Children’s books tend to be cherished for years to come. And new children’s book author Sandra L. Richards has written a book that will surely be loved. Her debut illustrated picture book is called Rice & Rocks and it takes readers on a wonderful journey of understanding the concept of heritage while celebrating cultural diversity. Readers travel with the main character Giovanni, his favorite auntie and a mystic parrot on an adventure to discover foods from all over the globe.
For Richards, who is also the Executive Director, Head of Business Development and Segment Marketing, Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley, the book was not only a way to honor the memory of her late nephew, Giovanni, but to bring a little more diversity into the children’s book space.
In the adventurous tale, Giovanni has invited friends over to his house but he finds out his grandmother is serving rice and peas, a traditional Jamaican side dish. It seems he does not like rice and peas; in fact, he calls them “rice and rocks.” And he worries his friends will think the dish is strange. In steps, his favorite aunt and her and his pet parrot, Jasper, they go on a magical journey taking them to Japan, Puerto Rico and New Orleans to learn about similar foods to his family’s Sunday meal each place offers.
The book has impressed many, including Donna Brazile, veteran Democratic political strategist, adjunct professor, author and syndicated columnist, who stated: “Rice & Rocks has something, literally, for every child. It teaches the joy of sharing and bonding over mealtime, and the universality of celebrating holidays with traditional food (in this case, the same dish). Rice and Rocks takes me back to when I was a girl in New Orleans. Stories that combined exciting fantasy with sound life lessons remain vivid in my memory, as this one will.” Rice & Rocks (Wise Ink Creative Publishing, $17.99) is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Books A Millions or your favorite local independent bookstore.
Richards, who is a 2005 Network Journal 40 Under Forty honoree, spoke with TNJ.com about the food and diversity aspects in children’s publishing.
TNJ.com: What led you to write the book?
Sandra L. Richards: In 2007, I lost my eight-year-old nephew Giovanni to meningitis and I was looking for a way to keep his memory alive. When I remembered him, I remembered all these stories. And at first I was writing as a way to deal with my grief and to help other people in the family deal as well. Then I realized this could be bigger than just us and how the story could help other people.
TNJ.com: You deal with diversity in the corporate world. How diverse did you find the publishing industry?
Sandra L. Richards: As I was doing my research, I found there is a lack of diversity in the children’s book space, but there is such a need. People are asking for diverse books. Kids themselves want diverse books. I think when the publishing companies realize, like movies, that there are audiences for it I think there will be more. You also have millennials who are becoming more accepting of diversity because of the world they are living in and will live in and I think there will be more of a demand for multicultural books. You already have movements like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #1000Books popping up, so the demand is there.
TNJ.com: Did the lack of diversity hurt you in trying to get the book published?
Sandra L. Richards: When my agent tried to pitch my book, this was a challenge. Then I landed a great creative deal with Wise Ink Creative Publishing.
TNJ.com: You work full-time in a demanding position at Morgan Stanley. How has that been in finding time to write and promote the book?
Sandra L. Richards: I have two day jobs (laughs). This has actually been a three-year process and I had to inform Morgan Stanley and since this was not a financial book it has been been pretty straight forward. And many of my colleagues have been very supportive coming out and doing readings with me.
TNJ.com: Are you finding consumers are trying to support authors of color?
Sandra L. Richards: Yes, I have gotten so many people coming out to support me, people sending in ideas on how to market the book, people making offers to help. My sorority sisters–I am a Delta–have been extremely supportive and helpful.
TNJ.com: What advice would you give to would-be authors?
Sandra L. Richards: I would say manage your time. When you have a day job and you are trying to start another job on the side, you need to make sure you’re realistic about your time and what you can deliver. Also, be realistic about your budget; there are a lot of things you will have to do on your own which means starting to save early on.
TNJ.com: What’s next?
Sandra L. Richards: People are already asking me about the next book, but we’re still working on this one–we just started (laughs). But I do see building a brand out of Rice & Rocks. So, that will be in the future.