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Meet the winners: Sumana Seeboruth

IBC Awards 2024

Image of A South-Asian woman with long, brown hair

Welcome to our new ‘Meet the winners’ blog series, featuring the supremely talented authors and illustrators who won the Inclusive Books for Children Awards 2024.

First up, we have the pleasure of introducing author Sumana Seeboruth — her wonderful board book, Too Green!, was voted best in our Baby and Toddler category.

We spoke to Sumana about her long-held passion for reading and creative writing, her book inspiration and what it feels like to win our inaugural awards.

Casting her mind back to when she realised she wanted to be a writer, Sumana recalls that she treasured second-hand texts and enjoyed reading and writing stories as a child:

I spent every second writing poems based on those stories from the age of about nine.

‘Growing up, my parents didn’t really have the money to buy new toys and books so my books were either my mother’s Indian ghost stories borrowed from the school library or purchased from the local jumble- and car-boot sales. I remember the enjoyment of choosing my own books. One book was a bedtime book of fairy tales and myths I’d found in a jumble sale. I spent every second writing poems based on those stories from the age of about nine.

Back then, I was dead set that I would be a writer with a published book one day.

‘And then, there was a childhood friend of mine… we plotted stories for a series we called The A–Z Gang. I wrote, and she illustrated, and together we came up with a bunch of stories on folded-up bits of A4 paper. Back then, I was dead set that I would be a writer with a published book one day.’

Sumana also fondly remembers her inspirational secondary school English teacher who supported her writing aspirations. ‘The encouragement he gave to every student that writing was cool was a key stepping stone that meant I actively wrote for pleasure throughout my teens and adult life. It was this that probably kept that little voice alive in my head that said, “Don’t give up, and you can do it!”.’

Importantly for me, I wanted to include other dimensions of family life that moved away from a mummy-and-daddy unit.

Too Green! is part of the Barefoot Books Feelings & Firsts series which ‘considers the essence of first emotions’. When thinking about her specific inspiration for Too Green! Sumana says, ‘Food was a topic I wanted to tackle, having reflected on the experience of my nieces, nephews, and my own children, in the realm of experimenting with new tastes and textures.

‘Importantly for me, I wanted to include other dimensions of family life that moved away from a mummy-and-daddy unit. And whilst I did this with the introduction of Mum and Mama (and a pet cat), I wanted the family-unit representation to be incidental to the story rather than the focus because ultimately, Too Green! is mostly about motivating a child to try out new foods.’

Rather joyously, Sumana then shares the parts of Too Green! which were the most fun to write. ‘Who doesn’t love a bit of onomatopoeia and alliteration? For babies and toddlers, it’s a fun way for them to giggle and smile. So, whilst there are many fun bits in Too Green!, if I were to choose, the spreads where the little boy helps his mothers with the food prep — the ‘drizzle, sizzle, whizz and whirr!!!’ and his final sign of enjoyment when he lets out an incredible ‘BUURRRPPPP!’ — were very satisfying to write.’

And how did Sumana feel on hearing she'd won the first-ever Inclusive Books for Children’s Awards?

‘Speechless! That was how I felt when I received the award, which was why I couldn’t quite get the words out of my mouth to say what I really wanted to say. But it feels incredible, and I’m humbled to know that a passion of mine has received such recognition. But it’s not just about me. I’m thankful for the wonderful work Inclusive Books for Children does to showcase the importance of diverse representation in storytelling.’

And how did she celebrate after the event?

‘I cried! And gave a big hug to my husband, children and mother who celebrated the win with me on the evening of the ceremony. They’ve been there throughout my writing journey, supporting and encouraging me along the way.

Showcasing the “rainbow” of stories out there will not just enable parents and carers to find these stories for their child. These stories can be just as commercially viable as those in the mainstream.

‘It was a real joy to know a Baby and Toddler category was featured because to date, true representation in board books lags behind the other age groups. This is a crying shame when what we should be striving for is to reflect realities from the moment a baby sets their eyes on a book, or hears a story.

‘Showcasing the “rainbow” of stories out there will not just enable parents and carers to find these stories for their child, but I’m certain it will give writers, creatives and publishers the confidence to know that these stories can be just as commercially viable as those in the mainstream.’

I ask Sumana what she enjoys doing when she’s not writing. ‘Family and friends are a huge part of my life. So weekends tend to be busy making time for loved ones. Music also features heavily in our house, so if I’m not listening to the kids jamming on a guitar or drum kit, I’ll be listening to a playlist of old and new artists.’

Sumana then reveals her passion for collecting ancient gems: ‘I love collecting anything old. I love my fossil finds from the Jurassic Coast, old books that I’ve found hidden in second-hand bookshops and my collection of antiques.’

And her plans for future projects?

‘I have lots of very exciting new projects I’m working on this year! But I’m not sure I can say too much just yet. So watch this space!’

Finally, Sumana reveals the thing she can’t be without, other than her two children whom we had the pleasure of meeting at the awards ceremony. ‘The kids will kill me, but it would have to be my trusty (and very old) laptop!’

Too Green! by Sumana Seeboruth, illustrated by Maribel Castells is out now and published by Barefoot Books.

You can read our IBC review of Too Green! here.

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