

I never know exactly where stories come from. In many ways, most of them seem there already, lurking somewhere and waiting to be pulled out and made clear. I suppose, more than any other books I’ve written, Book Uncle and Me came out of those early reading and writing days.

Yasmin Kader, my nine-year-old protagonist in Book Uncle and Me, is an avid reader who decides she’s going to read a new book every day for the rest of her life. As a child, I was an utterly manic reader. I read everything I could lay my hands on. There was a great shortage of books for children in India back then, so I had to reread all the books in the house several times over. I read Enid Blyton, of course, and tattered copies of A. A. Milne and Beatrix Potter, a couple of Noel Streatfeilds, and quite a bit of Kipling. It was an odd diet for a child from a south Indian family, growing up all over the northern part of the country.

People talk a lot about the importance of having children see themselves in the books they read. I didn’t see myself in anything I read, but then I didn’t expect to. Instead, books taught me how to become other people, fleetingly, temporarily, but in some way indelibly. I’m not saying this is either good or bad. It’s just how it was.

Unlike Yasmin, I didn’t try to read a new book every day. But I could have, quite easily, had there been a ready supply handy. Perhaps that is why I ended up creating Yasmin to do what I might have wanted to do. After that, it seemed only natural to place her in a family that was not exactly like the other families in the community, in a community made up of many different kinds of people. As a writer for children, my own childhood, long ago as it was, remains a vital source of material and emotional memory. Perhaps in the end, writing is about paying it forward.

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami

Every day, nine-year-old Yasmin borrows a book from Book Uncle, a retired teacher who has set up a free lending library next to her apartment building. But when the mayor tries to shut down the rickety bookstand, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something.

But what can she do? The local elections are coming up but she’s just a kid. She can’t even vote!

Still, Yasmin has friends — her best friend, Reeni, and Anil, who even has a black belt in karate. And she has grownup family and neighbors who, no matter how preoccupied they are, care about what goes on in their community.

Then Yasmin remembers a story that Book Uncle selected for her. It’s an old folktale about a flock of doves trapped in a hunter’s net. The birds realize that if they all flap their wings at the same time, they can lift the net and fly to safety, where they seek the help of a friendly mole who chews a hole in the net and sets them free.

And so the children get to work, launching a campaign to make sure the voices of the community are heard.

An energetic, funny and quirky story that explores the themes of community activism, friendship, and the love of books.

Current Groundwood Goodreads Giveaways

Looking for your next summer read? Groundwood has some very cool giveaways happening right now over at the House of Anansi Goodreads. Just click the links below to enter to win advance reading copies of Snow Summer by Kit Peel, Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami or What Milly Did by Elise Moser. And make sure to add us as a friend so that you can have first access to future giveaways, including those from our sister company, House of Anansi Press!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami

Book Uncle and Me

by Uma Krishnaswami

Giveaway ends July 14, 2016.See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Snow Summer by Kit Peel

Snow Summer

by Kit Peel

Giveaway ends August 13, 2016.
See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

What Milly Did by Elise Moser

What Milly Did

by Elise Moser

Giveaway ends July 15, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Uma Krishnaswami on the Joy of End Papers

I just received the first two author copies of my new picture book, Bright Sky, Starry City, published by the lovely people at Groundwood and illustrated by the talented Aimee Sicuro. is there anything quite like opening a package and finding a new book?

All right, I’m not going into the usual rant about the lack of tactility in an e-book, or how the heck we think kids are going to love books if they can’t hug them or smell them or chew on them or even what’s going to happen to bodies and brains if a backlit screen becomes the primary source of text and image. Instead, let us consider endpapers. Look at these.



Sidewalk chalk and sky, child mind and universe — it’s all in here. Are these endpapers not the perfect introduction to a book on dark skies and a child’s vast, reaching imagination?

The picture-book writer is only the owner of the book in a kind of curatorial way. You start the thing off with an idea that has you in its grip. You try to give it shape. You plunk some words down on the page. If the thing holds up (and many picture-book ideas do not) you keep going. If you can get enough of the vision down so it makes sense to others, well then a publisher might pick it up and assign it to an illustrator. The illustrator gets to work, without my word-bound oversight, for which praise be. In this case, I got to check facts. I suggested a few research sources. I asked a consultant to comment on the accuracy of both text and images. Some text changed as the images grew. But the endpapers? They were a complete surprise. They ensure that the story of the book begins in the child reader’s mind before even a single page gets turned. What a gift!

— Uma Krishnaswami

Uma’s post inspired us to share some of our favorite end papers.

Click on any of the images below to see what book the are from!


Migrant online Sidewalk Swimming NorthernNight



Bright Sky, Starry City
by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro

Phoebe helps her dad set up telescopes on the sidewalk outside his store. It’s a special night — Saturn and Mars are going to appear together in the sky. But will Phoebe be able to see them with all the city lights?

Raindrops begin to fall, followed by lightning and thunder. Phoebe is filled with disappointment as she and her father hurry inside to wait out the storm.

Enter to win a Bright Sky, Starry City prize pack!


On March 11th we are giving away a gift-package to one lucky winner to celebrate the publication of Bright Sky, Starry City by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro!

If you win, you will receive one free copy of the book and four pieces of sidewalk chalk so that you and your kids can begin drawing the night sky on your sidewalk, just like Phoebe!


This contest is open to residents of North America (excluding Quebec). We will accept entries until midnight on Wednesday, March 11th, and will contact the winner by email on Friday, March 13th.

Good luck!

Sorry! Contest closed!

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